The decade now drawing to a close has proven arguably the worst in American history. Since the 1840s, for example, only twice has the inflation-adjusted American stock market been negative over a ten-year period. -.2 percent during the Great Depression era and -.6 (three times that of the Great Depression) during the 2000-09 period! Since 1950, each decade has recorded a rise in the average net worth of Americans. Ranging from 12 percent during the sluggish 1970s to 44 percent during the 1990s. The 2000s showed an unprecedented decline in this number of -13 percent. The total number of jobs in America, which has climbed every decade in American history (even during the 1930s), and which grew by 31 percent during the 1960s and by 20 percent during the 1990s, was flat during the 2000s: 131 million jobs in 2000; the same in 2009.
Someday our children will read history books about the Great Recession. They will discuss subprime loans and bank bailouts during a backdrop of the war on two fronts. History has shown that when the financial markets suffer severe shocks, it can be years before the system functions smoothly again and resumes its place as the lifeblood of a robust and expanding economy. While I do not want to dwell on such negative and depressing financial statistics, it does frame our time and the work we must do.
In this great work, we look to many sources for inspiration and drive. Sometimes our greatest inspiration comes from the great deeds of our ancestors. As I have suggested, Abraham Lincoln steered America through the most profound moral crisis in our history and the bloodiest war. His leadership defined what it meant to be American.