Nitpickers would say that the decade is not over yet (it ends on Dec 31, 2010) and valid questions would undoubtedly be raised about the benefits of dispensing history in bite sized doses. However, none of this would stop us in indulging ourselves in a bit of pop-history. The Noughties (as British tabloids imaginatively christened the 2000s) present an exciting case and, after all, who better to go to for a decade review than global historians right (everyone seems to be doing it so why should we not weigh in)?
At first glance there seems little to cheer about- 9/11, two wars, the recession and climate change were the big global issues. The decade saw the end of American supremacy, with the rise of the non-western nations, particularly China. This went hand in hand with the demise, almost to the point of being discredited, of the neo-liberal ideology. Government control of the markets increased in the west, while it saved India and China them from a great degree of damage during the recession. At any rate, new great powers entered the scene.
The 2000s also saw a grand success in supra-national governance in the form of the European Union. The establishment of the Euro-zone and the Schengen agreement proved to be a boost in the arm for many European economies during the decade, while their citizens enjoyed relatively better standards of living, social welfare and an excellent human-rights framework.
Politics, though, seemed to take a parochial turn in the decade. Right-wing, nationalist , mostly anti-immigrant rhetoric in politics grew in the Western world. On the other hand, the economic prosperity of the non-Western states led to stronger national assertions on the global stage. It comes as no surprise then that India and China prove to be the biggest hindrances to any effort at global governance and regulation from Doha to Copenhagen, while the human-rights situation in these countries remains abysmal.
Human rights themselves took a beating with the strongest nation in the world legalizing torture, and governments worldwide passed draconian and invasive legislations for fighting terror. The idea of human-rights though gained wider political currency through civil-society movements which grew ever more interconnected and powerful during the decade. Non-state actors also played important role in global security, with the Al Qaeda and rag-tag insurgent armies challenging the strongest military in the world on the one hand, while security itself seemed to be passed on to private hads, as in the case of Blackwater, on the other.
On a broader level, two big changes would mark the decade. It was the decade when over half of the worlds population started living in urban areas. Cities became the hub of economic activity, and drew on resources from an increasing area. The demand for specific services in cities challenged small scale industry and sustainable agriculture. The latter years of the decade though saw significant efforts to offset the environmental and social damage caused by such urbanization.
The other big change was the increase of women in the workforce. While salaries and benefits for women as compared to men remained low, the increasing number of women in the workforce has the potential of changing economic dynamics. In developing countries women became the preferred clients of micro-lenders, tapping into the potential of social and economic growth offered by female employment.
Perhaps the biggest thing coming out the decade would be the change in the way information is received and distributed. The internet provided users a platform to share and ensured that nothing is ever more than a few clicks away. This nearly destroyed the music industry early in the decade (until iTunes came about), is giving papers a run for their money and soon major film and television studios would have to deal with the ease with which media could be shared and distribute over the internet. While entrepreneurs are juicing these new possibilities for all their moolah, the political potential of this has only begun to be realized.
It is difficult to put such a topsy-turvy decade in a nutshell. Much remains to be said, especially on how globalization was impact religious and cultural values in the decade. But I would like to end by taking us back to the the beginning of the 2000s, when on September 11, 2001 it seemed that fear(justified in many ways) would polarize the world. However, the ideology (or lack of it) that perpetrated the attacks as well as the polarizing ideology (“with us or against us”) that emerged as the backlash, proved to have limited or no appeal. On the other hand the decade was defined by a high degree of cultural fusion, exchange and identity straddling individuals and literature . This in itself is a reassuring, heartening thing.
Update: Remember this piece of decadology?