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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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 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 Lewis Gaddis, The Cold War: A New History (2005), pp. 195-196
- 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.
- John Lewis Gaddis, The Cold War: A New History (2005), pp. 196-197
- 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.
- Ronald Reagan, An American Life (1990)
- 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
- Encyclopedic article on 1980s on Wikipedia