1980s

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The 1980s (pronounced "nineteen-eighties", shortened to "the 80s" or "the Eighties") was a decade that began 1 January 1980 and ended 31 December 1989.

The decade, known as the Excellence Eighties and the Moderation Decade, saw a dominance of conservatism and free market economics, and a socioeconomic change due to advances in technology and a worldwide move away from planned economies and towards laissez-faire capitalism compared to the 1970s.

Quotes[edit]

  • Did it have to come to this? The paradox is that when Europe was less united, it was in many ways more independent. The leaders who ruled in the early stages of integration had all been formed in a world before the global hegemony of the United States, when the major European states were themselves imperial powers, whose foreign policies were self-determined. These were people who had lived through the disasters of the Second World War, but were not crushed by them. This was true not just of a figure like De Gaulle, but of Adenauer and Mollet, of Eden and Heath, all of whom were quite prepared to ignore or defy America if their ambitions demanded it. Monnet, who did not accept their national assumptions, and never clashed with the US, still shared their sense of a future in which Europeans could settle their own affairs, in another fashion. Down into the 1970s, something of this spirit lived on even in Giscard and Schmidt, as Carter discovered. But with the neo-liberal turn of the 1980s, and the arrival in power in the 1990s of a postwar generation, it faded. The new economic doctrines cast doubt on the state as a political agent, and the new leaders had never known anything except the Pax Americana. The traditional springs of autonomy were gone.
    • Perry Anderson, "Depicting Europe", London Review of Books (20 September 2007)
  • What was really so bad about the ‘80s was an excess of personal freedom. [...] Think of gridlock on the freeway: everybody free to drive but nobody able to move. The trick will be finding the courage to give up a little individual freedom so that all of us can be freer together--of the consequences of neglected children, for example. That is a tall order; the campaign season that just ended showed how adept our political system has become at telling us what we want to hear. What we don’t want to hear about, especially those of us who can afford it most, is sacrifice.
    • Daniel Akst, The Real ‘80s : If You Think It Was Just a Decade of Greed, You Missed the Revolution, Los Angeles Times, 13th November 1994
  • Who ever decided that Americans were so bad off in the seventies anyway? From the right-wing revisionist propaganda that has become accepted as fact, you'd think that Americans under President Carter were suffering through something like the worst of the Weimar Republic combined with the Siege of Leningrad. The truth is that on a macroeconomic level, the difference between the Carter era and the Reagan era was minimal. For instance, economic growth during the Carter Administration averaged 2.8 percent annually, while under Reagan, from 1982 to 1989, growth averaged 3.2 percent. Was it really worth killing ourselves over that extra .4 percent of growth? For a lucky few, yes. On the other key economic gauge, unemployment, the Carter years were actually better than Reagan's, averaging 6.7 percent annually during his "malaise-stricken" term as compared to an average 7.3 percent unemployment rate during the glorious eight-year reign of Ronald Reagan. Under Carter, people worked less, got far more benefits, and the country grew almost the same average annual rate as Reagan. On the other hand, according to the Statistical Abstract of the United States for 1996, under Reagan life got worse for those who had it worse: the number of people below the poverty line increased in almost every year from 1981 (31.8 million) to 1992 (39.3 million). And yet, we are told America was in decline until Reagan came to power and that the country was gripped by this ethereal malaise. Where was this malaise? Whose America was in decline? The problem with the 1970s wasn't that America was in decline, it was that the plutocracy felt itself declining. And in the plutocrats' eyes, their fortunes are synonymous with America's.
    • Mark Ames, Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion, From Reagan's Workplaces to Clinton's Columbine and Beyond (2005), p. 99
  • At the beginning of the 1980s the world community faces much greater dangers than at any time since the Second World War. It is clear that the world economy is now functioning so badly that it damages both the immediate and longer-run interests of all nations... The problems of poverty and hunger are becoming more serious; there are already 800 million absolute poor and their numbers are rising; shortages of grain and other foods are increasing the prospect of hunger and starvation... Between 20 and 25 million children below the age of five die every year in developing countries... A number of poor countries are threatened with the irreversible destruction of their ecological systems while many more face growing food deficits and possibly mass starvation. In the international economy there is the possibility of... a collapse of credit with defaults by major debtors, or bank failures... [and] an intensified struggle for influence or control over resources leading to military conflicts.
    • Willy Brandt, Attributed in "Are We Nearing Armageddon?", article on The Watchtower magazine, 1980, 10/15.
  • And fifth, we must use the decade of the 1980's to attack the basic structural weaknesses and problems in our economy through measures to increase productivity, savings, and investment. With these energy and economic policies, we will make America even stronger at home in this decade--just as our foreign and defense policies will make us stronger and safer throughout the world. We will never abandon our struggle for a just and a decent society here at home. That's the heart of America--and it's the source of our ability to inspire other people to defend their own rights abroad. Our material resources, great as they are, are limited. Our problems are too complex for simple slogans or for quick solutions. We cannot solve them without effort and sacrifice. Walter Lippmann once reminded us, "You took the good things for granted. Now you must earn them again. For every right that you cherish, you have a duty which you must fulfill. For every good which you wish to preserve, you will have to sacrifice your comfort and your ease. There is nothing for nothing any longer."
  • Our challenges are formidable. But there's a new spirit of unity and resolve in our country. We move into the 1980's with confidence and hope and a bright vision of the America we want: an America strong and free, an America at peace, an America with equal rights for all citizens-- and for women, guaranteed in the United States Constitution--an America with jobs and good health and good education for every citizen, an America with a clean and bountiful life in our cities and on our farms, an America that helps to feed the world, an America secure in filling its own energy needs, an America of justice, tolerance, and compassion. For this vision to come true, we must sacrifice, but this national commitment will be an exciting enterprise that will unify our people. Together as one people, let us work to build our strength at home, and together as one indivisible union, let us seek peace and security throughout the world. Together let us make of this time of challenge and danger a decade of national resolve and of brave achievement.
  • the 1980s, when Nancy Reagan's slogan "Just Say No" passed as high-level drug education.
    • Carl Hart Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear (2021)
  • The one on the right concerned the shift from an older understanding of economic liberalism to what is now called "neoliberalism." Neoliberalism is not... a synonym for capitalism. I don't see how you can have any kind of modern economy without a market based economy. Neoliberalism took that basic insight and stretched it to an extreme seeking to deregulate, privatize and basically pull back the role of the state, which many neoliberals regarded as simply obstacles to individuals, to entrepreneurship, to economic growth, and as a result markets did their usual work. They produced a great deal of inequality, as... global corporations searched for very small cost advantages by moving jobs to low cost areas... [T]hey destabilized the global economy in certain important ways by deregulating the financial sector. As a result of the deregulation that occurred in the 1980s and 90s we had an escalating series of financial crises. In the sterling crisis, the Asian financial crisis, Argentina, Russia, and finally culminating in the big American subprime crisis in 2008. The... cumulative effects of this instability were political and they were very serious because many ordinary people were hurt... a lot of people lost their homes, lost their jobs, and the elites that ran these big banks and financial institutions suffered only a momentary disruption in their incomes, and went on to continue to dominate their respective economies... [T]his had a direct impact on the rise of populism in subsequent years, both on the right and on the left.
  • The pope had been an actor before he became a priest, and his triumphant return to Poland in 1979 revealed that he had lost none of his theatrical skills. Few leaders of his era could match him in his ability to use words, gestures, exhortations, rebukes—even jokes—to move the hearts and minds of the millions who saw and heard him. All at once a single individual, through a series of dramatic performances, was changing the course of history. That was in a way appropriate, because the Cold War itself was a kind of theater in which distinctions between illusions and reality were not always obvious. It presented great opportunities for great actors to play great roles. These opportunities did not become fully apparent, however, until the early 1980s, for it was only then that the material forms of power upon which the United States, the Soviet Union, and their allies had lavished so much attention for so long—the nuclear weapons and missiles, the conventional military forces, the intelligence establishments, the military-industrial complexes, the propaganda machines—began to lose their potency. Real power rested, during the final decade of the Cold War, with leaders like John Paul II, whose mastery of intangibles—of such qualities as courage, eloquence, imagination, determination, and faith—allowed them to expose disparities between what people believed and the systems under which the Cold War had obliged them to live. The gaps were most glaring in the Marxist-Leninist world: so much so that when fully revealed there was no way to close them other than to dismantle communism itself, and thereby end the Cold War.
  • John Paul II set the pattern by rattling the authorities throughout Poland, the rest of Eastern Europe, and even the Soviet Union. Others quickly followed his example. There was Lech Wałęsa, the young Polish electrician who stood outside the locked gate of the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk one day in August, 1980—with the pope's picture nearby—to announce the formation of Solidarnosc, the first independent trade union ever in a Marxist-Leninist country. There was Margaret Thatcher, the first woman to become prime minister of Great Britain, who relished being tougher than any man and revived the reputation of capitalism in Western Europe. There was Deng Xiaoping, the diminutive, frequently purged, but relentlessly pragmatic successor to Mao Zedong, who brushed aside communism's prohibitions on free enterprise while encouraging the Chinese people to "get rich." There was Ronald Reagan, the first professional actor to become president of the United States, who used his theatrical skills to rebuild confidence at home, to spook senescent Kremlin leaders, and after a young and vigorous one had replaced them, to win his trust and enlist his cooperation in the task of changing the Soviet Union. The new leader in Moscow was, of course, Mikhail Gorbachev, who himself sought to dramatize what distinguished him from his predecessors: in doing so, he swept away communism's emphasis on the class struggle, its insistence on the inevitability of a world proletarian revolution, and hence its claims of historical infallibility. It was an age, then, of leaders who through their challenges to the way things were and their ability to inspire audiences to follow them— through their successes in the theater that was the Cold War confronted, neutralized, and overcame the forces that had for so long perpetuated the Cold War. Like all good actors, they brought the play at last to an end.
  • It is worth recalling that during the 1960s, and again in the 1970s, Britain's growth rate was the lowest of all the major European economies. By contrast, during the 1980s, our growth rate has been the highest of all the major European economies. This greatly improved growth performance has been accompanied by falling inflation, which at 3½ per cent. in 1986 reached the lowest figure for almost 20 years.
  • It could be that today's conservative movement remains in thrall to the same narrative that has defined its attitude toward film and the arts for decades. Inspired by feelings of exclusion after Hollywood and the popular culture turned leftward in the '60s and '70s, this narrative has defined the film industry as an irredeemably liberal institution toward which conservatives can only act in opposition—never engagement. Ironically, this narrative ignores the actual history of Hollywood, in which conservatives had a strong presence from the industry's founding in the early 20th century up through the '40s, '50s and into the mid-'60s. The conservative Hollywood community at that time included such leading directors as Howard Hawks, Frank Capra, and Cecil B. DeMille, and major stars like John Wayne, Clark Gable, and Charlton Heston. These talents often worked side by side with notable Hollywood liberals like directors Billy Wilder, William Wyler, and John Huston, and stars like Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and Spencer Tracy. The richness of classic Hollywood cinema is widely regarded as a testament to the ability of these two communities to work together, regardless of political differences. As the younger, more left-leaning "New Hollywood" generation swept into the industry in the late '60s and '70s, this older group of Hollywood conservatives faded away, never to be replaced. Except for a brief period in the '80s when the Reagan Presidency led to a conservative reengagement with film—with popular stars like Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone, and Arnold Schwarzenegger making macho, patriotic action films—conservatives appeared to abandon popular culture altogether. In the wake of this retreat, conservative failure to engage with Hollywood now appears to have been recast by today's East Coast conservative establishment into a generalized opposition toward film and popular culture itself. In the early '90s, conservative film critic Michael Medved codified this oppositional feeling toward Hollywood in his best-selling book Hollywood vs. America.
  • But in another sense, our New Beginning is a continuation of that beginning created two centuries ago when, for the first time in history, government, the people said, was not our master, it is our servant; its only power that which we the people allow it to have. That system has never failed us, but for a time we failed the system. We asked things of government that government was not equipped to give. We yielded authority to the National Government that properly belonged to states or to local governments or to the people themselves. We allowed taxes and inflation to rob us of our earnings and savings, and watched the great industrial machine that had made us the most productive people on Earth slow down and the number of unemployed increase. By 1980 we knew it was time to renew our faith, to strive with all our strength toward the ultimate in individual freedom, consistent with an orderly society. We believed then and now: There are no limits to growth and human progress when men and women are free to follow their dreams. And we were right -- and we were right to believe that. Tax rates have been reduced, inflation cut dramatically, and more people are employed than ever before in our history. We are creating a nation once again vibrant, robust, and alive. But there are many mountains yet to climb. We will not rest until every American enjoys the fullness of freedom, dignity, and opportunity as our birthright. It is our birthright as citizens of this great Republic. And, if we meet this challenge, these will be years when Americans have restored their confidence and tradition of progress; when our values of faith, family, work, and neighborhood were restated for a modern age; when our economy was finally freed from government's grip; when we made sincere efforts at meaningful arms reductions and by rebuilding our defenses, our economy, and developing new technologies, helped preserve peace in a troubled world; when America courageously supported the struggle for individual liberty, self-government, and free enterprise throughout the world and turned the tide of history away from totalitarian darkness and into the warm sunlight of human freedom. My fellow citizens, our nation is poised for greatness. We must do what we know is right, and do it with all our might. Let history say of us: "These were golden years -- when the American Revolution was reborn, when freedom gained new life, and America reached for her best."
  • Looking back at the recent history of the world, I find it amazing how far civilization has retrogressed so quickly. As recently as World War I — granted the rules were violated at times — we had a set of rules of warfare in which armies didn’t make war against civilians: Soldiers fought soldiers. Then came World War II and Hitler’s philosophy of total war, which meant the bombing not only of soldiers but of factories that produced their rifles, and, if surrounding communities were also hit, that was to be accepted; then, as the war progressed, it became common for the combatants simply to attack civilians as part of military strategy. By the time the 1980s rolled around, we were placing our entire faith in a weapon whose fundamental target was the civilian population.
  • The '80s. It was a time of optimism. It was a time of promise. It was a time of excitement and exuberance. It was a golden age of opulence and financial irresponsibility where folks worked all week, danced all weekend, and spent their money like water. The skies were blue, the movies were great, the restaurants were outstanding, the careers were promising, the cars were sleek, the clothes were classy, and the hair was big. The decade’s lexicon was laced with corporate Yuppie-eeze like Power Lunch, Golden Handcuffs, DINK, Leveraged Buyout, Walkman, Billions & Billions, Letterman, and Perrier. Everything was in front of us.
    • George Steffner, Through Their Eyes: All Four Years (2022), p. 481
  • The impact of the age of Reagan is indicated even more strongly by the guiding assumptions and possibilities of American politics and government, and the hold they have on public opinion. Thirty years ago, the proposition that reducing taxes on the rich was the best solution for all economic problems inspired only a few on the right-wing fringe. Today, it drives the national domestic agenda and is so commonplace that it sometimes appears to have become the conventional wisdom. It is only one of many such notions—including proposals that public schools teach the pseudoscience of “intelligent design” as well as Darwin’s theory of evolution, the idea that wealthy business buccaneers should have a large say in formulating federal policy, and the so-called unitary executive theory of presidential power—that have moved from the political margins to the center of power. Buttressed by the mythical accounts of the past thirty-five years, as well as by changed standards of truth and objectivity in the news media, conservatives in the age of Reagan learned how to seize and keep control of the terms of public debate—skills that liberal Democrats once mastered but lost amid their political complacency in the 1970s and disarray in the 1980s.
    • Sean Wilentz, The Age of Reagan: A History 1974-2008 (2008), pp. 6-7

External links[edit]

  • Encyclopedic article on 1980s on Wikipedia