The Saeculum Decoded
A Blog by Neil Howe
Aug 252009

This is a good article on the new indie music scene that Millennial (born 1982-200?) are driving. It is written by  D.J. Palladino who is a Boomer (born 1943-1960). He calls indie avant garde, but most of what he later says undercuts that assertion. The disappearance of the generation gap is obvious—not just in the overlap of sounds and styles (which comes across immediately to any casual Boomer listener), but in the whole father-son sharing thing. Not much of that back in the day!

Nice Quote: When one of the young artists is reminded how vast the gap was back in the 60’s between Sinatra and Hendrix, he says “Yeah. But another way of looking at it is that maybe that’s the only generation where there was such a gap.”

Aug 202009

What are the movies that best represent a generation? I have drafted the following list by free-association, with no reference to any sources and in no particular order. I’m doing this just to provoke comment.

I finesse two questions that I guess should be addressed in lists of this kind: Do we just focus on films of “generational” interest per se—as opposed to films that were simply very popular with the generation in question? (e.g., The Godfather was very popular among young Boomer (born 1943-1960)… but was not really a generational film.) And do we focus only on films that appear when the generation in question is coming of age? (e.g., The Big Chill appeared in 1983, when even the youngest Boomers were adults… but it is very much a generational film.)

Anyway, here goes:


  1. The Graduate
  2. Goodbye Columbus
  3. Deerhunter
  4. Apocalypse Now
  5. Easy Rider
  6. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  7. 2001: A Space Odyssey
  8. Yellow Submarine
  9. Alice’s Restaurant
  10. The Big Chill
  11. Woodstock
  12. American Graffiti
  13. M*A*S*H
  14. Annie Hall
  15. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  16. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
  17. Saturday Night Fever
Aug 182009

You may like this ad, or just find it creepy. But it does dramatize the society-wide fantasy of watching Millennial (born 1982-200?) lead a totally sheltered and planned life.

In certain respects, in fact, this is a “Homelander” (the generation to follow the Millennials) commercial before its proper time.  The protectiveness is not portrayed as the result of passionate and committed Boomer (born 1943-1960) parents—but rather as the result of a new “system” that works to protect everyone automatically. The parents’ (midlife Generation X (born 1961-1981)) role is portrayed as a newfangled system that does  its job and waves goodbye. This is more like the attitude we expect during the upcoming First Turning (the High), rather than the current Fourth Turning (Crisis).

Aug 052009

This interesting article in the New York Times describes how hard-hit the self-employed are in today’s economy.

As a generation, Generation X (born 1961-1981) has hugely expanded the relative share of the workforce that is self-employed–and even, for the employed, the share of total income consisting not of “wages,” but of commissions, tips, bonuses, stock options, etc. This is the type of employment and income that goes up fastest when the economy is booming and falls fastest when the economy is contracting. It is all at the margin.

As usual, Gen X makes the market economy function, by taking the punishment while the rest of the economy adjusts. Keep in mind that the old saw during the Great Depression, “it didn’t hurt if you had a job,” was literally true. Because prices fell during the 1930s, and because most wages (esp for large manufacturing and public agencies) cannot be cut in nominal terms (“sticky downward” say economists), most wage earners experienced rising real incomes throughout the Great Depression. Indeed, the very fact that employers could not cut their wages–but simply had to lay them off when their marginal product was no longer worth the wage–gave rise to Keynesian “macroeconomics” as a new field with a new set of rules.

Ironically, most economists now say that the humanitarian appeals by Hoover (especially) and FDR to businesses not to cut their wage rates were completely wrongheaded. At a time of falling demand and monetary supply, cutting wage rates is the one thing that might have kept workers employed. Telling businesses not to cut wages forced them to simply fire workers instead, which directly reduced production and deeply exacerbated the cycle of demand collapse.

As the free-agent share of the workforce rises, the economy should be more resistant to the kinds of demand collapse that characterized the Great Depression. And over the last two decades, many economists attributed the economy’s “great moderation” (the tendency of recessions to become milder and shorter) to the growth of flexible non-wage labor income. Of course all talk of a great moderation is dead now, since we found out we could have really bad recessions for other reasons, like debt bubbles and the collapse of financial institutions.