The Danielle Steel Decade *

The Free Agent has observed that the frequency of the nostalgia wave is about twenty years. In particular, Generation-Whatevers look upon twenty years before whatever year it is as a time when people wore funny clothes and didn’t have real problems like we do nowadays. (When The Free Agent was a toddler, the rage was for the 1950s—school dances were sock hops, girls dug through their mothers’ closets for the ol’ poodle skirt and boys gelled their shag cuts into DAs.) In that spirit, you are invited to don a plaid flannel shirt, tie another plaid flannel shirt around your waist, and revisit Things We Complained About in the 90s.

Ross Perot’s “giant sucking sound” of jobs moving Mexico-ward as a result of the proposed North American Free Trade Agreement. NAFTA took effect January 1, 1994, in December, Mexico suffered a currency crisis, muddling the statistical waters quite a bit. But comparing total employment in Mexico between 1993 and 1998, sure enough, its economy added over 3 million jobs, a 20% increase. But during the same period, the US added nearly 15 million jobs, for an overall increase of 14%. U.S. gross domestic product grew 32% during those five years, in Mexico it rose 15%. If there was a sound, it would seem to have been caused by significant increase in prosperity for both countries. A fact Mexico might well be reminded of, now that it hears a sucking sound from China and India.

But what was the nature of those jobs? The Free Agent recently received an Internet chain letter suggesting we demand to speak to an American customer service agent when we detect a foreign accent on the phone, repatriating “our jobs”. Ignoring the anti-competitive impact higher wages would have for US employers, in the 90s, we disdained exactly this type of work as soulless, low-wage, service sector McJobs. Increasing total employment, decreasing total employment, alluding to the 1970s again, “it’s always something.”

Remember when Barnes & Noble, Borders, Waldenbooks and B. Dalton were the enemies? When we worried about Starbucks’ opening too many stores? When gentrification was evil? All of those trends have reversed, to no one’s clear benefit or injury.

The Free Agent concludes her musings on a sober note. In the waning months of the 90s, she marched with fellow Washingtonians in protest of NATO’s bombing campaign in Yugoslavia. It was hardly a frenzied, Vietnam-caliber protest, by June 5 it was already clear the campaign would end in a few days. But we objected to the idea that bombing could be an easy, or clean war, cashing in on the US’s technological strengths with little exposure to loss of our lives or treasure. Since Yugoslavia/Kosovo’s European neighbors seemed uninterested in risking themselves to impose an end to the war, why should Washington override them?

Yes, The Free Agent’s complaints about the 90s concept of clean wars seems as quaint as a tuna boycott now that her country is ensnared in at least two eye-level wars, consuming both treasure and her countrymen’s lives. She wonders if in 2031 if she’ll wax nostalgic for Iraq and Afghanistan. What events would have to transpire for that to happen, she daren’t contemplate.

* Danielle Steel wrote 20 of the 100 end of year top 10 novels from 1990-1999