Neil Howe, demographer and co-authour of the book The Fourth Turning, returns to the podcast this week. In our prior interviews with him, we’ve explored his study of generational cycles (“turnings”) in America which reveal predictable social trends that recur throughout history and invariably result in transformational crisis (a “fourth turning”).
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 failing markets by the central planners, greater government control of critical systems like health care and the Internet — all of these are classic fourth turning signs of the desperation authorities exert as they lose control.
History shows time and time again that such overreach ends in rejection of the current order, usually via violent revolution.
Now that we’re roughly halfway through the current Fourth Turning and things have really started to unravel here in 2020, we’ve asked Neil back on the program to update us on what to expect next:
During times of peace and prosperity, inequality over time always increases. It always increases. There are only four things which reduced inequality through history: total war, total revolution, famines, and plagues.
You have this weird situation in America now the where interest rates are practically 0% and almost no one is doing any investing. How do you explain such high returns on existing capital with 0% interest rates, and yet no one’s using those low interest rates? Because new creators of business can’t get the same high returns as the incumbents. That’s the reason.
So we have a bifurcated market and I think that this is what has to be broken down. The fourth turning is to some extent an act of creative destruction. It destroys as much as it creates. We saw that in the 1930s. We saw that in the 1940s which, by the way, was a period of huge shift from inequality to equality in America.
But I do think there’s a broader point about inequality and this is point about creative destruction. There has to be some destruction in there. You have to destroy the privileges. You have to destroy the sinecures — and that’s never pleasant. But it’s part of the process.
I’ve often told people — if they expect to see Social Security reformed, global warming solved, and god knows what else you’re talking about on a peaceful sunny day — that big reforms come about during dark and stormy nights. And I’m talking about BIG reforms…reforms that actually commit society to huge new sacrifices.
To hear which developments are most likely to happen next during this current Fourth Turning, click the play button below to listen to Chris’ interview with Neil Howe (57m:25s)
Chris Martenson: Hello everyone. Chris Martenson of Peak Prosperity. It is Cinco De Mayo here 2020. Today we’re going to be talking with Neil Howe of The Fourth Turning the book. The book that I've been referring to. If you’ve been watching my video series on COVID-19 on YouTube, back in February 20th, I actually dedicated an entire episode to the concept of the fourth turning. Talked about the book. Talked about the theory. Talk about thesis. It’s something you've heard me refer to over and over again. So what is this fourth turning? The reason I’m bring it to you is that it's a really important concept.
In my life, I value ideas. I value wrestling with ideas and what I really especially value is, when I come across an idea that's like a rudder turn and it shifts the course of like my thinking forever, and The Fourth Turning was such a book. I read it and I said, wow. It really clicks into place and I found myself over time assembling things, and data, and fitting into this framework. So it’s a really use a framework for understanding where we are. By the way, I think you need to understand this now today, because we are in a fourth turning. This is a really historic period of time and the fourth turning didn't begin with a virus, but boy, did it have rocket fuel poured on it. So here to talk with us about this today I'm really excited to bring back to the program, Neil Howe. Neil, hey, thanks so much for making the time to be with us today.
Neil Howe: Well, it's a pleasure Chris. Thank you for having me on.
Chris Martenson: Well, let's get right into it. The Fourth Turning, what is it?
Neil Howe: Well, it was a book that Bill Strauss and I wrote back in 1997. It was actually…there was a prior book that was sort of the foundation or the basis for our whole paradigm was a book we wrote in 1991 called, Generations of the history of America's future. That was a big book. That was a long project. That took us several years actually. We basically rewrote all of American history as a sequence of generational biographies. Collective biographies of generations.
What we showed is not only is them every generation in American history distinctly different in its pure personality, it's habits, it’s attitude toward family risk, civic service, and so forth. But that people were always aware of these differences even going back to the 17th century. And moreover, these differences tend to follow a certain pattern. Generations are different, but they’re not randomly different. Certain kinds of generations always follow other kinds of generations. These differences…these patterns associated to some of the larger historical patterns that we've seen in not only American history, but in many other modern societies around the world even some ancient societies.
_____ [00:03:01] and Tony B and many others have written about this, and that is the tendency of societies like ours that have huge civic and institutional turning points. Periods of rapid transformation occur about the length of a long human lifetime. About every 80 or 90 years. We go from the glorious Revolution, the War of Spanish Succession sort of late 17th century, to the American Revolution, to the American Civil War, to the Great Depression, and World War II. And guess what? Here we are, right? We’re right back there again.
The basic insight there, and this should be Arnold Toynbee sort of generational forgetting thesis is that, during crises, we shape generations of young adults. Who become extremely competent at creating, and building, and managing effective national institutions that take care of the nation through times of trouble. These generations die off, and that these abilities are not passed on to their children. So almost invariably, the generation that leads America as senior leaders through the next crisis. It’s invariably the one that was born just after the last crisis.
I mean, you look at Abraham Lincoln's generation. Born just after the Constitution and the founding of the American Republic. FDR and all the wise old men and women of World War II and The New Deal were born just after the Civil War and look where we are now. All these aging boomers born after World War II are fumbling around trying as best they can and we’re are finding out they can't do it very well. Direct America through the next crisis. But it's more important than that. It's the aging of all generations that actually pushes the country into a new mood.
There’s another interesting pattern, which is that, roughly halfway between these great civic crises, they’re the great awakenings of American history. These are the great periods of cultural and religious renewal. You could say that, in the great crises, we reshape our outer world of politics, and institutions, and infrastructure. But in the awakenings, we reshape our inner world of religion, and culture, and values. Well, it turns out that generations…these awakening periods are just as important. Just as interesting when you study history. Boomers became of age during one. The late 60s and 70s.
Many historians consider that America’s fourth or fifth grade awakening depending on what you want to start your account with. John Winthrop or Jonathan Edwards. But every generation, every time it moves into a new phase of life about every 20 or 22 years, pushes America into…or any society into a new social mood. So if you think of four basic generational archetypes, each about 22 years long, that’s about 90 years, right? So you can see how this is a sequence. This is an identifiable sequence and we gave the names of turnings because they’re like seasons. Sort of like spring, summer, fall, winter.
The spring season would be like a postwar era, the postcrisis era. They would be like the post-World War II American high. Late 40s, 1950s, early 60s. The silent generation famously was coming-of-age during that time. These are periods when institutions are strong, individualism is weak. Society feels a strong collective purpose of where it wants to go. The whole feels like it's more than the sum of its parts. That kind of feeling. T the awakenings of these periods when we throw off all social discipline. We tire of all that conformity. We want to become more individualistic and we want to become authentic people. And this is true of all the great awakenings. We throw off the religion of works. We want to go back to the religion of faith.
The collective to the interior. These are very individualizing periods of history and of course, that's when boomers came of age. That was like of their light motif. They were the generation of individualism. Doing your own thing. Following your own like. As a result, as we went into the third turning, this is more the fall season, and this is when by the way Gen Xers are beginning to come of age. Gen Xers being the children of the awakening. Kind of the throwaway kids of Woodstock. They came of age with this third turning, which was the maximum individualism, the minimum of institutions. Their turning decades in American history would be like the 1990s, the 1920s, the 1850s, the 1760s.
These are decades of instability and bad manners when no one really cares what government or anyone else says to you. These are low ebb of any sort of civic attachment. But history says that these third turnings always end in fourth turnings. And fourth turnings is when we suddenly realize that, that kind of world is not meant for survival and that we suddenly need…we need order. We need direction. We need authority and we are usually shocked into that realization by a catalyst that suddenly plunges the nation into a very negative mood.
Suddenly big institutions, particularly individualistic market institutions no longer seem to work anymore. In fact, some of the big catalyst were great stock market crashes like 1857, 1929. Sooner or later, they ultimately took us into great wars historically. I mean, total wars not just wars. Total wars. I mean, this would be the total regimentation of society. But I think it's interesting this latest fourth turning I think we entered in the time of the GFC. 2008, 2009. I think we’re going to be in it all that way until around the year 2030. So it’s a good 22 years.
So we always predicted that in the 2020s we’d see an acceleration. In fact, Bill and I wrote a piece back in 1991 believe it or not Chris. This was actually the cover story for American Demographics. It’s a big glossy piece on our theory of generations. Right there in the title page in bold print it was saying our prediction. America is headed for a great crisis right around 2020. You can see it there. So that I was what? Twenty-nine years ago, something like. But we always thought that the 2020s would be kind of the decisive decade. So that kind of lays it out.
I do think that the pandemic has an interesting correspondence to the turnings, not because fourth turnings are always triggered by pandemic. They're not. They’re often foreshadowed by one. As I do think that the crisis, we have it from 1929 through World War II, was foreshadowed by the great…the great Spanish flu. The great Spanish influenza 1918, 1919 right after World War I. It definitely magnified and accelerated the movement away from globalism and international around. It heightened xenophobia in countries all over the world. It was it was one of the big reasons why America closed the immigration window in 1920 and ’21.
The 1920s became a decade of isolationism and sort of not much liking for foreigners in America. It was one of the reasons why we had such a horrible memory World War I. We didn't want to go back into that, and we just generally turned to antiforeign in general. It was a xenophobic decade. One interesting thing I find is that, third turning decades…third turning I should say generations. Third turning moods are usually one of great openness. Very little government control. Borders are usually lacklessly enforced. The great immigration waves in American history are usually heard in third turnings.
But I will say that, one lesson of pandemics going back to the plague of the Antonine, the plague of Justinian, the bubonic plague that hit Europe starting at 1347 is that, all of these plagues terminated areas of great openness. Because great openness is wonderful in promoting efficiency, and innovation, and experimentation in human societies. But they’re also very good at promoting innovation, and experimentation, and pathogens. We forgot that 1347 was when we got the rats coming along the Silk Road. The fleas down into Genoa into the ports and so on.
But that was after the Mongos came and opened up the whole trade route to China so that Marco Polo could freely go back and forth. This been closed before. So suddenly that whole road was open. In the same way you look at these earlier periods, particularly the plague of the Antonine is when you can say…you can go all the way from London and go all the way to India completely unmolested. That's when the Roman Empire had it…was at its apogee. This was really pointed out William McNeill and his classic, Plagues and Peoples. I believe it was written in 1977.
One of my great heroes at the University of Chicago. I believe that there are many people now writing sequels to that book. But I find that of course…very interesting in apropos right now. Because it looks as though we're going into another period of xenophobia. Raising of borders. Suddenly we’re…all the big power…all the great powers are now at odds with each other. We’re more than just a strategic competition with China. It looks like we’re almost in a cold war with China. So this is not unusual. This kind of follows…this follows this general rhythm.
Chris Martenson: Neil, thank you for that. Just fabulous tour through that. So I want talk about this for turning. One aspect of it that maybe I've overly focused on, but you mentioned earlier is this idea of loss of faith in institutions. So when we put the COVID-19 overlay on today, I think what it's done when I said it poured rocket fuel the situation is, I see a lot of people who had a lot of faith, or some residual faith, or even shaky faith in institutions it really got shattered. That's really a tough moment I think individually personally for something like, if you trusted the CDC, or the Surgeon General, or the World Health Organization and suddenly you have reason to call it into question.
I'm seeing that as a general motif now including just yesterday reading about college students suing to get their tuition back because they didn't pay 50 grand to take a Zoom call with a professor. So even it's extended to this idea that maybe the institutions of higher learning have been laid bare as institutions that are more interested in money than in educating. Or however that gets expressed. But I think that…if you could just talk for a minute about that theme of loss of faith in institutions. Because that feel like a really powerful shifting in people's narrative orientation.
Neil Howe: I don’t think it’s quite so much that we’re suddenly utterly crestfallen and shocked that institutions don't work. I think it’s rather that we suddenly realized how much we need them. That's the difference. I don’t think anyone cared two hoots about the CDC. I mean, whether they trusted it or not. Interestingly, the CDC, Center for Disease Control was originally called, The National Security Center for Malaria Control back in World War II. The G.I. generation coming out of World War II gave it names that clearly lent its priority to national security. It was designed to combat communicable diseases and it was designed to also to provide leadership for a very large network of public health workers in the United States.
I don’t know if you recall, I mean, I recall as a kid polio. We had people who went house to house. States were well-equipped for people to go house to house to track down polio infections. We used to have a large public investment in public health workers. We talk like testing and tracing today. We’re utterly unable to test and trace today. And forget the testing. Everyone says, well, if only we had test, we could do it. That's only the first thing you need. Then you probably need…given the fact that I would estimate there are probably around a million people who are actively infected now if you could measure them all. It’s probably around 10 times the official count being infected every day. You would need maybe 300,000 people.
This is Scott Gottlieb and Tony Fauci, they all admit, that you would need an army of hundreds of thousands of people to actually have teams to actually do contact tracing. So we’re nowhere…you know what I mean? We’re nowhere near the ability to actually implement a containment strategy. Which you wouldn’t need so many people if you’d started early. Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan they don't need quite as many because they got to work early. We would need an army. Either that or we would need…we would need mitigation severe enough and long enough to get new infections way, way, way down so we can do this with a lower group. But what I mean is, we lost that ability.
It’s a combination of the fact that again, you remember I talked about generational replacement. The generation the really believed the government needed that kind of extra infrastructure to handle that kind of thing if it happened, they all went away. All these boomers Xers who, I don’t know. Why do you need all that stuff? Why do you need all that…all that extra spending? All those people, what the hell do they do anyway? We’ve got vaccines. We got was high-tech medicine and we can spend all of our warmest healthcare budget on a pricey specialist to amend our bodies with super expensive medicines and operations.
I mean, in my opinion I generation got completely insane in how they approach healthcare. But in any case, public health. What’s that? I think that's the attitude of a lot of younger generations today. We’re suddenly realizing, yeah, actually is pretty important isn’t it? So in so many ways, this COVID outbreak has pinpointed exactly America's weakness when you consider it. The populace disdain for the expert, our very decentralized federal…political organization with 50 separate governors. How are you going to do containment strategy when one premise of a containment strategy is not only do you have to currently clampdown on the cases, but you need tightly watched borders.
I mean, look at New Zealand. Look at look at all these countries. If you pursue containment as a policy, not only you push new infections way down, and track them and test them all, but then you’ve got to hugely police the borders and make sure no one new is coming in. So every single country that has an effective containment policy is policing its borders. Well, how is New York going to do that? That creates an additional problem. I think also we have this…we’re very libertarian in America, which I think in a lot of cultural context is a great thing. I mean, I prefer to live here. I prefer to live in an individualistic country. Nonetheless, an issue like this exposes some of the weaknesses and some of the challenges.
There are times when I think even individualists realized that you need effective top-down institutions. I think we realized that there during The New Deal. I think we realized that when we went to mobilized for a global total war during World War II. I think actually and this is maybe the good news. I think most Americans realize that today. I was just looking at that survey's last couple of days on American attitudes toward shut down rules. An overwhelming majority of Americans support them. Eighty percent. There are actually twice as many Americans who say they think they should be more strict. Twenty-two percent than those who say that they they’re too strict. I know the media doesn't present that.
The media is looking at the…the open up protesters and the pandemic people and all that stuff. But the fact is, is that most Americans actually are supportive particularly when leaders provide consistent leadership and provide consistent messaging and are able to follow through ensure people. At least promise them that if everyone follows this, it will be out of the woods. We haven't had that kind of leadership needless to say. As a result, people are pessimistic. I think people get cynical a little bit. Not because they don't know that…not because they don't suspect they know what actually is needed, but because they don't see that kind of leadership being offered right now.
Chris Martenson: I've been distinguishing, and I don’t think it's overly harsh. But the difference between leadership and managers. To be a leader, you have to be able operate on imperfect information. You have to make tough decisions. You have to stand by them. You have to be willing to admit when you're wrong. You got to course correct. There’s a lot of things. I don't note that we have a lot of people that seem to be in manager roles. We call them leaders, but very, very little what I would actually call leadership in a time like this. So clear consistent messaging, a clear sense of vision and where we’re going. Given that, I have this great faith in humans. They can do amazing things as long as they know where they're going. People will willingly take a Mudder challenge where they run through the woods in 40 degree weather and get cold and it's like nobody would ever do that if they were forced to, because they would call it a Bataan death March. But if it's a goal of theirs and they want to do it, my gosh. They’ll crawl through mud.
Neil Howe: Well, you think you're participating in something larger than yourself. I mean, it's a whole thing of a spree and it is framing. That's what a good leader can do. A good leader can frame things in the right way to motivate people to do things they wouldn't otherwise do. I think you're right about that. I think also good leader knows how to take risks. If you’re Winston Churchill, you sometimes have to say, I know a lot of people aren’t going to agree with me. A lot of people think I'm making a big mistake. But I’m staking everything on this course. That's what a good leader sometimes has to do.
Chris Martenson: Well, let me talk about one institution where…that I think…where I lost my faith. So as we watched how one of the…Plutarch said, one of the oldest and most fatal elements of all republics is a gap between the rich and the poor. The Federal Reserve is an institution, it has been given a really soft pass by the press for a long, long time. But they control something really important which is the flow of funds into the capital system. Because of the way they’ve gone about doing that, it's precipitated one of the largest wealth gaps in all of history.
So at the core of the American narrative is this idea of fairness, of justice, hard work prevails, meritocracy all that. But from my standpoint after studying this Neil, the fed is absolutely anything but a fair organization. It’s redistributive in nature and they pick winners and losers. Hey, sabers, you get nothing. Banks get a lot. It’ inherently unfair and I think this is an awakening that needs to happen is, people need to get reengage with the economics, with the financial, with the monetary cycles because it's really important what's happening.
I feel like the fed actually tossed one entire generation under the bus. That would be the most recent generation. Because they made homeownership a virtual impossibility by ramming interest rates on mortgages down as low as they could, so that they could rescue housing prices which is great for the owners of those houses. Wasn't so good for the people who wanted to start a household. That's picking winners and losers. So that's an institution that I feel really has a lot to answer for in this particular part of the story where we’re at and it gets almost no focus so far. But it’s starting to grow a little bit.
Neil Howe: I think you're right. Look, I mean, the fed in all fairness…I agree with you overall. In all fairness to the fed, I think it's always put in a very difficult position because when there's a crisis…I mean, obviously massive unemployment and so on and failure of financial institutions causes great suffering. No one wants to repeat the 1930s if they can help it. That’s sort of the example of what every policy leader…to the market failure if you let that happen. I think though the problem is, is the Fed every time kind of raises the ante. Because what it wants to do, it say, well, in order to keep the economy going, we got to keep all these large companies going. What they do is, they bail them all out and make sure…they’ve done that big time in this last…we’ve seen the last two months.
The Cares Act and the fed's activism, they’re making sure that almost no one’s…they’re putting the economy into this kind of medical. So that, no one can go bankrupt. No one can be in default. Everyone is sort of held harmless. Everyone sort of nominally gets the same income, but they’re preventing the economy from adjusting. Just like in 2008, 2009 where you got to come out of it, the same incumbents are going to be in power. By the way, this is last crisis, I don’t think any economic crisis in history has more adversely affected small business an independent contractor so much worse than large companies who don't require personal contact and already have plenty of cash, and were the first to get in line for all the PPP loans. You can just go down and name it.
But these large companies are going to come out to some extent even better. A lot of their competitors are going to be slain. A lot of the small businesses that might've ever competed with them will probably go down. So this is why the S&P 500 has not gone down as much as you might've thought. It went down what? Late February to mid late March it went down by 33 percent and now it's back about half of that. Well, that's one of the weakest bear markets in history despite one of the most graphic set of economic indicators coming at us. Isn’t that a sign what the fed is doing? And it’s not just the fed. It’s congress. I mean, it’s the Cares Act. Again, during a crisis, you have sympathy with these people. They’re sort of acting under duress. I mean, what else are you supposed to do.
You know you don't want to have businesses go under and throw all people out of work. I do think though you're absolutely right that the long-term result of this will be a massive insistence by the American public that the rules of the game be redrawn. That's the positive aspect of a fourth turning. I will say that many people when they read my book, particularly when they read of my book before they read it, they think, oh my god. This guy is a doomsdayer. He’s talking about apocalypse and so on. Actually, no. I think of the fourth turning as very restorative.
The fourth turnings have to happen. They're not pleasant. But in a way it's like forest fires or floods. They cleared way the underbrush and they allow the next generation to have room to grow. They tilt the playing field away from the old toward the young. They tilt it away from incumbents toward new people. One of the reasons why the productivity growth of the US economy is slowing down and also why the marginal return on capital is just around zero now is that, all the people who are getting high rates of return on capital are incumbents. Warren Buffet would say, they all have moats around them. You can’t compete with them. Every time the fed bails them out, that moat widens. There's less way to compete with it.
So you have this weird situation in America now the where interest rates are practically zero. These big corporate…the Fortune 500 is actually getting or at least got until recently very high rates of return on their actual replacement cost to capital or the market cost to capital. And almost no one is doing any investing. I mean, think of that. Larry Summers actually posed them that way. How do you explain such high returns on existing capital, zero interest rates, and no one's using that interest rate? Now one is investing much to those low interest rates. Why? Because new creators of business can't get those returns of the incumbents. That's the reason.
So we have a bifurcated market and I think that this is what has to be broken down. The fourth turning is to some extent an act of creative destruction. It destroys as much as it creates. We saw that in the 1930s. We saw that in the 1940s. Which by the way, was a period of huge shift from inequality to equality in America. I mean, if you look at Thomas Piketty and all these French communist, all these guys who love to talk by global quality and all that. They all show yeah, there’s this huge trend toward higher inequality, but yeah, except for that period from the late 20s to the late 40s. Yeah, then it kind of went the other way then. To me, that’s not the exception. That's the rule.
In fact, there’s a great book which you should look at, because I know you're interested in this stuff by Walter Scheidel. It’s called, The Great Leveler. He’s an economic historian. He actually made his name on obscure books on Ptolemaic Egypt and the Nile economy during the third century BC. Very obscure monograph. But he wrote a very important book, which actually got a fair amount of attention about five years ago called, The Great Leveler. He basically says, if you go back through all of history since the Neolithic Revolution, during times of peace and prosperity…that is to say, during the rise of any city oriented state, any state with division of labor and typically with some form of money. Means of transaction.
During times of peace and prosperity, inequality over time always increases. It always increases. He says, there are only four things which reduced inequality through history. Total war, total revolution, famines, and plagues. I mean, it sounds like the four horsemen of the apocalypse. He says, even _____ [00:31:23], he has an enormous appendix where he goes through all the attempts at peaceful land reform. He says, they only work if they’re destructive and violent. It's an interesting book. It has hundreds of foot notes. You’d enjoy it. He's out of Stanford actually.
But I do think there's a broader point about inequality and this is point about creative destruction. There has to be some distraction in there. You have to destroy the privileges. You have to destroy the sinecures and that's never pleasant. But it's part of the process. I’ve often told people, if they expect to see Social Security reformed, and global warming solved, and god knows what else you’re talking about on a peaceful sunny day when we’re actually just feeling great about everything. Well, all just come into a room and says, this is a great time and I feel good to be alive. Let’s just all...
Chris Martenson: Reform social security.
Neil Howe: That is never ever how it happens. Big reforms come about during dark and stormy nights. And I’m talking about big reforms…even reforms that actually commits society to huge new sacrifices. Interestingly enough. But that's a little counterintuitive. You might think that during a crisis, we’re going to just try to get by, but otherwise indulge ourselves as much as possible because everything is so bad right now. No. I mean, the original social security act which committed us to huge long-term commitments; to the disabled, the poor, poor families, poor elderly. Pay as you go…just all of at stuff. And had 39 different titles to it. That was passed and enacted in 1935. The depths of The Great Depression. So the lessons in this for history.
I find fourth turnings to be very creative times where we actually undergo solving huge…when did we create Breton Woods, United Nations, the IMF, the World Bank. We created this whole globalized system of trade. This dollar gold…just all of the stuff that they did. All these great planners, which enabled us decades of prosperity and growing division of labor and affluence. We created it actually in the latter days of World War II. That's when we laid out all the plans. So anyway, I don't know. But that's a different way of looking at it. I'm posing a little bit of a different way of looking at how we actually move forward creatively into the future versus how we might imagine it would be in the best of all possible worlds.
Chris Martenson: Well, I mean, this all dovetails…I guess I came to it sort of an intuitive basis, but I pieced it together from a lot of different sources including the fourth turning. Which is, I talk about the need for people to be resilient. This is a great time to be resilient. This next 10 years in particular. I’ve been trying to nudge control and walk people towards that. But in our model, we have eight forms of capital that people should be resilient in None are so poor as those who only have money. But having money and managing your financial wealth and capital is important, but your social capital is very important as well. Your emotional capital exceedingly important. Your spiritual capital.
These are the things that will help you succeed and even thrive when other people are having a really tough time of it. So I feel sort of the Nassim Talib piece that we sort of became fragile and our complexity worked against us to a point in time. So you have all these things sort of converging at once It’s a hyper interconnected, but overly complicated and complex world. And complex, I mean, unpredictable, has emergent behaviors, you can't really say what’s going to happen through a model. Stuff just occurs. Within that framework though, you keep mentioning this idea the total war is a hallmark of a fourth turning, can you talk about that in the context of next 10 years?
Neil Howe: Total war, it's interesting. It's more of an…it’s a metaphor embodied in a sense of urgency. I mean, right now, how many leaders around the world saying we’re at war with a pandemic. I mean, look at Emmanuel Macron. We’re engaged with a war. This is a moment of truth. Sot we have to marshal all of our national abilities. So that's in a sense. I mean, the fact that it has to be a violent war. I hope not. Although, I will say most of the fourth turning is in our history actually do tend to be violent. I don't think that's necessarily the case, but I think urgency and a sense of peril, in other words, you have to do this or if you don't, very big and bad things are going to happen. I think that's what's required.
Also, the sense of…word fare is interesting in one regard. It is the total mobilization of society for very specific purposes. Rarely happens. Peacetime society that never really happens. Sort of individuals just sort of transact and do whatever they want, and things just evolve in some sort of…hopefully with some sort of invisible hand guiding it. But word fare is very interesting in that, it involves just a huge amount of top-down planning. It's also very associated necessarily with declining inequality, because the first thing we usually do in wars is tax. We usually start with taxing the people who immediately have resources and you can see where that goes.
Revolution and war usually involve the regimentation of society to specific goals that society needs to have to have in order to meet some particular end. I think there’s certain aspects of this COVID-19 crisis which actually conforms to that idea. Now in particular, this whole idea that you can't do piece…one thing about the war is, you can't do it…you can't war piecemeal. You can’t well, we’re going to work with Japan or other fascist, but only about 10 percent. You can’t do it. It's an all or nothing decision. I think it's very interesting that dealing with the pandemic has that quality. As you know Chris, there are two basic strategies for getting through the pandemic.
There's kind of the…there's the kind of the Netherlands, Swedish plan of pursue herd immunity, which is basically pretty laissez-faire except get all the old people out of the way or maybe send all the pre-existing condition people to an island somewhere. But it does involve some planning, but it's a little bit more laissez-faire. The other involves a lot more top-down direction is contained. You can either go one way or the other. They're actually pretty interesting and sophisticated arguments in favor of the herd immunity ideal. Although, I think fundamentally it's not really workable and at a permissible cost.
But I will say this, you’ve got to choose either one strategy or the other. If you’re sitting there in the middle with iron out of around one and every time you go under one, you open up the economy again. Then you go back to one and overhead and then you shut it down again. You’re like a sailboat that’s directly into the wind and can't decide which way to tie. You’re actually in the worst possible long-term position. And unfortunately, that's where the United States is. You can’t decide to pursue real containment and we can't decide to pursue herd immunity. Either one of those would be a gutsy call.
I mean, herd immunity would be a gutsy call. I would respect it, if we had leadership for it. It would be like shooting the rapids. You’d really have to plan for that. But you could do it. It is a plan. It is a strategy. What we’re doing now is not a strategy at all. It’s just going in and out, and in and out. We’re going to have rolling waves of this thing. It’s going to be like 1918. This is going to be going for the next year and a half, and we’re going to have rolling waves of this come back in June. We’ll see what that does to the stock market. But I tell you, given the fact that most Americans support containment, when those infections begin to rise again, there’s going to be hell to pay for it politically. Because suddenly Americans will say, you mean, we have to go back and regain all the ground we lost?
Chris Martenson: Yep. Yep, and if we were really going to war game this out, I would try and run that herd immunity experiment in a statistically relevant sample. Let’s call it Atlanta, or New Hampshire, or someplace where you could say, put your hand up who wants to give this a go? I bet you’d find a locality who would say, we’d give that a go. Because heres’ what we still don't know. We don’t know if you can get long-lasting immunity to this particular bug. We don't know what happens if it mutates a little bit and you have antibody dependent enhancement pathways for a secondary infection looks like oh, that dreaded Dengue…we don't know. So that leadership, you’re going to have to go on imperfect information, try it out and all that. But you’re right, you got to pick one way or the other. I think we have very different strategies in Massachusetts versus Georgia, but we still have interstate transport while operating between the two locations. So it’s everything all at once.
Neil Howe: I think you’re absolutely right. Antibody dependent enhancement, cross-reactivity's, all of this stuff is one of the reasons why I think vaccines are further off than people think. The problem is you need time. It's not just regulations. You need time to assess the affect. I keep telling people, you can speed up time. You can get rid of the FDA regulations. You can have challenge trials. You can even start giving these vaccines to millennials and actually exposing them to cope it. Let’s hurry. You can do all that, but you can't fully assess the effects without time. I think you'd agree and that's part of the problem with this holy Grail. I mean, the holy Grail for someone who doesn't want to deal with this crisis is either we’re going to have herd immunity quickly or we’re going to have some antiviral or vaccine quickly. We’re not going to have either of those quickly. So we should be getting used to that and dealing with what’s right in front of us.
Chris Martenson: I’m wondering as well in the overlay, every generations sort of has this eating motif over time. But as we look at this most recent generation that, anybody who was born after whatever that number is, let’s call it 2000-ish. You had an iPad in your hands. You had a screen in your hands. You have this technology overlay that really gave a…it seems to…I’m not sure what the actual characteristic of this generation is supposed to be. But I get the sense of isolation and loneliness.
All the polls that we’ve conducted at the Peak Prosperity or that I read about, people in the audience _____ [00:43:02], they self-report like isolation and the sense of being disconnected from their neighbors. And from others is a really powerful sort of piece that I think was the dark side of this technology that we love. So everything…I always see everything with two-edged sword. So I’m wondering, in terms of this generation that needs to pick up the pieces and be the ones who are going to really do this performing, how does the technology they grew up with either enhance or hinder that particular set of tasks?
Neil Howe: My attitude toward technology is a little bit different. I always think the technology is more shaped by generations than it shapes generations. Meaning that, each generation takes the technology that's out there and shapes it to its own purposes. Very interesting that boomers coming-of-age email with Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and been at the personal computer. Perfect for individuals. We didn’t want mainframes. We didn't want _____ [00:44:02] formed organizations that you fed the date to the top and some…you remember back in the late 60s. That was the…no one had any other paradigm for computers. They were big machines that worked for institutions. The whole idea than an individual would have access, it just wasn't an accessible idea to the generation at the time.
Boomers invented that, and they pushed it, and they pursued it, and they popularized it and they started individuating society. I think Gen X took that further and started making a lot of money with companies like Google, and Amazon, and all the extra lead companies today. So I think these two generations have taken technology and hugely individuated. I think what’s interesting about millennials, is they’re taking the technology and they’re moving it back to the group. I mean, the whole idea of social media, the whole idea of Zuckerberg’s whole company. But the whole idea of using technology to bring us back together, remember back in the…what was it, Friendster, and Myspace.
You remember all those original social media. They weren’t called social media. They’re sort of bulletin board companies. You went under avatars like Donald Duck. No one went under their personal identity. It was just for having fun. Millennials go into to the personal identity. They actually want to connect that way. The other thing millennials been doing is that, they’ve been pushing a renaissance in extended family living in America. I mean, this is a generation which as they get older, and older, and older they’re still living with her parents. Even when they have jobs. Even when they have income. They’re still living either near or with their parents. This generation has a great personal relationship with their boomer parents as they grow older. Now this is just accelerating it.
Like today and all the millennials in their mid-30s who are were going back home now. So we’re going to see the same thing we saw during the Great Depression, which is this huge movement back of families living together. One thing that's going to do by the way is it’s going to replace a lot of marketable GDP. I think that's one other long-term hurdle for the economy. We have become with boomers and Xers what I sometimes call the blow dry economy. We each pay each other to blow dry each other's hair. I mean, we pay each other to make each other’s food, to laundry each other's laundry, to raise each other’s kids. I mean, think about it. This extreme individualism has led us to create market transactions for everything that we don't want to do. Even things that just in passing we don't feel we want to do.
What are we doing now with everyone living at home? We've already seen this growing with millennials. Now it's hugely growing with all these families now living together. They are actually taking all the services that used to be done in the marketplace and they're doing at home. We’re eating better. Why? Because we’re not cooking our own food. I think we’re raising our kids better, because why? Because our kids aren’t being babysat by some school. They’re actually at home maybe learning something from their…and I can go down the line. But I didn't think that this will lead to actually…have the same function during the Great Depression by the way. We came out of the Great Depression using far less servants in our household.
We created a middle class, which could create their own household. I do think that this is an extremely healthy development and I do think of all generations today, millennials most crave community. You see them in big cities, they only live three and four with each other. They live with their parents. They’re close to their parents. I mean, millennials will tell you that again and again. We've done surveys on that. I’ve written several pieces on loneliness as a pathology. Now boomers…well, one generation interestingly pioneered a lot more people living alone interestingly was the G.I. generation after World War II once it reached retirement. Because with social security and all the entitlements for the first time ever in history, old people could live alone. So that was kind of the pioneer.
Then later on, boomers were into what’s called solo living. Boomers do everything alone. They have serial marriages, serial religions. They’re always moving on from one thing to another. Xers have made a religion out of being alone. Part of the reason they have to be so resilient and anti-fragile is because they’re alone all the time. They have to brace their lives. But anyway, I think millennials are really moving America in another direction. This is a generation which precisely because they don't trust individuals in the marketplace being able to replace community. They think you actually have to go out of the way and actually create community. That's by the way why when you survey millennials on their political choices, two thirds of them vote for the party of community. Which right now happens to be defined as the Democratic Party, which is why this generation is so Democratic leaning right now.
I do many surveys on people of all ages by political attitudes and I find that is the most…that is actually the best single question that differentiates people under 30 from people over 50. It's a very simple question. You give people a choice. I believe the government should and then give them a choice. Reinforce the principle of self-reliance. Reinforce the principle of community. That generates a 30-percentage point split between people over 50 who are all self-reliance. They’re all individualist. They’re all there with Frank Waldo Emerson. Then you got people under 30. They all want community. Now if you’d gone back to about 1970 and or 1960, you probably would see the opposite split. Younger people would’ve wanted individualism and older people favored community. That's generational change for you Chris.
Chris Martenson: So as we look into the future with that, you just mentioned that there’s probably a significant change in GDP, because of that tendency to live at home and not forming a household. So let me make it personal. I got my license within seven days of turning 16. Got my first 500-dollar beater car as fast as I could, and I was out of there. Woo. None of my kids are doing that. They’re all very lackadaisical. Getting their license at 18, 19, 20. Whatever doesn’t matter to them. Not really needing cars all that stuff. So I see that already showing up and now we overlay this whole COVID thing.
I can tell that I'm permanently changed. It’s going to take a long time before I get on a cruise ship again. Even if some vaccine comes along. Or take flights in the same way. I see as well, our surveys are showing up that people…a lot of them and said, wow. Turns out I didn't realize how much I hated that life I used to have. I actually like this working from home and or being home thing. I’m just wondering, how much you think that COVID has given sort of that ability for people to see themselves in a new life and that may stick for some portion of them?
Neil Howe: That's just what I was arguing. I mean, I think this is going to be a new…this is going to set a new pathway. It’s a pathway that we wanted to move to anyway. That's kind of my opinion. People wanted this community. People weren't satisfied with these isolated nuclear families. These isolated living patterns. I think are our method of land management in America is crazy. It’s just endless strip malls. I mean, you go to certain areas of this country, who designed that? Well, that's a problem. No one designed it that way. Again, community. The GI generation used to go out and they designed things. They said, this is how it's going to be. We’re going to have community that looks like this. No. No. With boomers and Xers, it’s just however it happens.
So I use a paradigm from Talcott Parsons who was a…he’s forgotten now. But he was a great sociologist in 1950s. Talcott Parsons used to say that, any society goes through four phases. In the first phase, he describes each phase in terms of supply and demand for social order. This kind of roughly lines up with my turnings. So the first phase is a high demand for order and institutions have a high supply of order. Whenever one is pretty happy with that. That would be the American hobby. The second phase, the institutions are still supplying a lot of order, but there’s less demand for it from individuals. That would've been the awakening.
I mean, all these institutions are telling you, get back in line kid, and go to the Vietnam War, and organize your life like this. And young people weren’t buying it. In fact, people of all generations no longer were buying into it. That would’ve been the awake. In the in the third phase, which is the third turning, there’s still no demand for order but institutions no longer supply it either. Everyone’s happy with that. It's kind of like Reagan in America. It's like, well, weren’t not going to tell you want to be and you don’t want to be told what to do. So we’re all good with that. To use a popular expression, it’s what I want to do. Deal with it. So we’re all happy with that. But the fourth turning is when institutions aren't supplying order that people start demanding it again. See the difference? That's where we are right now. People want some sort of designing again in their social life, their civic life, their community life. The number one generation for that I think is millennial.
Chris Martenson: Well, that is absolutely fascinating, and this is all the time we have for today. I’m going to leave it there. Before we go, The Fourth Turning, of course we’re going to provide a link for the book. I recommend it all the time. It's on our permanent recommended reading list at Peak Prosperity. But Neil, other things that you're working on would include?
Neil Howe: Yeah, I’m actually working on a new book. Sort of take The Fourth Turning up to date. One of my frustrations as history begins to quicken as more and more often The Fourth Turning goes out of print. This happened in 2016 and then it happened…and it’s happening now. I mean, the publisher is fighting to get it back in, because there’s been a run on the book. But we’re going for a new book, which really discusses in-depth exactly how the 2020s are going to play out.
I will just say that, anyone who’s really interested in this particularly demography and sort of what my take is on how things are playing particularly generationally, I do have a…I’m head of demography at Hedgeye Risk Management and I have a team there. We actually have a retail product, which you can sign up for called, Demography Unplugged. If you just go on Google and Google the Demography Unplugged and that’ll take you right there. So anyone who’s interested can go on. It's really interesting. I do a podcast once a week. I do a weekly COVID call. I do a newswire that comes out on Monday and a bunch of special interviews and stuff.
Chris Martenson: Good. How would people tune into those the weekly calls?
Neil Howe: They would go to Demography Unplugged and subscribe. Once you’re subscribed you get everything. It all comes to your email address. It’s a personal product. We do institutional stuff too, but I don’t think individuals probably want to sign up for that. But there's been a lot of demand just from individuals. People as just individual say, I really want to follow what you're doing, what you're saying, what your next book. You can also follow me by the way on How Generation on Twitter. Of course, you don’t need to pay anything for that. So we often put out some stuff there that we’re working on and a lot of chatter there.
Chris Martenson: Well, good. Thank you so much for your time today. Thank you for all your work that you’ve been doing there. Will certainly direct people to that and I know our audience is very, very interested in what your insights would be for 2020 going forward. So with that, Neil, thank you so much for your time today.
Neil Howe: Great. Thank you, Chris. It’s a pleasure.