The Saeculum Decoded
A Blog by Neil Howe
Sep 292009

Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary Dies at 72

Wow. This is a milestone. So many of us who became teenagers in the early 60s were really into the whole folk revival—and Peter, Paul, and Mary was absolutely the dominant public image of that revival.

They took the progressive G.I. (born 1901-1924) folk movement (The WeaversWoodie GuthriePete Seeger et al.) and culturally radicalized it so that it hit the sweet spot for first-wave Boomer (born 1943-1960). But they were also basically mild mannered—never extreme, unpleasant, or confrontational. Their harmonies were never atonal. They were the most popular “beatniks” ever to perform for the public. The bio points out another Silent (born 1925-1942)  dimension to her life story: four marriages.

Sep 242009

An article in the Washington Post brings up a big issue.  Right now, young adults—in the aggregate—roughly pay their own way on health care.  On the one hand, they are more likely to be uninsured, which means that many become free-riders on government (Medicaid), hospitals (charity care), or their parents.  On the other hand, a large share of this generation is compelled to pay more in health insurance premiums (either through their employer or, in some states, when buying individual coverage) than they actually consume in health care, which means they are net contributors to the system.  In states like New York, which prohibits varying the premium by age, young adults are required to pay premiums that are some two-to-three times higher than the actuarial cost of their benefits.  In effect, the young are required to subsidize older people.  It’s just in these states, of course, that the largest numbers of young adults find these premiums unaffordable, refuse to pay, and become charges on the public.  So even on a state by state basis, the karma sorts of equals out.

OK, enough of what goes on now.  What about the new health-care reform package?  Well, in theory the plan will mandate (require) every adult to purchase his/her own health insurance policy.  This mandate will have a disproportionate impact on the young and, in effect, put a stop to the de facto free rider subsidy they now receive.  Also in theory, according to the most-discussed drafts in Congress, the plan will require strict community rating, which means that *every* young adult nationwide will face the same “community” price as in New York state.  The net result of both of these provisions will be a truly massive new subsidy by young adults to older Americans and retirees, maybe in the $100-$200 billion range if both provisions are literally followed.  In reality, of course, some young adults may be allowed to escape the mandate (or will prefer to pay the penalty—imagine millions of 20somethings paying the mandate penalty because they cannot afford a reform which they supported!).  And maybe the community rating edict will be eased to something called “modified community rating,” which allows some consideration of age.  And, to be sure, young adults will benefit somewhat more than other age brackets from means-tested tax-breaks and overt federal subsidies.

Still, the generational implications of reform are very large and, in any plan resembling those now being discussed, will work heavily against the young.  Obama, hands-off about everything, seems to leave all the initiative about such issues in the hands of Congress.  And I’m not sure Congress, where so many of the Committee heads are 70something unreconstructed New Deal Democrats, will lend the Millennial (born 1982-200?)a sympathetic ear.

Enough, you may be saying.  Isn’t all of this Millennial sacrifice is OK for them because the health-care reform legislation is investment, designed to “bend down the long-term curve” of national health spending?  Don’t get me started here.  The brutal truth is that the likely reform package will almost certainly add, not subtract, from health spending as a share of GDP in the long term.  Insuring the uninsured (e.g., by subsidizing some to be able to get health care under the mandate) will cost an extra $100 billion yearly both to the federal budget and net to the economy as a whole (CBO numbers here).  But how about strategies to bring down the long-term growth trend—which was, after all, the avowed central purpose of reform?  They just aren’t there in any of the major reform packages.  The Blue Dog Democrats are upset about this, but of course their vote is not decisive.  If you’re interested in this topic, take a look at our upcoming Facing Facts alert from the Concord Coalition—and at some of our prior alerts.

Why do I get all worked up over this?  Because: All this harvesting of premiums from Millennials comes on top of massive additions to deficit spending projected for decades after the current recession is projected to end—taking debt-to-GDP levels all the way back to WWII levels, according to the CBO.  This extra public debt will significantly penalize, through debt service costs alone, future Millennial living standards.

Let me sum up my long-winded post as follows: What does the Democratic Party really intend to do for the generation that took them to the White House?  Invest massively in their future?  Or cover them with debt, leach off their health premiums, and play them for suckers?

The following article is an introduction, but it misses community rating, which is the elephant in the living room, and doesn’t speculate on net impact on the young.

Sep 212009

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting retrospective on the life story of the one the G.I. elite. Norman Borlaug—a Promethean provider of basic staples to the world.  And, along the way, a savior of the world… of course in a very material, not spiritual, way.  Not to be Jimmy Stewartish about it—but how much more miserable we would all be today if this generation had never been!

Read it here.

Sep 182009

Interesting article on a new ethic developing in football:

In constrast to the young man profiled in this story, I believe that Generation X (born 1961-1981) athletes have celebrated a me-first, winning-is-everything attitude over the tenure of their athletically active years.  And yes, it has pushed many into illegal performance-enhancing drugs.  How could it be otherwise?  We’ve been in a Third Turning (Unraveling) Every sports institutions, indeed the very economics of sports (even the Olympics, beginning with Ueberroth), have shifted in a way to encourage and reward this attitude.

Our work with sports companies confirms (for me, anyway), that some of the smartest minds in the sports industry are totally aware of what happened with Gen X and of today’s ongoing shift away from the Xer all-attitude focus.  I have had to watch reel after reel of sports ads, which amounted to an endless display of all of the brutal ways Xer athletes could say winners crush losers into the dirt.  It worked for for twenty years—the early 80s to the early 2000s.  But it’s not working any more.  The top execs at sports companies know it and are busy changing their tune.

Even the public persona of Lance Armstrong, for all of the excellence of the athlete himself, has a distinct Gen-X side to it.  The public’s interest is first and foremost of the individual drama: man faces metastasizing cancer and then becomes one of the most amazing athletes who has ever lived, all by dint of incredible personal determination… and luck.

I look forward with great interest to see where Millennial (born 1982-200?) take professional sports.

Hat tip to Reena Nadler for original article link.

Sep 172009

There is a lot of debate about how, and where, people should live in the future. You can hear the contrasting views from Howard Kunstler on one side and Joel Kotkin on the other. Howard Kunstler, a Boomer (born 1943-1960), believes that suburbs are disaster and that we should move towards denser urban neighborhoods. Joel Kotkin, also a Boomer, believes that New Urbanism leads to economic instability and serves only the rich.

But how do the Millennial (born 1982-200?), raised mainly in the suburbs and exurbs, want to create as their ideal living environment?

There is a question of the “suburbs” as an unchanging concept over different generations—as though the G.I. (born 1901-1924)-built beehive Levittown has any similarity at all to the fortress-on-every-hilltop ideal of so many Boomer-build exurbs you see today. Let’s face it: There’s no similarity at all. I think Millennials will indeed reject the Boomer exurb ideal—they are really bothered by the privatization, lack of sidewalks or paths, no recreational facilities, and the vast distances between neighbors and friends that must (or you imperil your life) be negotiated by means of internal combustion engines within Sherman tank-sized vehicles. But the original Levittown concept, with plenty of group facilities (playing fields, swimming pools, etc.), plenty of sidewalks, and everything living nearby, does appeal to them. Maybe you could call this a Millennial affinity for what has been called the “traditional neighborhood development” (TND) ideal. I saw this confirmed in a recent age-bracketed poll on ideal places to live.

In the table below, note how rural is uniquely high for early X’ers (which includes some Boomers born in 1960) and large city is uniquely high for Xers. In fact, all four Xer preferences are perfectly ordered by population density. Xers really never liked small towns, despite the affectionate lyrics of John Cougar Mellencamp’s (really nice) song. Also, note that the small town has been making a comeback among Millennials, at the expense of both suburb and large city.

If you could live anywhere you wanted to, would you prefer to live in a city, a suburban area, a small town, or on a farm? Answered by Teens age 13-17


Birth Years 1960-1964 (Boomer + early Gen X)


Birth Years 1971-1975 (Mid Gen X)


Birth Years 1987-1991 (Millennials)

large city 25 39 33
small town 27 21 29
suburb 23 26 22
rural/ranch/farm 25 14 14

Source: Gallup, 5/25/04

Sep 092009

This post from David Brooks and Gail Collins in the NYTimes blogs paints a banal picture of Ted Kennedy.

I have already heard comparisons in the media to Daniel Webster and Henry Clay.  The parallel with John Q. works also.  If (say Chappaquiddick never happened) Ted Kennedy had won the presidency, I suspect his White House tenure would have been as brief and unpopular as John Q’s. And, like John Q., he was always a lot more popular in his native Massachusetts than he ever was elsewhere.

The only comparable figure in the Progressive Generation who springs to mind—a famous reformer and flowery-tongued Senator who won many terms and often competed for the presidency—is Robert LaFollete.  But frankly Ted never had LaFollette’s passion and courage.  And, to tell the truth, he was not close to being the intellectual equal of any of the above.  More than any other political leader I can think of, Ted Kennedy’s early electoral success rested almost entirely on his family’s money and reputation.  Only as an elder statesman did he begin to gain, through his own affability and attention to process and detail, a reputation as a constructive and bipartisan dealmaker.  Not sharing the charisma or vision of his elder brothers, most young Boomer (born 1943-1960) hardly gave him much notice back in the ‘60s or ‘70s.  He was a quintessential Mr. Insider, far more beloved by his friends and staff and close associates than by the anonymous public at large.  Ultimately his insider strengths enabled him to become a coalition-builder and doer in an era when so many other legislators (esp Boomers) were distracted by ideological posturing.

Woody Allen once said that 80 percent of life is just showing up.  This is an  apt summary of Woody’s entire  Silent (born 1925-1942) generation: They came along at an opportune moment, they showed up, they played by the rules, and they got rewarded.  Ted Kennedy’s a good example of this.  Despite his obvious character flaws, he simply stayed around, persevered, went through the motions, did his duty, attended to his family’s crusades, and ultimately got plenty done.  Had he been born twenty years later, in 1952 rather than 1932, he would have run off to Katmandu or Bora Bora—possibly to return with some entirely transformed persona.  Not Teddy.  And that serves as an exemplary life lesson to all of us born in younger generations.

Hat Tip to Reena Nadler for finding the article.

Sep 042009

After a huge amount of work, lasting more than a year (especially on the part of our workaholic whiz kid site designer, Jim Graham), I am delighted to  announce that we are now posting live a completely overhauled American Leadership Database.  At last, this is a resource that begins to live up to the vision we had for it when we posted the first version many year ago.

To see the entire Database, go here:  As before, this database contains records for nearly 15,000 American leaders: every Senator, Representative, Governor, President, Vice President, and Supreme Court Justice since 1789.

How does it differ from the feature we offered before?  As follows:

  • All of the tables and charts in the database are now dynamically generated.  This means that they automatically change when the underlying data are changed (due to updates with each new election or, from time to time, corrections to historical data).
  • The entry of new data (stored online) has now been great simplified.  This, combined with dynamic linking, makes updating the database much easier.  The current site is updated through the 2008 election.  Further updates will be quick and simple to perform.
  • We now provide a much greater variety of graphical representations of our data.  And these are more easily accessible through pull-down menus.
  • We provide more (non-dynamic) data on Revolutionary-era leadership (1765-1789).
  • Finally—and by far the most important in terms of blood, sweat, and tears—we now offer an interactive tool that allows users to define their own birth cohort or cohorts or their own Congress or Congresses and (if you like) filter by state or region.   The user then obtains a full analysis by Congress, by birth year, by party, by longevity, by average age of entry, etc.

I hope you explore this site a bit.  After I started trying out the beta version, I personally found I was addicted.  Any question you can imagine can be answered—from how many  New England leaders who reached age 18 during the Presidency of Andrew Jackson became Republicans:

To how many Representatives from the Pacific states born in 1901 to 1910 belonged to the Democratic Party.

Try out some custom queries on the user defined page and you will see what I mean.