Neil Howe demographer and co-authour of the book The Fourth Turning returns to the podcast this week. In our prior interview with him, we explored his study of generational cycles ("turnings") in America which reveal predictable social trends that recur throughout history and warn of a coming crisis (a "fourth turning") based on this research.
Fourth turnings are characterized by a growing demand for social order, yet supply of it remains weak. The emergence of the surveillance state, a perpetual war machine, increased intervention in the markets by the central planners, greater government control of critical systems like health care and the Internet — all of these are classic signs that we are well into a fourth turning now:
In the fourth turning, the supply of order is still absent that the demand for order grows. So we now have a demand for order and no supply. That creates the unusual dynamics of a fourth turning — kind of like we had in the 1930’s. People suddenly feel that no one is in control and that enormous events are overtaking their society which no one of leadership age has any idea how to confront or how to manage. And it goes without saying today we look up to Gen Xers and Boomers and we see leaders who couldn’t organize their way out of a shoe box. I live in the Washington DC area and the government and Congress literally does nothing. All they do is argue and fight and nothing gets done in this city. It's amazing, and a great testament to the power of institutional inertia that things keep moving forward in some manner. There is this great unsettled feeling we have that there is a rudderless ship that we’re on where no one knows where it is going. We see dangers that we seem paralyzed and unable to respond to.
History’s fourth turnings are full of Hobson’s choices, full of grim choices. I think that the what the Fed got into — back in 2000 as well 2009, 2010 and then with QE — they got into that with a feeling of they had no choice; this is crisis intervention. And crisis intervention became a habit. And ultimately we got here not because anyone kind of wanted it to happen, we just ended up here. And this is the same way it was back in the 1930’s: the same thing was true about the New Deal. The New Deal was nothing but a thorough perversion of market choices. The New Deal was nothing if not for the picking of winners and losers throughout the economy. Throughout the world at that time, that was an era of competitive devaluation. Global trade shrank down to a fraction of what it was back in the 20’s. Each country was making a decision which felt to it like survival, and nations were taking enormous collectivist measures with their economies as we were here in our own economy. And that is where we are today. I guess what I am saying is I am not surprised we are at this point. I just think that the full consequences of it have not yet been fully perceived, and I think they will be when the financial markets ultimately reflect the damage that has been done to the economy as a whole. And I think that will happen probably over the next year and a half — if it even takes that long
Also, I should point out just as an empirical fact that the vast majority of the total wars that have been fought have been fought in fourth turnings. That's a sobering thought. Certainly in American history :the American revolution, the Civil War, World War II — those are all fourth turning events. Fourth turnings tend to lead to crisis that calls forth a period or an episode of total cohesive organized collective public effort in response to a crisis. That may not involve war; it may simply be an organized response to an economic crisis. Or it may be war in a somewhat different form. When you look around the world toda at the kind of global terror that we see in the world, we see forms of war which aren’t exactly the same as what we are used to in terms of earlier eras of war. It may be war, but war of a different nature, a different character. But what you can say is: the social feel will be very similar to what we have felt in previous periods of total war.
Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Neil Howe (51m:26s)