The Nineteen Nineties

11 - 9 - 1989 to 9 - 11 - 2001

A Golden Age that we probably took for granted.

The Berlin Wall collapsed on the 9th of November 1989, the ultimate symbol of the demise of Communism. Other East European countries become democratic, as did in other parts of the world ranging from South Korea to Chile. Nelson Mandela was released from prison and shortly after became President of South Africa. The Soviet Union became Russia and a dozen other republics. China continued on its economic reforms but bloodily hit back against democracy, pluralism or human rightsunlike in 1987, today it would be hard to replicate the joint-production of Big Bird in China. But things looked like peaches to the extent that Francis Fukuyama considered we had reached the end of history.

The United States remained neo-liberalist and fiscally conservative in its economic policies, even with a relatively popular and internationalist Democrat in the White House delivering a half-baked socially progressive agenda palatable to middle America. Global interest rates and oil prices came down. Trade barriers were somewhat reduced around the world, although there was some regional protection in Western Europe and North America. In an era of global stability and the globalisation of production, economic growth took off in East Asia and to a lesser extent in Latin America. Manufacturing and middle management died in the West - education provided a way to the unemployed to reskill themselves for a changing labour market, but plenty of people floundered. Even though poverty and AIDS scouged many countries, many poor at least enjoyed better economic prospects than they had earlier. Countries that were unable to respond to the new international order that demanded both institutional capital and wholesale restructuring fell by the wayside, including ageing Japan, messily reunified Germany and inchoate Russia, whose President spent most of the 1990s drunk.

Instead, for the most part the world was dominated by a single superpower - pre-eminent in terms of military, economic and cultural clout.

In the West Baby boomers began assuming control of governments and corporations. Their children, the first generation where a significant proportion grew up in single parent households, experienced a tougher, credentialist job market. While young adults - especially young women - had more options available to them than previous generations, there was less opportunity to waste time between university and work. Nonetheless young people still ended up to be more affluent than ever before, and this probably made them more conservative.

The Internet went from being a campus novelty, to a revolutionary new tool for changing the world, to ultimately something we take for granted. Its development contributed to endogenous economic growth around the world. Along with the proliferation of mobile telephones and satellite television, the world shrinked at an even faster rate than before, and bring predominantly Western culture to all over the world. For some oppressive governments and religions, this led to the beginning of a backlash.

We drank at coffee houses, not yet caring that they were branded. People called slackers ended up working 100 hour weeks on their dot coms. Nirvana and Pearl Jam brought us grunge, Oasis and the Spice Girls brought us back to pop, and rap and hip hop came in all different shades of authenticity. People took a holistic approach to the concept of medicine, but could also pop Viagra and Prozac if they still had faith in Western pharmacology. Our kids had Tickle me Elmo dolls and Tamagotchis and watched Pokemon, Teletubbies and (with us) The Simpsons. Goatees came and quickly left, as did baggy trousers.

The United States could seemingly rule anywhere on the planet as long as the number of friendly casualties did not exceed the single digits. So Bosnia, Rwanda and Zaire went into the too hard basket. Rio and Kyoto protocols were left still-born. However, we had at least the Oslo Accords as a promise for solving the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. And those problems of the world were far away anyway.

Then, just as things started to be comfortable, things in the last few years started to unravel. East Asia's economic miracle fizzed out overnight. The death of Diana Princess of Wales was a sudden reminder of the fleetingness of life. A well-liked President turned out to be morally flawed and untrustworthy, to be replaced by one the world has much less faith in. The economies, social stability and hopes of Indonesia, Russia and Latin America imploded, as did the global IT industry in the tech-wreck of March 2000. Finally, according to Gucci designer Tom Ford, the nineties ended on September 11 2001.

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