The Saeculum Decoded
A Blog by Neil Howe
Feb 262010

Interesting article in The Atlantic about the effect of joblessness on generational attitudes (courtesy of Pete Markiewicz

In tone, this is a very Fourth Turning (Crisis)  kind of piece. I especially like his figure of the “L-shaped” recession. Yet he really doesn’t present any coherent analytical point of view. He simply puts a negative spin on every observation or study he can cite, making everything consistently downbeat.

In fact, many of the cited studies on the effects of unemployment are now known to have false correlation problems. When a young man has drinking and other personal problems and also sporadic employment behavior, we cannot assume the latter caused the former. It may be the other way around. As for the negative impact of high unemployment on cohorts who come of age in those years, well, Millennial (born 1982-200?) are trying to avoid that negative impact by *not* just taking the first lousy job that becomes available. But the author gives Millennials no credit for that, but bashes them for the softness and risk-aversion etc.

This brings us to what he says about generations and Twenge, which is pretty much all garbage. He says that “Gen Y” got jobs in the high-tech boom of the late 1990s and that that’s why they’re optimistic and rule abiding (as opposed to “real” Generation X (born 1961-1981) who got jobs in the early 1990s)? What? Where does he get his dates?

I’ve been on several radio shows where the host asks me about the impact of recession on youth generations. They often cite the famous Glen Elder book. My response, which seems to make sense to most people, is that how a generation responds to a recession depends upon the underlying peer personality of the youth generation in question, which in turn depends on how they were raised. For the young Silent (born 1925-1942) in the 1930s depression, economic hardship accentuated their other-directedness, their trust in big institutions, and their long time horizons. For the young Xers in the early ’80s, it accentuated the opposite traits. There is no mechanical one-to-one link between an economic shock and the youth response.

It’s the author’s failure to acknowledge generational and era (“turning”) differences that explains how he comes to the conclusion that the emerging ’10s will resemble the ’70s. He has no inkling of seasonality. E.g., youth crime rose strongly throughout the ’70s. But today youth crime is still falling. Incredibly, cities like NYC and DC had fewer murders in 2009 than any year going all the way back to the early 1960s. No mention of this in this article!

Feb 222010

Though I’m quoted several times in this article, I don’t really agree much with its conclusions.  As you may know, I tend to downplay the central and causal role attributed to technology by so many generational “theorists.”  More to the point, I pay a lot more attention to the way generations shape technology rather than the other way around.  But apparently that idea is a hard sell.  Listen especially to what many of these people say about the *length* of a generation.  Since they have no definition of what a generation is, nor any theory about how generations are formed, their observations here seem like stabs in the dark.

Feb 132010

This speech, given in 2008, has been making the rounds on the Internet.

Late-wave Boomer (born 1943-1960) in the Netherlands (b. 1963), Geert Wilders, leads a new Dutch party called “Party for Freedom” (PVV, or Partij voor de Vrijheid).  It has come out of nowhere over the last few years.  It won 17% of the Dutch vote in the 2009 EU Parliament election. According to most surveys, its strength is still climbing and it gets especially strong support from young adults.  (Good indicator: the PVV has the largest share of voters who cast their votes on line.)

It’s a radical right-wing party, but “right” in a way that is historically unprecedented in Europe: It claims to make common cause with Zionism and Israel, and it is vehemently anti-Muslim.

The speech is one he gave at a “Facing Jihad” conference in New York.  Some scary and headlong stuff is underway here, with a clash of very Manichean world views.

See last paragraph for Wilders’ very Boomerish generational riff: “My generation never had to fight for this freedom, it was offered to us on a silver platter, by people who fought for it with their lives.”

*Note that Europe’s generational cycles are somewhat delayed vs. the US. That is why Wilders (b. 1963) is categorized as a Boomer. If he were born in the US, he would be Generation X (born 1961-1981).

Feb 102010

Good piece from last month in the Washington Post.  This guy really gets the whole principal of seasonality within the saeculum.  The very political coalitions that tend to prosper during a Second Turning (Awakening)and Third Turning (Unraveling)—those which win by outbidding the others on how much they can distribute pleasure, borrow from the future, and undermine institutional barriers—guarantee that the whole system has to be smashed to smithereens before it can be rebuilt.  Right now, we have politicians in power whose entire political careers have been built around the wrong logic for a Fourth Turning (Crisis).

One important way in which the federal problem is much worse than the California problem is that states have natural circuit breakers: Most of them have constitutional prohibitions of general-interest deficit-financing, and even if those can be circumvented, state governments can’t print money.  The federal government has no circuit breaker, so the national problem can grow to economically catastrophic proportions without any of us feeling anything.  This is another interesting aspect of policymaking in the 2T  and 4rd Turning eras: The deliberate removal of circuit breakers, like getting rid of fixed exchange rates to foster cross-border investment or getting rid economic regulation to maximize the productivity of labor and capital.  The old regime forced people to come to terms with imbalances before they become dangerous precisely because they introduced inefficient kinks or bottlenecks into the system.  Alarm bells went off that people would have to deal with.  Today, we’ve removed all the speed bumps.

Feb 082010

Here is a David Brooks’ NYT piece from last month.

An interesting Pew report was just issued showing that Americans have a much darker view of the last 00s decade (27% positive, 50% negative) than any earlier decade surveyed going back to the 1960s. Notably, every age group has a negative opinion of the 00s. And every age group has a more or less positive view of every earlier decade (today’s Generation X (born 1961-1981) are esp positive about the 90s, Boomer (born 1943-1960) to the 70s; no surprise there).

Of course, this measure isn’t very objective since, maybe, people always dislike the decade they have just passed through—and look further back more favorably. But this seems extreme. The Pew survey also showed that most Americans expect the next decade to be better. But, as usual, the Boomers are the most pessimistic. For age 50-64, 42% say worse and 50% say better. Every other age group is much more positive.

Feb 032010

OK, this story does have a generations-and-turning connection. Haggling spread with the growth of the Third Turning (Unraveling) free-agent economy in the ‘80s and esp ‘90s (the reference to e-Bay here is appropriate). And I’ve found that, on average, Generation X (born 1961-1981) are better at it than older generations. A few hip Silent (born 1925-1942), like William Shatner, really do get it—and the guys he tutors in the tv commercials are always Xers. Just try saying “namby-pamby” to a Boomer (born 1943-1960) and see what happens.

But the main reason I’m posting this is simply that you might find it interesting and possibly useful. Note btw the digital phone app that can scan the barcode while you’re in the store and give you an instant price comp to negotiate with! That is dynamite.