Year 2000 Economics
The Fourth Turning is a book about human social cycles in America written by two respected generational historians, Howe and Strauss. (Click here to visit their web site.)
They make a very convincing case for a disaster and era of economic depression and crisis, possibly total war, in the coming years. Like the Kondratieff wave, based on price behaviour over time, they are essentially interpreting the "Long Cycle" through characteristics of generational aspects.
Although in the book they expect this era of crisis-- the fourth turning-- to begin by 2005 and last untill 2025, They give leeway in saying "give or take a few years." It seems clear with present trends it is just around the corner. We are (and will be) witnessing a massive Global Realignment that could be the precursor for what they (and I) envision: World War Three.
Below is a book description from the inside flap followed by exerpts from the book. Obviously this won't do justice. Read the book...It's worth it!
First came the postwar High, then the Awakening of the '60s and '70s, and now the Unraveling. This audacious and provocative book tells us what to expect just beyond the start of the next century. Are you ready for the Fourth Turning?
Strauss and Howe will change the way you see the world--and your place in it. In The Fourth Turning, they apply their generational theories to the cycles of history and locate America in the middle of an unraveling period, on the brink of a crisis. How you prepare for this crisis--the Fourth Turning--is intimately connected to the mood and attitude of your particular generation. Are you one of the can-do "GI generation," who triumphed in the last crisis? Do you belong to the mediating "Silent Majority," who enjoyed the 1950s High? Do you fall into the "awakened" Boomer category of the 1970s and 1980s, or are you a Gen-Xer struggling to adapt to our splintering world? Whatever your stage of life, The Fourth Turning offers bold predictions about how all of us can prepare, individually and collectively, for America's next rendezvous with destiny.
...from The Fourth Turning (Chapter 1)
Winter Is Coming America feels like it?s unraveling.
Though we live in an era of relative peace and comfort, we have settled into a mood of pessimism about the long-term future, fearful that our superpower nation is somehow rotting from within.
Neither an epic victory over Communism nor an extended upswing of the business cycle can buoy our public spirit. The Cold War and New Deal struggles are plainly over, but we are of no mind to bask in their successes. The America of today feels worse, in its fundamentals, than the one many of us remember from youth, a society presided over by those of supposedly lesser consciousness. Wherever we look, from L.A. to D.C., from Oklahoma City to Sun City, we see paths to a foreboding future. We yearn for civic character but satisfy ourselves with symbolic gestures and celebrity circuses. We perceive no greatness in our leaders, a new meanness in ourselves. Small wonder that each new election brings a new jolt, its aftermath a new disappointment.
Not long ago, America was more than the sum of its parts. Now, it is less. Around World War II, we were proud as a people but modest as individuals. Fewer than two people in ten said yes when asked ?Are you a very important person?? Today, more than six in ten say yes. Where we once thought ourselves collectively strong, we now regard ourselves as individually entitled.
Yet even while we exalt our own personal growth, we realize that millions of self-actualized persons don?t add up to an actualized society. Popular trust in virtually every American institution-from businesses and governments to churches and newspapers-keeps falling to new lows. Public debts soar, the middle class shrinks, welfare dependencies deepen, and cultural wars worsen by the year. We now have the highest incarceration rate, and the lowest eligible-voter participation rate, of any major democracy. Statistics inform us that many adverse trends (crime, divorce, abortion, scholastic aptitudes) may have bottomed out, but we?re not reassured.
Optimism still attaches to self, but no longer to family or community. Most Americans express more hope for their own prospects than for their children?s-or the nation?s. Parents widely fear that the American Dream, which was there (solidly) for their parents and still there (barely) for them, will not be there for their kids. Young householders are reaching their mid-thirties never having known a time when America seemed to be on the right track. Middle-aged people look at their thin savings accounts and slim-to-none pensions, scoff at an illusory Social Security trust fund, and try not to dwell on what a burden their old age could become. Seniors separate into their own Leisure World, recoiling at the lost virtue of youth while trying not to think about the future.
We perceive our civic challenge as some vast, insoluble Rubik?s Cube. Behind each problem lies another problem that must be solved first, and behind that lies yet another, and another, ad infinitum. To fix crime we have to fix the family, but before we do that we have to fix welfare, and that means fixing our budget, and that means fixing our civic spirit, but we can?t do that without fixing moral standards, and that means fixing schools and churches, and that means fixing the inner cities, and that?s impossible unless we fix crime. There?s no fulcrum on which to rest a policy lever. People of all ages sense that something huge will have to sweep across America before the gloom can be lifted-but that?s an awareness we suppress. As a nation, we?re in deep denial.
While we grope for answers, we wonder if analysis may be crowding out our intuition. Like the anxious patient who takes 17 kinds of medicine while poring over his own CAT scan, we find it hard to stop and ask: What is the underlying malady really about? How can we best bring the primal forces of nature to our assistance? Isn?t there a choice lying somewhere between total control and total despair? Deep down, beneath the tangle of trend lines, we suspect that our history or biology or very humanity must have something simple and important to say to us. But we don?t know what it is. If we once did know, we have since forgotten.
Wherever we?re headed, America is evolving in ways most of us don?t like or understand. Individually focused yet collectively adrift, we wonder if we?re heading toward a waterfall. Are we?
Good question. Are we?
The reward of the historian is to locate patterns that recur over time and to discover the natural rhythms of social experience.
In fact, at the core of modern history lies this remarkable pattern: Over the past five centuries, Anglo-American society has entered a new era-a new turning-every two decades or so. At the start of each turning, people change how they feel about themselves, the culture, the nation, and the future. Turnings come in cycles of four. Each cycle spans the length of a long human life, roughly 80 to 100 years, a unit of time the ancients called the saeculum. Together, the four turnings of the saeculum comprise history?s seasonal rhythm of growth, maturation, entropy, and destruction:
Each turning comes with its own identifiable mood. Always, these mood shifts catch people by surprise.
In the current saeculum, the First Turning was the American High of the Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy presidencies. As World War II wound down, no one predicted that America would soon become so confident and institutionally muscular, yet so conformist and spiritually complacent. But that?s what happened.
The Second Turning was the Consciousness Revolution, stretching from the campus revolts of the mid-1960s to the tax revolts of the early 1980s. Before John Kennedy was assassinated, no one predicted that America was about to enter an era of personal liberation and cross a cultural divide that would separate anything thought or said after from anything thought or said before. But that?s what happened.
The Third Turning has been the Culture Wars, an era that began with Reagan?s mid-?80s ?Morning in America? and is due to expire around the middle of the Oh-Oh decade, eight or ten years from now. Amidst the glitz of the early Reagan years, no one predicted that the nation was entering an era of national drift and institutional decay. But that?s where we are.
Have major national mood shifts like this ever before happened? Yes-many times. Have Americans ever before experienced anything like the current attitude of Unraveling? Yes-many times, over the centuries.
Elders in their eighties can remember an earlier mood that was much like today?s. They can recall the years between Armistice Day (1918) and the Great Crash of 1929. Euphoria over a global military triumph was painfully short-lived. Earlier optimism about a progressive future gave way to a jazz age nihilism and a pervasive cynicism about high ideals. Bosses swaggered in immigrant ghettos, the KKK in the South, the mafia in the industrial heartland, and defenders of Americanism in a myriad Middletowns. Unions atrophied, government weakened, third-parties were the rage, and a dynamic marketplace ushered in new consumer technologies (autos, radios, phones, juke boxes, vending machines) that made life feel newly complicated and frenetic. The risky pleasures of a ?lost? young generation shocked middle-aged decency crusaders-many of them ?tired radicals? who were then moralizing against the detritus of the ?mauve? decade of their youth (the 1890s). Opinions polarized around no-compromise cultural issues like drugs, family, and ?decency.? Meanwhile, parents strove to protect a scoutlike new generation of children (who, in time, aged into today?s senior citizens).
Back then, the details were different, but the underlying mood resembled what Americans feel today. Listen to Walter Lippmann, writing during World War I:
?We are unsettled to the very roots of our being. There isn?t a human relation, whether of parent or child, husband and wife, worker and employer, that doesn?t move in a strange situation. We are not used to a complicated civilization, we don?t know how to behave when personal contact and eternal authority have disappeared. There are no precedents to guide us, no wisdom that was not meant for a simpler age.?
Move backward again to an era recalled by the oldest Americans still alive when today?s seniors were little children. In the late 1840s and early 1850s, America drifted into a foul new mood. The hugely popular Mexican War had just ended in a stirring triumph, but the huzzahs over territorial gain didn?t last long. Cities grew mean and politics hateful. Immigration surged, financial speculation boomed, and railroads and cotton exports released powerful new market forces that destabilized communities. Having run out of answers, the two major parties (Whigs and Democrats) were slowly disintegrating. A righteous debate over slavery?s westward expansion erupted between so-called Southrons and abolitionists-many of them middle-aged spiritualists who in the more euphoric 1830s and ?40s had dabbled in Transcendentalism, utopian communes, and other assorted youth-fired crusades. Colleges went begging for students as a brazen young generation hustled west to pan for gold in towns fabled for their violence. Meanwhile, a child generation grew up with a new regimentation that startled European visitors who, a decade earlier, had bemoaned the wildness of American kids. Sound familiar?
Run the clock back the length of yet another long life, to the 1760s. The recent favorable conclusion to the French and Indian War had brought eighty years of conflict to a close and secured the colonial frontier. Yet when England tried to recoup the expense of the war through taxation, the colonies seethed with a directionless discontent. Immigration from the Old World, emigration across the Appalachians, and colonial trade arguments all rose sharply. As debtors? prisons bulged, middle-aged people complained of what Benjamin Franklin called the ?white savagery? of youth. Middle-aged orators (peers of the fiery young preachers of the circa-1740 Great Awakening) awakened civic consciousness and organized popular crusades of economic austerity. The youth elite became the first to attend disciplined church schools in the colonies rather than academies in corrupt Albion. Gradually, colonists began separating into mutually-loathing camps, one defending and the other attacking the Crown. Sound familiar again?
During each of these periods, Americans celebrated an ethos of frenetic and laissez-faire ?individualism? (a word first popularized in the 1840s), yet also fretted over social fragmentation, epidemic violence, and economic and technological change that seemed to be accelerating beyond society?s ability to absorb it.
During each of these periods, Americans had recently achieved a stunning victory over a long-standing foreign threat-Imperial Germany, Imperial New Spain (alias Mexico), or Imperial New France. Yet that victory came to be associated with a worn-out definition of collective purpose-and, perversely, unleashed a torrent of pessimism.
During each of these periods, an aggressive moralism darkened the debate about the country?s future. Culture wars raged, the language of political discourse coarsened, nativist (and sectional) feelings hardened, immigration and substance abuse came under attack, and attitudes toward children grew more protective.
During each of these periods, Americans felt well-rooted in their personal values but newly hostile toward the corruption of civic life. Unifying institutions which had seemed secure for decades suddenly felt ephemeral. Those who had once trusted the nation with their lives were now growing old and passing on. To the new crop of young adults, the nation hardly mattered. The whole res-publica seemed on the verge of disintegrating.
During each of these previous Third Turnings, Americans felt like they were drifting toward a cataclysm.
And, as it turned out, they were. What were thse cataclysms?
The 1760s were followed by the American Revolution, the 1850s by Civil War, the 1920s by the Great Depression and World War II. All these Unraveling eras were followed by bone-jarring Crises so monumental that, by their end, American society emerged in a wholly new form.
Each time, the change came with scant warning. As late as December 1773, November 1859, and October 1929, the American people had no idea how close it was. Then sudden sparks (the Boston Tea Party, John Brown?s raid and execution, Black Tuesday) transformed the public mood, swiftly and permanently. Over the next two decades or so, society convulsed. Emergencies required massive sacrifices from a citizenry that responded by putting community ahead of self. Leaders led, and people trusted them. As a new social contract was created, people overcame challenges once thought insurmountable-and used the Crisis to elevate themselves and their nation to a higher plane of civilization: In the 1790s, they triumphantly created the modern world?s first democratic republic. In the late 1860s, wounded but reunited, they forged a genuine nation extending new guarantees of liberty and equality. In the late 1940s, they constructed the most Promethean superpower ever seen.
The Fourth Turning is history?s great discontinuity. It ends one epoch and begins another.
History is seasonal, and winter is coming. Like nature?s winter, the saecular winter can come early or late. A Fourth Turning can be long and difficult, brief but severe, or (perhaps) mild. But, like winter, it cannot be averted. It must come in its turn.
Seasons of History During the Middle Ages, travelers reported an unusual custom among illiterate villagers in central France. Whenever an event of local importance occurred, like the marriage of a seigneur or the renegotiation of feudal dues, the elders boxed the ears of a young child to make sure he remembered that day-and event-all his life.
In today?s world, the making of childhood memories remains a visceral practice. Grand state ceremonies box the ears with the thunder of cannons, roar of jets, and blast of fireworks. Teenagers? boomboxes similarly etch young aural canals with future memories of a shared adolescent community. Like medieval French villagers, modern Americans carry deeply-felt associations with what has happened at various points in our lives. We memorialize public events (Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy or King assassinations, the Challenger explosion) by remembering exactly what we were doing at the time. As we grow older, we realize that the sum total of such events has in many ways shaped who we are.
Exactly how these major events shaped us had much to do with how old we were when they happened. When you recall your personal markers of life and time, the events you remember most are suffused with the emotional complexion of your phase of life at the time. Your early markers, colored by the dreams and innocence of childhood, reveal how events (and older people) shaped you. Your later markers, colored by the cares of maturity, tell how you shaped events (and younger people). When you reach old age, you will remember all the markers that truly mattered to you. Perhaps your generation will build monuments to them (as today?s seniors are now doing with the new FDR and World War II monuments in Washington, D.C.), in the hope that posterity will remember your lives and times in the preliterate way: as legends. It is through this linkage of biological aging and shared experience, reproduced across turnings and generations, that history acquires personal relevance.
Human history is comprised of lives, coursing from birth to death. All persons who are born must die, and all who die must first be born. The full sweep of human civilization is but the sum of this. Of all the cycles known to man, the one we all know best is the human lifecycle. No other societal force-not class, not nationality, not culture, not technology-has as predictable a chronology. The limiting length of an active lifecycle is one of civilization?s great constants: In the time of Moses, it was eighty to a hundred years, and it still is, even if more people now reach that limit. Biologically and socially, a full human life is divided into four phases: childhood, young adulthood, midlife, and elderhood. Each phase of life is the same length of the others, capable of holding one generation at a time. And each phase is associated with a specific social role that conditions how its occupants perceive the world and act on those perceptions.
A generation, in turn, is the aggregate of all persons, born over roughly the span of a phase of life, who share a common location in history--and, hence, a common collective persona. Like a person (and unlike a race, religion, or sex), a generation is mortal: Its members understand that in time they all must perish. Hence, a generation feels the same historical urgency that individuals feel in their own lives. This dynamic of generational aging and dying enables a society to replenish its memory and evolve over time. Each time younger generations replace older ones in each phase of life, the composite lifecycle becomes something altogether new, fundamentally changing the entire society?s mood and behavior.
History creates generations, and generations create history. This symbiosis between life and time explains why, if one is seasonal, the other must be.
How does this let us look at the future?
Americans? chronic failure to grasp the seasonality of history explains why the consensus forecasts about the national direction so often turn out so wrong.
Back in the late 1950s, forecasters widely predicted that America?s future would be like Disney?s Tomorrowland. The experts foresaw well-mannered youth, a wholesome culture, an end of ideology, an orderly conquest of racism and poverty, steady economic progress, plenty of social discipline, and uncontroversial Korea-like police actions abroad. All these predictions, of course, were wildly mistaken. It?s not just that the experts missed the particular events that lay just ahead-the TÍt Offensive and Apollo 11, Watts and Kent State, Summer of Love and Watergate, Earth Day and Chappaquiddick. It?s that they missed the entire mood of the coming era.
Why were their predictions so wrong? When the forecasters assumed the future would extrapolate the recent past, they expected that the next set of people in each phase of life would behave just like the current occupants. Had they known where and how to look, the experts could have seen history-bending changes about to occur in America?s generational lineup: Each generation would age through time as surely as water runs to the sea. Over the ensuing two decades, the current elder leaders were due to disappear, a new batch of kids to arrive, and the generations in between to transform the new phases of life they were entering.
This dynamic has recurred throughout American history. Roughly every two decades (the span of one phase of life), there has arisen a new constellation of generations-a new layering of generational personas up and down the age ladder. As this constellation has shifted, so has the national mood.
Consider what happened, from the late 1950s to the late 1970s, as one generation replaced another at each phase of life:
Viewed through the prism of generational aging, the mood change between the late 1950s and the late 1970s becomes not just comprehensible, but (in hindsight) predictable: America was moving from a First Turning constellation and into a Second. Replace the aging Truman and Ike with LBJ and Nixon. Replace the middle-aged Ed Sullivan and Ann Landers with Norman Lear and Gloria Steinem. Replace young Organization Men with Woodstock hippies. Replace Jerry Mathers with Tatum O?Neal. This top-to-bottom alteration of the American lifecycle tells much about why and how America shifted from a mood of consensus, complacency, and optimism to one of turbulence, argument, and passion.
What about the most recent twenty years? The most prevalent late-?70s forecasts of late-?90s America assumed that the trends of the ?60s would continue along a straight line. This led to predictions of an acceleration of government planning, ongoing protests against social conformity, more ?God is Dead? secularism, delegitimized family life, less emphasis on money and weapons in a ?post-materialist? age, and spectacular economic growth which would either allow unprecedented leisure--or plunge the planet into a huge ecological catastrophe.