About this weeks show:
- What do regularly repeating 80-100yr cycles tell us about America’s current situation?
- How does each generation (young, middle-aged and senior) respond when a major historic change occurs within the cycle?
- Can we be aware and expectant of the next season in the cycle without becoming totally fatalistic?
About the guest: Neil Howe, best-selling author and national speaker, is a renowned authority on generations in America. He gives readers and audiences powerful insights into who today’s generation are, what motivates them as consumers and workers, and how they will shape our national future. www.lifecourse.com
The McAlvany Weekly Commentary
with David McAlvany and Kevin Orrick
Kevin: David, before we go to our guest today, let’s recap a little bit. We talked about a family that you know. They do real estate development, but they do it in a completely unique way. We spoke about that in last week’s program.
David: To grasp the importance of a locale or to judge the future direction of development trends, demographic shifts which are going to impact the need for new structures, this family considers the topography, the distance, the elevation, things that you and I would not necessarily consider, but they do it by getting a bird’s-eye view.
Kevin: And that is their excuse for owning a helicopter. Okay, I have tried the same type of technique with my wife with an airplane. She doesn’t buy it.
David: It is interesting, though, that geography does shrink with altitude. Relationships seem clearer between communities. You can see natural traffic flows. You can anticipate growth patterns. There are things that you deduce from a higher elevation, things that you would miss if your altitude is 6 feet…
Kevin: Instead of 600 feet or higher.
David: I think this relates to history and cycles that we see in history, taking an elevated view of what has, and does occur, actually, with some regularity. This is a little bit different than that phrase, “If you don’t understand history, you are doomed to repeat it.”
Kevin: There is another saying, too. History doesn’t necessarily repeat itself exactly, but it does rhyme. To understand a rhyme, though, you have to understand the word that you are rhyming with. In a way, that sets a cycle in context. You have to look backward to hear what to rhyme with, or else you miss it.
David: As an observer, you may impart even an inflated importance to something that seems novel, different, critical, or defining. The observation, itself, may be correct in its immediate context, but when you introduce it into that historical topography, the historical trend can teach you something about the thought and action, the results therein. A different dimension appears when you put it in a historical context.
Kevin: It allows you to try to be impartial, and maybe emotionally neutral. We are coming out of a period of time over this last couple of weeks, with Osama bin Laden being taken out of the picture. As we asked last week, “Is this a game-changer, or is this just something else?” And yes, there was a lot of emotion tied to it, but from an impartial perspective, understanding the season that we are in – that is not a game-changer.
David: Essentially, what you are doing, as in literature, is going from the first person, that experience, to the third person, and becoming an observer of history. That is objectivity, hopefully, a view where past and present are more understandable, less from a purely existential point of view, as useful and as valid as that knowledge may be, but as a third party, or a third-person observer.
Kevin: Now I am going to shift over to political issues, as well, because in reality, there are political schools of thought, religious schools of thought, different types of schools of thought that would actually not just try to discourage, but actually kill the guy who says that there are cycles. I am thinking about Kondratiev in the USSR.
David: Those were the long-cycle studies that he put together, which were not particularly compatible with the communist view of the world.
Kevin: Sure, they are very linear, and almost an evolutionist kind of mindset, where things are just getting better and better, more and more organized, and communism will prevail.
David: We want to discuss some of these things with our guest today. Neil Howe has co-authored a best-selling book called The Fourth Turning. He has written a number of books, 5 or 10, at least. Kevin, you and I have both looked at the book, The Fourth Turning, written by William Strauss and Neil Howe. They take a different approach than Kondratiev did with his long-cycle theories, but it is a seasonal pattern, something that you can see over the seculum, the 100-year period, of something happening, generationally, or inter-generationally, over that period of time, and there seem to be similarities, both in terms of the conflicts that end up coming at the end of that 100-year cycle, and to the emotional and cultural dynamics that you see in between generations, as that 100 years gets played out.
Kevin: These 100-year periods have four seasons, just like the year does: Winter, spring, summer, and fall. Then you go back through a winter, and you have another spring. It is an interesting way of looking at history, but I think the thing that hit me the most was how the generations react to different things, and how the mood, no matter what the actual historic moment is, the mood is going to repeat itself. There is a mood of excitement in the beginning, there is a mood of awakening later, there is a mood of disintegration, and then, ultimately, it turns to what he calls, a fourth turning.
David: Neil, thanks for joining us. You have written a number of books, and with a background as a historian, as an economist, as a demographer; it gives a particular insight into the cyclical nature of time and of history. For our listeners, perhaps you can give us a thumbnail sketch of the cyclical patterns you see in history, and the import, for this era, of taking a bird’s-eye view to the events of the day, and transitions that may be afoot. Assume that our listeners will not have read your book, but would be very interested after our interview.
Neil Howe: Thank you. An excellent perspective, in all senses of the word, that you just gave. I think that is exactly right. When we think about where we are in time, as a society, or as a family, or as an individual, we generally tend to acknowledge that there are very long-term linear trends. There is a trend toward greater use of technology, or more affluence, or industrialization, or public health – these extremely long-term, amorphous, endless, secular trends.
Beyond that, there is nothing but randomness, chaos, and noise. Anything can happen from one year to the next. That is generally the way we Americans see ourselves, and how people in other countries see themselves. Yes, there are some huge, vast trends, that may extend over centuries, but otherwise, it is chaos, and we negotiate as we can, month-by-month, year-by-year.
What we suggest in The Fourth Turning, is that there is an intermediate perspective, which offers some real regularity, we think of them almost as seasons in history, that operate around the length of a long human life. In our book we actually call these the secula, the old Roman or Etruscan word for century, which originally meant a long human life, 80-90 years or so. We organize each of those periods into four seasons, which are around 20 years or so in length, and this also turns out to be the length of a social generation.
These periods constitute a seasonal year, going from spring to summer to fall to winter. Our own history in America – this has been commented on by many historians – has been punctuated by rather catastrophic political or economic re-ordering of our outer world, our outer institutional world, about every 80-90 years. From the American Revolution to the Civil War, to the Great Depression and World War II, or going back even earlier, before the American Revolution, to the War of Spanish Succession, and the Glorious Revolution, when the colonies were still part of Great Britain, and then back earlier into periodic European upheavals, whose cyclic irregularity has been commented on by many, including most famously, by Arnold Toynbee, looking at what he called, “the long war cycle.”
What is interesting, as well, is that punctuated in between those glorious outer-world reshaping events are inner-world reshaping events, which in our own history have been called, “The Great Awakenings” of American history, from the original great migration to New England in the 1630s under John Winthrop, the original Great Awakening, with Jonathan Edwards, and many others experienced it and even participated in it as young adults, like Ben Franklin, for example, in the 1740s, to the Second and Third Great Awakenings of American history, and the recent consciousness revolution of the late ’60s and ’70s, which have often been called by many historians America’s Fourth or Fifth Great Awakening, in a pattern. These come relatively halfway in between those outer world crises. These are the times when we reshape our inner world of values, and religion, and culture.
I am giving it to you in a backward order, because this isn’t actually the way we arrived at this conclusion, or at this perspective. Our first book that Bill Strauss and I did together in 1991 was called Generations, looking at the entire history of America, from the 17th Century on, as a sequence of generational biographies. Not only did we find that Americans have always been very aware of generational differences, have always talked about them, and these differences have always been powerful, and a motivating force in history, but also, one thing we see, as far as we go back, is that these generations tend to recur in a certain pattern.
We spelled out how that worked in the book, Generations, but that was sort of a further reflection on the story we told. In The Fourth Turning, which we did six years later in 1997, we turned the whole order of our thinking around. We actually started with the observed cycles and rhythms of history that social scientists and historians have noticed – rhythms, for example, in the economy.
You mentioned Kondratiev, and the so-called long cycle, the cycle of realigning elections in America. There are cycles of family stability, cycles of birthrates, cycles of immigration. A fascinating cycle, with extraordinary regularity, was actually discovered by David Musto, who teaches epidemiology and public health at Yale University, which is a cycle of substance abuse throughout American history. He actually observed this about ten years before we began writing, that about every 80-90 years there is a peaking of substance abuse in America.
Back in the 19th Century, this was, of course, mainly measured in terms of alcohol consumption per capita, but yes, indeed, at the peak of the Second Great Awakening, particularly in the 1820s and 1830s, America was roaring drunk. We had an enormous consumption of alcohol per capita. When Andrew Jackson took the White House in 1828, the crowds tore the White House to pieces. Everyone was ripped.
Interestingly, alcohol consumption per capita actually dropped by 50% by the outbreak of the Civil War, about three decades later. Again, it peaked around 1900, pushing, of course, the calls, not only for temperance, but for Prohibition, which finally went into effect right after World War I. This was another period of awakening when substance abuse peaked, along with all kinds of newly synthesized drugs, from heroin to cocaine. We all know that in 1900 Coca-Cola had the real thing, right? Well, that all was later banned.
Again, during the consciousness revolution, it wasn’t just mind-expanding drugs. Alcohol consumption per capita in post war America peaked in the late 1970s, and it has been gradually declining ever since. It is fascinating that substance abuse seems to regularly follow these rhythms of cultural and religious awakening, if you want to call it that, which have recurred repeatedly throughout our history, and it is always associated with a certain kind of generation born after the crisis that comes of age into young adulthood during these periods.
What fascinates us, to take a different look at this, is that there are similar stories here. There are certain generations that come of age during these outer world catastrophes, these times of war and political emergency. We actually call this, in our writing, the hero archetype in history. We all remember the GI generation, the greatest generation. I am sure we have all heard the title of that book by Tom Brokaw, great for all the big institutions they built and the wars they won and all the concrete they poured all over America, straightening rivers, and building dams. That is a certain kind of generation. We have seen others like that.
A great example were the younger generation of founding fathers, the presidents of Jefferson, Madison and Monroe, and Alexander Hamilton and their peers constantly talking about how they built institutions, mapped the roads, and mapped the heavens, a Promethean generation of order, of construction. We have seen these recur.
We have also seen, anyone who has tracked baby boomers throughout their lives, we see a very different archetype of a generation. We actually call this the prophet archetype in American history. Boomers are a great example, coming of age with this period of spiritual upheaval, and then as they go into mid-life, becoming a generation of culture warriors, a generation of vision and values, a generation that is always telling other generations what’s right and what’s wrong.
This generation, which back in the late 1960s and 1970s trusted no one over 30, today, want to police the morals of everyone under 30. This is the generation that watches culture-wars TV, all those cable stations that talk about red zone and blue zone all the time. They define themselves by their sweeping world views and their ideologies. By the way, it is a generation where younger people, increasingly Generation Xers, are trying to take America away from that kind of ideological polarization into something a little bit more optimistic, perhaps a little bit more constructive. But that is okay, we have seen this before.
This is the same generation that took America into the Civil War. These are the peers of Abraham Lincoln, and Longfellow, and Thoreau, and Emerson, and Jefferson Davis. This was the generation that came of age during the Second Great Awakening, a generation of religious prophets, and poets, and feminists. They founded communes all over New England and even into the Midwest. They were striking in their own day. Of course, as young adults, very few people knew at the time, like Ralph Waldo Emerson did when he heard about Fort Sumter, that he would be delighted in the news that America was going to finally purge itself of these terrible wrongs. That was a generation which, indeed, took us straight into the Civil War, with diehard leaders on both sides.
I think when we become aware that history is filled with these broader patterns and these broader forces, it gives us a new way of looking at what is going on today.
David: The parallel between that last generation, that of the prophets, or the culture warriors, who may have taken us into what you describe as The Fourth Turning, the Civil War, we have seen that, and perhaps are on the cusp of that again. When the book was written in 1997, you argued that, looking forward to 2005, there should be changes afoot, following those seasonal patterns, coming into a cultural winter. Unfortunately, the winters are where there is some degree of conflict or upset to the status quo, and sometimes that can be conflict that is external, as in World War II, and World War I. Sometimes that conflict can be internal, as you were just suggesting, with the Civil War. Maybe you can tell us a little about the fourth turning.
Neil: Or a little of both, as was the case in the American Revolution. Whether you want to define that as an internal or external struggle, don’t forget that a significant portion of America had to go up to Canada to resettle, or sail to the West Indies, or back to England. This was also an internal struggle. Much of American remained Tory, and had to deal with that. So the answer is yes. I wouldn’t call this a cultural winter, this is an institutional winter. Cultural values, actually, don’t change too much during a fourth turning. They become the basis on which people start changing institutional life and changing public history.
That is the period we are going into. We wrote The Fourth Turning in 1997. We said that sometime during the next decade, probably not near the beginning of the decade, more near the end, we would enter a new, generation-long era of the fourth turning. Each of these turnings has a distinctive mood, and we describe them at length in the fourth turning.
The first turning, which we liken to the spring season – this is the post-crisis era – institutions are strong, and individualism is weak. Vernon Parrington called these the great barbecues of American history. Most recently, in America, for example, this would be the American high – the presidencies of Truman, Eisenhower, and John Kennedy – a sense of great conformity and unity around powerful public purposes in America.
These turnings, like the seasons, follow each other sequentially. A first turning is followed by a second turning, which we call The Awakening, and obviously the most recent would have been what I refer to as the consciousness revolution, extending from the mid 1960s all the way through to the early 1980s. This started with cultural rebellion. It started with attempts to throw off social obligations, throw off that sense of lock-step conformity, particularly in the culture, and ultimately, even in the economy.
It finally became a period in which it was filled with deregulation and cutting taxes, and basically, the common theme here was, anything which obligates us to a greater whole we want to throw off, we want to re-find ourselves, and we want to re-find our vital individual energy again. And at ground zero, we are boomers, coming of age.
But all generations participated in this. Everyone at some level found it liberating a little bit, and we came out of that a very transformed America. We came out of that into what we call the third turning, the autumn of history, if you will, and this is a period much the opposite of a high. In the third turning, which we call an unraveling, institutions are weakened, discredited. Individualism is strong and flourishing.
We still see this today. If you go into a bookstore today, all of the upbeat books in a bookstore are all about me, myself, and I. I can remake myself. I can do this. I am wonderful. All of the downbeat books are about what we share in common – the death of the family, the death of government, the death of community. It’s all very dark about everything we share collectively. That is characteristic of a third turning.
Third turning decades are the famous decades of cynicism and bad manners. This would be like the roaring 1990s, but also like the roaring 1920s, or the 1850s, or the 1760s. We have been here before, and history tells us that every third turning eventually issues into a fourth turning, when the outer world, the institutional world, is torn down and rebuilt from the ground up, in a very basic, important way, usually under the threat of an urgent crisis, that even seems to threaten our society’s very survival.
All of those fourth turnings in our history have, by the time they have been over, ended up re-defining who we are as a nation. Certainly, the American Revolution and the Civil War did that, and think of the Great Depression, New Deal, and World War II, when we re-defined mankind’s relationship to technology, America’s relationship to the world, the government’s relationship to the economy – completely re-defined. We re-defined, really, what citizenship means, and I think we will do that again in this period coming up, and I think, in this case, the generation that will be at the ground zero of that, and that will best reflect that change, this coming of age, will be this post ex-millenial generation that we see today, the leading edge of which consists of people in their 20s today.
David: We have the idea of institutional weakness, and you say that is characteristic of a fourth turning, or an institutional winter. Is it fair to say that as you look at the structures of government as we know them, that is what is called into question or refashioned? We had, in the last fourth turning, the Great Depression, World War II, FDR solutions being put in place, and it seems that perhaps the next solutions and the next fourth turning may, in fact, be a repudiation of the FDR solutions, a de-collectivization, if you will, which again, hints at maybe something of an internal conflict, where you do have these culture warriors of the last generation lining up on left and right and trying to decide where we go from here. Ian Bremmer’s latest book, The End of the Free Market, suggests a greater role for the state, not necessarily advocating that, but implying its inevitability in a Roosevelt-style expansion of the state.
Neil: I think it is, to some extent, inevitable. It all depends on how you want to define it. Government will be re-defined. In some ways, in certain obvious ways, it is likely to become more powerful, no question about it. It will be an expression of a greater sense of community, which comes out of every fourth turning, at least one which is not a catastrophic failure in which society disintegrates entirely, and we have seen that in other societies. That is a dark option. But that is where society reconstitutes itself. It becomes a much better expression of community, which becomes much stronger coming out of the fourth turning, than going in. But it is community that is functional again. In that sense, it is government that is probably going to be doing different things.
For instance, right now, we associate most of government with individual entitlements – checks in the mail – that is most of what government does today. That’s not real community, is it? We’re all entitled, we all qualify for benefits, and increasingly, that’s all the federal government is. In fact, one of the horrible realizations that is coming over Congress is the realization that if you cut everything that government does other than send checks in the mail, and keep the military, but you fire all the civil service, get rid of the national parks, the HHS, the weather service, everything, and we will still run a deficit. We still can’t pay for what we do.
My point is, we have a very bloated government today, but the government doesn’t really express community. It expresses the ability of tens of millions of Americans, mostly elder Americans today, mostly older generations, obviously, to defend their individual entitlement to be paid something. What I am getting at with this is that the government that comes out of a fourth turning is likely to be more powerful, and actually govern, reflecting public decisions about how we want to publicly invest in our future, but may, at the same time, be somewhat smaller.
David: As empires in the past have collapsed, whether it was the Hapsburg monarchy, or the British Empire, fiscal crises have usually been the immediate precedent to the end, and our present fiscal crisis is certainly on a scale never seen here in the U.S. Laurence Kotlikoff’s comments would suggest that the U.S. economy today is fiscally, in many ways, mirroring the Greek crisis and their balance sheet. We have government growing, as you just said, moving closer to a flashpoint where civilian life expectations and the burden of carrying on an extraordinary set of future liabilities reshapes the tolerance of the middle class, almost as if you have a morbidly obese government or morbidly obese person, who has access to an infinite amount of food and then someone who is being rationed on the other side. There is a conflict of interest and something has to change.
Neil: There is, yes, and we used to work within institutional constraints that would not have allowed that. We have a lot of circuit breakers. We used to have fixed exchange rates, and it was difficult to have a lot of capital mobility. Now we have global financial markets. Any country can borrow to the hilt. There are no limits on it anymore. This is the legacy of our most recent third turning.
In return for efficiency, we have traded away stability, and we have traded away security in the economy that surrounds us, so that the whole thing will work perfectly right up to the end, until that critical point, as some economists say, that Minsky moment, in memory of Minsky, who actually foresaw that this would happen. You reach a point at which suddenly all the trust would evaporate, and then all of the feedbacks would go the other way.
That is what is threatening today, and unlike our previous fourth turning, during the Great Depression, one thing you can say is that back then we still had enormous untapped fiscal room for government to do things. Government was very small going into that fourth turning. So, ultimately, particularly when it came time for World War II, there was a lot of untapped fiscal potential for government to expand to get these huge things done. What I think is a little bit alarming today is that there is no fiscal room at all. In fact, we have to actually cut back at the same time as we begin any sort of public initiative, and this does create something a little novel and adds to the challenge.
David: You noted in the book that, just as in chemistry, a catalyst is a reaction enabler, an ingredient required to produce a chain reaction. We have financial and economic instability, we have the 2008 food riots, 2011 social unrest, also initially sparked by food riots. If you look at the overlay between our quantitative easing and the expansion of money and credit here in the United States, and the immediate following of a 30-40% increase in foodstuffs, then self-immolations across North Africa and the Middle East, and then the “democracy movements” that have emerged there.
Neil: And energy prices. Just last week I was out in Hawaii, and you wouldn’t believe what it costs to fill your gas tank there.
You are right, there is so much there waiting to happen, but it is interesting, and this, I think, is worth explaining. People will say to me, “It’s fine to talk about a cyclicality or a rhythm, and social movements and trends, but how can you ever talk about World War II that way? Who could have predicted that Japan would bomb Pearl Harbor and bring us into that war? What is the role of accidents in history? Some things just happen by chance.”
The answer to that is, yes, they do, and chance events and accidental timing is certainly responsible for the shape these turnings take, for the way in which the mood expresses itself. But the mood comes, and the mood finds a way to express itself, and one way I like to explain that is by saying that what often happens in these crises is that it is not the trigger, it is how we respond to it.
A great illustration of this is, think back to 1916-1917, with the amazing provocations that America had to enter World War I. There was the sinking of the Lusitania, which was a heinous act. Roughly the same number of people died in that as the bombing of Pearl Harbor, including a great number of American citizens, by the deliberate torpedoing of a passenger ship that the Germans claimed actually had arms aboard. The Germans also had the Zimmerman telegram. They were trying to actually enlist Mexico in the effort in World War I.
Yet, the United States’ response was fragmented, it was incoherent, and it took us another nearly two years before we got into the war. Then we got into the war and didn’t really make much difference, we were there at the end of the war, and instantly after the war was over, we took our troops home, and we hated the whole idea, we hated our participation in it, and we wanted nothing to do with the rest of the world. You can see how we took an accident, the sinking of the Lusitania, and the Zimmerman telegram, all of these provocations, and in every way we could, we expressed our unwillingness to give a sort of cohesive, overwhelming response. That was in the third turning. That was 1917-1918.
Then you move fast forward to December 7, 1941, and there was the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the next day the President and Congress virtually unanimously (I think there was one abstention) declared war, and not only on Japan, but on Germany. Well, they declared war first, so we were in no mood to really bother about the timing. We basically, overnight, mobilized the entire country. We retooled all of our automobile plants to produce tanks, and our shipyards suddenly went into action producing liberty ships. We took on a complete, total, war footing, virtually overnight, with amazingly few dissenting voices.
My point is, it is not so much the accidents of history – it is what we do on the basis of those accidents. It is what the chemistry is, or to get back to your idea of a catalyst and to pick up on your metaphor, if there is a catalyst, it is when the right chemicals are in place, then that little event touches off a firestorm. And by the way, we fought World War II, we had to conquer half the world to do it, all the way to its conclusion, all the way to the unconditional surrender of every single power that was part of that, and then when it was over, we set up the United Nations, Bretton Woods, the IMF, and we became a world power that set up institutions which lasted for decades. Many of them are still in operation.
That is what happens in a fourth turning. We re-define civic institutions, we rebuild them, reshape them, in a permanent way, that last for generations, that extend beyond the people who actually set them up. I think that is how you see the difference between 1917 and 1941. It is not the accidents in history – it is what we do with them.
David: There is certainly the question of what our role is in history, and this is where we look at a challenging time. Certainly we are most familiar with the financial and economic in this environment. We haven’t had all that much trouble, to speak of, from a geopolitical standpoint.
Neil: I will say regarding that, I believe we have not used the crisis we had, the trigger we had, to solve the problem yet. We are still avoiding it. We basically got out of the financial meltdown of 2008, which was scary. At one point, global equity markets lost some 60% of their value, by the end of 2008, from peak to trough. The new administration came in, and they punted. We engaged in the bailout model for the financial industry, “too big to fail,” everyone was paid off, and as a result, the total nonfinancial debt as a shared GDP has not gotten down even one year. It continues to grow.
When you look at, historically, the necessity, after a debt crisis, to de-leverage, and restructure, we have not engaged in any of that yet, which makes me think that we are still in a very precarious position, particularly with regard to our complete inability to face up to our public sector indebtedness, which we continue to add to each year, and not just because of the recession. We deliberately added to it to keep the economy stimulated, but we have this longer-term structural problem where we seem to have no choice but to add to it massively, particularly with the retirement of this large and very expensive boomer generation.
David: Our current deficit spending is the equivalent of about 11% of GDP and it is propping up aggregate demand, which reflects a 2008 number, which would be the peak of a credit cycle boom, and that is what the administration is trying to hold on to – a vision of the past, which was artificial in nature to begin with, as the last gasp, if you will, of a 30-year or 40-year credit cycle.
Neil: It raises an interesting question. How do we actually undertake these reforms? There are a lot of people in Washington now who are talking about debt triggers and various sorts of balanced budget laws. I think history shows that is not how this is implemented, that it is great for people to be working on these reforms, and it is great for all of this stuff to be built and sitting there on the shelf. But it is not going to be implemented on a sunny day.
That is what we learned with the institution of the New Deal. People back in the 1920s, a lot of academics were working on pension reforms, and certain ways of protecting people in their old age, and protecting the infirm and the elderly, and single women with children, but nothing was done about it until a very dark hour in America, with a deep depression going on and on. Overnight, FDR came in, appointed a brain trust, and immediately reached up and took all these plans off the shelf and implemented them, and it was called Social Security, and it was the cornerstone of the entire welfare state ever since. It was means tested programs, it was payroll funded – all these basic kinds of programs were all founded in that one act.
And the same is going to happen again. We are going to solve these problems. We are going to come up with large, grand, and to some extent, punitive, solutions. They are going to hurt some people. We are not going to do it, though, on a sunny day. It is going to happen when, and I cannot described the scenario exactly, but there is going to be a colossal run on the dollar, and there is going to be an implosion in Treasury bond prices. Interest rates are going to be flying up, and suddenly it is going to be white knuckle time, and there is going to be real fear, and everyone is going to realize – that’s it. We can’t punt this down the road any longer.
David: You have suggested that the fourth turning begins circa 2005, and maybe reaches its end, or its worst stage, at 2020 or 2030, in that decade.
Neil: Yes, it will be sometime in the 2020s, sometime in the mid 2020s, when it will end. The new generation, the little kids today being born, who are coming after the millenials, their entire childhood will be shaped by it, they won’t remember anything before it. Millenials, themselves, will, at that point, be just beginning to enter mid-life, and probably be very precocious politically, as a generation. They will be gaining seats in Congress and the Senate at a relatively young age. They will fill some of the civic vacuum left behind by Xers and even late-wave boomers, and Xers, themselves, will be beginning what we used to consider the traditional retirement age. Whether or not they will be able to afford to, or even want to, retire, is a different question. Those of us boomers who are left will be moving into the elder elder-phase. We will be, indeed, aging Aquarians at that point.
David: I guess the perspective on this is, we began the discussion today, either entirely negative, looking at the period of time that we are in, and looking at it almost fatalistically, as not only inescapable, but the end-all of time, or looking one stage beyond and saying that beyond the fourth turning is the first, and there is a re-creative process – there is what the 1950s and 1960s were, a period of dynamism and growth which follows hard times.
Neil: These are the great Augustine ages of history. The most famous Augustine age of all was, obviously, the original age of Augustine, which came after all the Roman civil wars, when Octavian finally beat Antony. They had had nothing but wars for 30-40 years throughout the Roman Empire, and finally came peace, and this glorious period.
That idea of the resurgence of a golden age, of peace, prosperity, stable community, is a beacon, where suddenly the middle class is prosperous, and we aren’t riven by enormous conflict between the rich and poor. We had this, by the way, after World War II. It was amazing, Robert Frost gave a speech at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. Robert Frost was a prophet archetype from the previous cycle. He was born not too long after the Civil War. He was very old by that point, but he gave a speech about this new generation coming into power – John Kennedy and his peers – and he said that he marveled at the return of an Augustine age. He used that phrase. It comes up again and again in history.
This is what a fourth turning does that is creative and powerful and a force for good, because in fourth turnings, or eras, we don’t do halfway measures. We solve problems totally. Whatever the problem is, whether it is climate change, whether it is peak energy, whether it is nuclear proliferation, and there are a lot of worries today, knowing what we do about Pakistan and the ISI, that they are sitting on top of at least 100 warheads. This is the time that we no longer tolerate those pathetic makeshift solutions, paying them off, or negotiating hopelessly, and suddenly we go in there and we straighten everything out.
That is what we did after World War II. We occupied and restructured the economies and political systems of Germany and Italy and Japan. The Civil War was also a period, simply, of occupation, fundamental reshaping, and the old prophets of their day did not stand for halfway solutions. This is something to look forward to, because I think we can say that whatever else may happen, and whatever public risks we take, the prize will be truly solving problems – solving them so that the new millennial generation which will be occupying this new territory as adults will really have security, of the kind that we older generations really never experienced.
David: As we have engaged in a conversation with our listeners and many guests, we have tried to look at the trends that we are in, and transitions that lie ahead, and reading your book, The Fourth Turning, has been a proper overlay to, from a longer-term standpoint, both trends and transitions. We would encourage our listeners to order a copy, and read it, discuss it, digest it. It is bound to change the way that you look at history, again, giving you that bird’s-eye view.
Thank you so much for joining us, Neil.
Neil: It was a pleasure. Thank you for having me on.