The Saeculum Decoded
A Blog by Neil Howe
May 272010

A very good piece about Generation X (born 1961-1981) moms are running against the tide of over-protection.  Unlike most X’er parents who want to protect their Homelander children at all costs, she instead suggest that kids should learn by being out in the world playing with peers on their own. She’s right, of course, that playing games with peers develops self regulation. But the new mode (see the  preschool “Tools of the Mind” curriculum) develops self-regulation by games with the teacher or by carefully supervised peer games in which the various roles play are all pre-chosen. That way you make sure that the games only teach the right lessons and none of the wrong ones.

The need to some kind of role-playing or game-playing to develop self-regulation is very well established.  In a famous European study, one group of 2nd graders was simply told to stand absolutely still for as long as they could.  Average time before giving up: around 2 minutes.  Another group was told to stand absolutely still because you are a sentry on duty guarding a post.  Average time: 12 minutes.  The need kids have to “imagine themselves into” a role of success or mastery at something (as a parent, doctor, patient, scientist, warrior, whatever) is so basic that one wonders why ordinary K-12 schools don’t tap into it more often.

May 242010

Interesting article in NYT: Record number of black GOPs running for Congress in 2010.  There seem to be at least 32 of them.  And, for the first time, most of them seem to be young—nearly all Generation X (born 1961-1981).  One, Princella Smith (running in AK) is a super-achieving pro-life Millennial (born 1982-200?) (age 26).  If just a quarter of them get elected, this would hugely change the partisan composition of younger black Reps.

The article suggests that they are running more on the economic and political right (smaller govt, balanced budgets) than on the social values right.  Yet the story also mentions two conservative values positions—on gays and abortion—that resonate with black Americans.

I’m not sure what to make of this. Am open to suggestions.

May 212010

I was invited to go to this Peterson event in downtown DC, but was sick and so I missed it.  Not, I must confess, that I was eager to listen to twenty-five mostly-Silent (born 1925-1942) high muckety-mucks all the say the same thing…  at great length and at great detail… about the deficit.  Believe me when I say: I have heard it all before.  WP columnist David Broker, an honest good-government type (and also a Silent), gives a pretty good account here of what actually transpired.  And a pretty good assessment of this commission’s poor odds of success.  Alan Simpson put it right in his usual humorous style: “a suicide mission.”

I’m inclined to think that this vast fiscal impasse will become a very important component—if not, when the bubble bursts, the actual crux—of the emerging Fourth Turning (Crisis).

As an issue, it has all the prerequisites.  It is something everyone has long known was coming, but also something that everyone just preferred not to think about.  It is something which, if left unsolved, will surely result in disaster.  Yet it is also something which, in order to solve, requires huge changes in habits and behaviors, and in long-term winners and losers, throughout America.  And this is the key point: One could, in theory, imagine solutions that would involve completely different winners and losers, and realize completely different visions of America’s future, that is, in terms of its political economy.  At one extreme, for example, you solve it all by just cutting taxes—a lot.  Or at the other, by just cutting benefits—a lot.  And you have a polarized [Prophets] archetype running the country that has divided itself (I’m speaking now of its most engaged and passionate leaders) into two largely irreconcilable camps.  Each camp has its own vision.  And each camp already believes that its own corner solution is inadequate: In other words, many in the GOP want a balanced budget with *less* government spending than now; and many Democrats want a balanced budget with *more* government spending than now.

Even aside from the psychology of the Prophet, it’s perfectly understandable why one side or the other will never feel that the moment is quite right to settle on a long-term solution.  Each side wants to go to work when it’s on top.  The GOP feel, reasonably, that hey why not wait for a couple of years until we get a new commission in which *we* outnumber *them.*  Similarly, not many leading Democrats were eager to join a commission set up by George W. Bush.

The bickering and gaming continue as the new recession has hugely speeded up the disaster deadline—like turning on all the boilers in the Titanic’s engine room while the iceberg looms.  We’re in real trouble.

Let me further add that it’s not just happening to us, but to every other major economy in the developing world.  Just look at the per-GDP public debt in Japan, or the headlines about Greece (are Spain and Italy and the rest of the “Club Med” next?)  The trigger to the chain reaction is unlikely to start with us.  But, once the chain reaction starts, we may be a big part it.

If any of you are interested in the global fiscal situation, here is a just-released report ( by the Bank for International Settlements (“The future of public debt: prospects and implications”).  These are bankers giving advice to other bankers.  Their language is typically very dry and cautious.  But they use words like “daunting” and “frightening” in this report.

May 132010

As Bill and I pointed out in Generations and The Fourth Turning, every generation approaches life’s major passages with its own distinctive style.  And that certainly includes death.  In recent years, most of the media attention has focused on how the Silent (born 1925-1942) are choosing to negotiate the final passage—e.g., with warmly humanized nursing homes and hospices (like the “Eden Alternative”) and movies like “The Bucket List.”  (In his final moments, apparently, Jack Nicholson will be carefully crossing the last of 27 items off his agenda.)  The G.I. (born 1901-1924) exit style—emphasizing social largesse and institutional pomp—is already fast fading.  The Silent style is kinder, gentler, more personal, and, as always with this generation, touched by ironic humor.

Yet we Boomer (born 1943-1960) are also getting older.  And if you look carefully, you can already catch glimpses of how Boomers will do it (and are doing it) differently.  With Boomers, the nursing homes will be gone entirely, replaced by “elective communities” and NORC’s (naturally occurring retirement communities—meaning, I go nowhere; I will get some Generation X (born 1961-1981) contractor to bring services to me!).  As for all those lists, I think many Boomers will throw away the pen and the lined paper… and opt for an experience more interior, more mythical, more transcendent.  And will mind-altering drugs play a role?  For many Boomers, you bet.  They came in handy in our youth, and many of us will revisit them, like a familiar friend, at the end.

It is in this sober and reflective spirit that I offer the following AP story about a 1943-cohort woman who, worried about the grave prognosis for her cancer, enrolled in one of a burgeoning number of programs that offer psychedelic drugs to terminal patients.  In her case, the experience was very positive—as it has also been, it seems, for many others.  The story received an amazing 337 comments.  It took me back to Carlos Castaneda, “the teachings of Don Juan,” certain mushrooms, and the deserts of the southwest.  If you’re not a Boomer, you wouldn’t understand.

May 102010

A very nice piece by Morley Winograd and Mike Hais.  If you look at surveys over time, you will notice that Boomer (born 1943-1960) have *always* been relatively partial to the ideal of rural/wilderness living; and Generation X (born 1961-1981) to the ideal of creative and diverse urban living (now called new urbanism, mixed use, infill paradise, what have you).  Millennial (born 1982-200?) show a partiality to the small town and the suburb—yes, the suburb: take that all you apocalyptic Boomers who have always expressed such hatred for the brave new world your parents built!  Keep in mind, though, that for single Millennials this remains their ideal for their stable, married, familied future, not necessarily for the present.  The favorite destination for single Millennials remains big and busy (and now safer) cities.  NYC tops the list.

btw, when NCLB was legislated back in 2001, no provision was bitterly resisted by teachers unions and the majority of Democratic leaders as the rule that school children in persistently failing districts eventually be given the right to choose new schools.  Go back and look at the record.  This was a Bush monstrosity that would unravel the very fabric of our public school system, etc., etc.  Now this principle is accepted across the political spectrum, and even the unions are conceding.  Reason, imo, is the rapidly growing impact over the last ten years of Gen-X parents.  Districts everywhere in America are now wooing parents with slogans about how they want to “be their choice” of schools.   What a sea change!

May 072010

I have a lot of respect for Ronald Lee.  He’s a big-name demographer/economist.  But I just can’t fathom how he can arrive at his conclusions because the differences in the magnitude of spending are so large.  This year, all levels of government spent around $150 billion on higher ed—but around $1.2 trillion on transfers to the elderly.  Keep in mind too that all generations are taxed to support higher ed, and that higher ed has current benefits (discoveries, R&D) benefitting all generations, whereas the majority of the transfers to elderly go strictly from younger people’s payrolls and pay exclusively for the personal consumption of the elderly.  If he includes all levels of education, the quantitative comparison is less lopsided, of course, but then I find it harder to interpret his comment about the earliest generations who “did not receive public eduction.”  And I’d like to know how he deals with the interesting question of how to calculate the enormous implicit subsidy K-12 education received in the early decades when talented women had few other places to work, and thus could be hired by schools at very low salaries.  Up until the 1970s, you could say, adult women were collectively “taxed” for the collective benefit of children.

May 052010

Nice piece in Slate about the revival of the ideal of conventional monogamy among Millennial (born 1982-200?):

Millennials Rising” is quoted near the end of the piece:

This new data deepens the impression by authors Neil Howe and William Strauss in their book Millennials Rising, which pegged this generation as deeply conventional and traditional. They call the millennials a “corrective generation,” a group that reverses the “negative youth trends that boomers initiated.”

May 032010

IMO, this is a generational shot across the bow. Expect a lot more of this in the years to come.  Bill and I used to talk about up-card and down-cards in our theory. Up-cards are things we expected and have already come to pass. Down-cards are things we expect but have not yet happened to any significant extent. Young-adult dissatisfaction with unfair income transfers to Boomer (born 1943-1960) is a down card. It hasn’t happened yet but surely will happen. We didn’t see it with Generation X (born 1961-1981), because, well, they’re Xers. They all try to find their own individual solutions and survival strategies. But Millennial (born 1982-200?) are different. They will organize and be heard. And Boomers will not dare stand in their way.
Nice X/Y Quote: “Recall that there was once a reason for the unionization movement. History repeats itself….The pendulum swings the other way.”