The Saeculum Decoded
A Blog by Neil Howe
Mar 312010

Is this Millennial’s views really representative of his generation? Here’s why I ask.  The mandatory (or “entitlement”) spending he talks about has been growing as a share of GDP more or less continuously over the last 45 years.  And it is projected to continue to grow over the next thirty.  I know many Millennial (born 1982-200?) who are very concerned about this trend—and when you talk to them, they do find it troublesome.  But to the extent of really motivating them to elect or defeat a political candidate?  If the Democrats’ new health-care legislation remains in place, that path has just been tilted further upward, i.e., accelerated.  Yet I can’t say I’ve heard many Millennials speak out about this law’s obvious fiscal impact.  This year, Social Security is going into a primary-balance deficit some eight years earlier than projected a few years ago.  Not much comment here either.

So again I ask: Do most Millennials share this writers view?  Maybe after the next great economic scare, but not quite yet, I think.  One can imagine a larger version of what happened after the 2008 meltdown, when everyone “woke up” to say omg we knew about those subprime mortgage and CDS’s all along… why didn’t we *do* anything about them?  Only this time they’ll be talking about the entire government sector balance sheet.

Pay as you go accounting has allowed a gap the size of the Grand Canyon to open up between what most Americans expect to pay to government over their lifetimes and what they expect to receive.  Absent blistering productivity growth or surging demographic growth (we’re not going to see either anytime soon), nearly all of that gap must be filled.  Get out your shovels.  There will be a day of reckoning.

Mar 252010

For many years, we’ve always hypothesized that one element of the Fourth Turning (Crisis) will involve state and local Boomer (born 1943-1960) leaders, having risen to positions of senior leadership, defying national supremacy.  Now this really seems to be happening (See this recent article in the NYT).  Note that it’s not just on the right, but also on the left—e.g., states legalizing marijuana or limiting the authority of the federal government over their national guard.

Mar 242010

I have this on order, but have not yet read it.  Michael Lewis is a total Generation X (born 1961-1981) trader-turned-journalist, whose first book (“Liar’s Poker,” 1989) gave us an inside look at the “greed is good” decade. Now, older and presumably wiser, he takes aim at the recent financial meltdown.

Nice generational quote from the article:

What Lewis writes of two of his characters, young Ledley and Mai, might just as well apply to Lewis himself, or to us: They “had always sort of assumed that there was some grown-up in charge of the financial system whom they had never met; now they saw there was not.”

Mar 212010

Good article from the WSJ. Not so much gone rogue, I would argue, as taken over by Generation X (born 1961-1981) leadership.  Decentralized decision making, risk taking, and insistence on unit cohesion—all discussed in this article—are hallmarks of the Gen X style.  We’ve discussed this on earlier posts.  At this point, the great majority of officers beneath the very top echelon (e.g., McChrystal, who is a late-wave Boomer (born 1943-1960)) are Gen X.

Rogue (“a deceitful and unreliable scoundrel”) is not a nice descriptor, but one can imagine the Nomad archetype taking a certain perverse pride in it.  Sarah Palin, “going rogue” as she likes to say,  probably uses this word for a reason.

Mar 102010

Jim Quinn has written a number of essays about America’s entry into the coming Fourth Turning (Crisis).  Here is another good one, probably the best one he’s done:

He refers in this essay to the film “Generation Zero.”  Please don’t ask me more about this film than I know.  Yes, I’m interviewed in this film, and turnings and generations are used as the central organizing theme.  Yes, I’ve known the director (Steve Bannon, based in LA) for a while.  The film will be released in theaters later this spring.  Yes, it features over a dozen conservative talking heads (from Charles Krauthammer to Lou Dobbs), and has been a big hit at tea parties, the CPAC convention, and (earlier this evening) on Fox News.  No, it’s not really partisan in any party (Democrat v. Republican) sense, but it is very populist.  But yes, it is visually very striking.  Here is a trailer:

There are already many reviews of this movie.  Here is Jim Quinn’s:

Mar 012010

This short article from the Slate (courtesy of David Kaiser) asks whether Unions are on their way out. The two-tiering of wages in union shops, old versus young, started in the mid-1980s just as Generation X (born 1961-1981) were entering the workforce. The young Xers were the first to get lower wages/benefits for doing the same job just because they weren’t “grandfathered” into the contract. It makes sense for the older people because, by letting the employer pay the young less, they let the employer remain competitive (say with a Japanese auto maker) while still protecting their own windfall (an economist would say “rent”). Better still, with each passing year the deal improves because the cost of your grandfathered cohorts diminish with time relative to the total wage bill. By the time you retire, you can even ask for “Cadillac” health benefits that are totally off the radar screen of what younger workers could ever imagine. Boomer (born 1943-1960)motto: Apres moi le deluge.

I’m not surprised talk of two-tiering is still going on. But now it doesn’t matter as much because the unionized share of the private workforce has shrunk so much. Last month, in fact, the number of private-sector union workers fell below the number of public-sector union workers for the first time ever.

Mar 012010

Interesting article on the youngest ever leader of the NAACP, 44 year-old Roslyn Brock (making her Generation X (born 1961-1981)).  But what does this mean: “That worked well for many of us, but all of us realize that we are a part of a generation that is both the most murdered in the country and the most incarcerated on the planet.”  Cites please?  In almost every state, the 50+ prison population is the most rapidly rising, and the under 30 population is the most rapidly shrinking.  As for murders, that number for the under-30 age group is down by over two-thirds over the last 15 years.  Less cant, more data.