• Podcast

    Neil Howe: What To Expect From The Fourth Turning We’re Now In

    More centralized control, crisis & conflict
    by Adam Taggart

    Sunday, March 15, 2015, 4:58 PM

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)

Transcript

Chris Martenson: Welcome to this Peak Prosperity podcast. I am your host, Chris Martenson. You know, we’re living through one of the most exceptional periods of human existence, defined on one side by remarkable technological advances and on the other side by ecological degeneration and resource depletion. Geopolitically, things have not been as tense as they are between the east and the west at any time in my entire lifetime. And though it is tempting to think of this time being different, it may not be. Not really. If history doesn't repeat itself, it sure does rhyme. History, if looked at correctly, is not names and dates strung together and embellished by the victors, but rather it has a structure, a structure that repeats. A grand motif that plays out over and over again but with different notes. And if one can understand this pattern, then one can better understand the times in which they live and how the future may unfold.

Today we are going to talk about generations and historical patterns, and we have invited back Neil Howe, an American historian, economist and demographer to discuss these historical patterns against current events. Now, he is best known for his work with William Strauss in social generations and generational cycles in American history including the book The Fourth Turning. Neil is a renowned authority on generations and social change in America, an acclaimed author and speaker. He is the nation’s leading thinker on today’s generations, who they are, what motivates them and how they will shape America’s future. Welcome, Neil. It is a real pleasure to have you back.

Neil Howe: Great to be here, Chris.

Chris Martenson: Well when we had you on before, we covered generational cycles and the fourth turning concept, and we’ll link to that earlier interview for those interested in that background. But just to set the stage for today, would you be willing to review the generational and social change theory for us all?

Neil Howe: Well, you know it is a way of looking at social change which is both familiar to people because in a way we do it all the time, but it is also unfamiliar and it is basically keeping in mind that as society moves on year by year, we all get older. It is really as simple as that. And I go to corporations all the time and talk to them about how are they forecasting how people in their 30s and 40s are going to behave, you know, 10 years from now. And they say "well we know everything about 40 year olds and 30 year olds and we have researched the whole history and we just project it forward. Thirty year olds 10 years from now, 30 year olds 20 years from now and so you know everything about 30 year olds." And then I say "well you know when I want to know about 30 year olds 10 years from now, I look at today’s 20 year olds." They look at me shocked. "You do what?" I say "well actually those are the people; they are going to be 10 years older." It sounds elementary; it sounds almost stupid, right? But it is amazing we never think this way when we look at history, when we look at the future.

When you look at time that way, if you have an age on the Y axis and time on the X axis, we all live in a diagonal line, right? Bill and I in our work used to call that the generational diagonal, and that is where we live. Any individual event is a vertical line thrust down through all of those diagonals, right? That is a point in time. But it hits us all differently depending on how old we are. And when we are young, history shapes us, shapes us in a certain way in our attitudes and behaviors, and then later on—maybe 30 or 40 years later—those same people, shaped a certain way, in turn shape history, right? So history both shapes us and it is the thing we shape as we get older. Both as leaders and as parents, right?

So that’s the circle and one of the things that we found in our work looking at history as a sequence of social generations—groups of people that are shaped by history a certain way—is that not only are generations very different and surprisingly even going way back in American history to the 17th and 18th century, people were actually aware of these generational differences. But these generations in their overall attitudes and behaviors tended to assume a certain collective personality that was not only different from each other but tended to recur in a certain kind of pattern. That is, certain kinds of generations tend to follow other generations. And we notice that this pattern was also linked to some of the broader patterns that we have seen in American history. The fact, for instance, that we have had these enormous cataclysmic events in our public life. The great crises, turning points in American history that affect politics, the economy, empire, the great total wars in our history are all in these eras. That these tend to occur about once every long human lifetime, right? You think of the wars of Spanish succession, then the American Revolution, then the Civil War, then World War II and the Great Depression and so on. And roughly halfway in between these great cataclysmic events has been the great cultural and religious awakenings of American history. And there is a reason for these patterns, these patterns are tightly integrated into this because different kinds of generations are either coming of age during one of these events and then subsequently the leaders and the senior people – the mid life parents and ultimately the senior leaders of America during the second one of these events. Looking at how that works out actually leads to a certain kind of choreography of history where we describe history as a sequence of seasonal moods which does recur.

So we look at four recurring types of generations each around 20 years long and associated with that are four recurring social moods which we call turnings. These are almost like seasons of a year which take about the length of a long human lifetime to repeat.

And as we probably went into last time, Chris, you know, we talked about the winter season in history is what we call the fourth turning, and it is the crisis era, right? And we estimated at that time and certainly still do that we probably entered that era in 2008. Each of these periods, each of these turnings, each of these moods can be dated. I mean you can kind of tell when you are entering it and when you are leaving it. And we thought that that—you know, it takes a little while sometimes for you to look back in history, right? To actually know when a date was, when a new generation comes along or when the social mood changes. But I feel pretty comfortable with that date and thus far we haven’t had much occasion to change it and I think we are well into that mood and I think the generational line up is pretty clear. Boomers are moving into the senior leadership position. Generation X, people born in the 1960s and 1970s are in the process of moving into mid life where they will be the hands on managers. And the new millennial generation is coming of age into young adulthood. They are about halfway into that phase of life right now, a little bit less than halfway in. They are the generation we first wrote about in our first book back in 1991 when we first gave them a name. Chris, we may have talked about that, our first awareness of Millenials. At that time when we were writing about them the oldest of them were only about eight years old back in 1991. But now, of course, they are the coming of age generation. Back in 1991 we were just beginning to learn about and for the first time talk about Generation X, which interestingly at that time hadn’t even been named yet. So there we are.

Chris Martenson: Well fantastic. Thanks for that. To put this in context, that crisis stage, it is about a 20 year chunk, right? I assume each one of these four turnings is about a 20 year period roughly. The period before that would have been the unraveling period. That would have sort of ended I guess in 2008.

Neil Howe: Yea, exactly.

Chris Martenson: So what characterizes that period? I want to try to understand how we understand where we are in crisis. So unraveling, what is that about?

Neil Howe: One way to think about this, Talcott Parsons said it perfect. He was a famous sociologist in the early post-war era. He had an interesting fourfold way of looking at social transitions, which I think actually is an interesting way of looking at turning shifts. At least one way of characterizing turning shifts. He said that at any given time there is a kind of a supply and demand for order in society. And that one way of thinking about a first turning which is like the American high, you know, the presidencies of Truman and Eisenhower and Kennedy. These were post crisis eras when individualism is weak and institutions are strong and we feel very good collectively about who we are. And in Talcott Parsons words, this is an era when the supply and demand for social order is very strong. In other words, there is order out there and people want it, right? And feel good about it.

The awakening era which is the second turning and of course a lot of us who call that experience from you know, the mid 60’s through the 70’s into the early 80’s that was the great consciousness revolution, what some historians call America’s fourth or fifth great awakening. Or Frances Fukiyama in a recent book actually called it The Great Disruption, this period of social and family experimentation. That period was a period in Talcott Parson’s words in which the supply of order was so strong but the demand for it was very weak, which is what created all the demonstrations and protests and people wanting to throw off social obligation and authority, right?

The third turning, which really began with the Reagan years and lasted on throughout obviously the 1990s and into the 00’s is a period in Parson’s words, when both the supply and demand for order is weak. Right? Nothing was very ordered. We are all happy being free agents and the kind of social entropy was high and everyone kind of loved it. So this is what we call I think when you use the word "unraveling," these are periods of kind of maximum social disorder in the sense of what we feel we need from society to help order our lives. A certain kind of generation comes of age during these eras we call a nomad archetype. Most recently of course, that was Generation X coming of age. During the roaring 20’s, by the way, that was the Lost Generation coming of age, and you and me can go back in American history—you find these particular kind of generations. You know a little bit wild, certainly a huge reputation for being young, risk takers. And that is what we associate with these eras.

The fourth turning, and to use Parson’s terminology, the supply of order is still absent that the demand for order grows. Right? 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, right? 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 mean I live in the Washington DC area and government here—Congress literally does nothing. I mean all they do is argue and fight and nothing gets done in this city. And it is amazing, a great testament to the inertia, the power of institutional inertia that things keep moving forward in some manner. But I think there is this great unsettled feeling that 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 them and I think no one feels that more than the millennial generation coming of age. I think that will be one of the great burdens they will have to manage as they move through this period.

Chris Martenson: I would like to get back to that in just a second because that is a really important topic for us and our audience. Before we do though—this idea of this institutional inertia in the sense that our leadership is being outpaced and outclassed by events. I want to explore that. So the US and Europe have, for reason that are not entirely transparent to this observer, decided to cast Russia out of the fold, demonize Putin personally, continually accuse Russia of invading Ukraine with hundreds of pieces of heavy equipment. 20,000 men, General Breedlove just said from Russia are in Ukraine, without ever providing a single piece of photographic evidence, which it must be noted is just child’s play for today’s satellites to detect such movements like that. So this breakdown in relations and even the breakdown of basic and reasonable diplomatic protocols—are these expected features of the crisis stage? Does this help us understand what is happening now?

Neil Howe: Yes. And you know, the idea of a global order, which used to be so strong for so many of us growing up most of our lives. Remember the whole period of the cold war. And then of course followed by this period of one hyper power, which was America seeming to preside over this new – kind of a very third turning notion, right? Of a world that would just be run by the dynamism of markets and that would solve everything. That was the end of history as I recall as the millennium came to a close. It has now been overtaken by this much grimmer scenario of power vacuums and failed states in the context of a multi polar world in which absolutely no one is in control and none of the major players terribly much trust anyone anymore. The last time we had this kind of scenario was the 1930’s. I mean this was the 1930’s. And in fact, many of the things we talk about now which is competitive devaluations, right? Which is, I mean, that is a script taken from the 30’s.

In fact, I would say many of the ways in which we describe our economy are basically putting new paint on old bottles that we found in the 30s. I’m sure that you certainly have heard Larry Summers, one of our foremost economists has hugely repopularized the expression "secular stagnation" to describe what America and the world was going through—this period, this kind of era of chronic under demand, low employment, below capacity production, deflation, and even strong downward pressure on fertility rates. Well that expression and that idea was invented by Alvin Hanson in 1937. He was a Keynesian and that is how he was going to popularize Keynes and bring it to America and he coined this expression "secular stagnation." So your point, have we been there before? The point is yes. We’ve been there before.

Chris Martenson: Just to put a finer point on it, it was just yesterday that the president of the European commission, Mr. Yunka, he called for the creation of an EU army in order to show Russia, “That we are serious about defending European values.” It’s interesting to me that he’s framed it in terms of values. We need an army besides NATO to show Russia that we are serious about defending European values. And in response there was Chairman of the United Russia Faction of the State Duma, Franz Kinsovitch[ph] said, "in the nuclear age, extra armies do not provide additional security, but they surely can play a provocative role." So there is Russia just pulling out the nuclear trump card just instantly.

When I see two sets of statements just going sort of by each other like ships in the night, there is really no way to get my hands around them and understand really what is being said here. It feels to me like we’re at one of those 1930’s moments, or perhaps a 1914 moment, where nobody can really explain why relationships are as sour as they are, but they keep getting more sour. Is that a fair way to look at this?

Neil Howe: I think it is a fair way to look at it and not just – probably another example of where the relevance the 30’s comes in strongly. Every leader of the Baltic states—I’m talking about Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania—have made explicit references to Czechslovakia in the 1930s as their best comparison to what is going on now. You know, I think for a lot of Americans we may not be as knowledgeable about what Hitler did before the war actually broke out in the fall of 1938 and I know he invaded Poland but it was a series of maneuvers, right? Where he basically took pieces of countries around Germany that had Germans in them, right and acquired them and through kind of intimidation and then sort of by osmosis his troops would move in and then pretty soon kind of a fait accompli and then the most famous instance where Chamberlin came back as prime minister to Britain and said "we have peace in our time." It is interesting that what happened then is used by these—obviously these Baltic States are part of NATO, right? And they would like to feel that they are protected, but I think they’re extremely nervous. It is amazing that Poland is really nervous right now. And I don’t know, is Western Europe really nervous? What does it mean to defend our values? What the hell are they talking about? You know, defend their values? We are talking about defending territory. Is this the way you talk about an alliance?

I totally agree with you the sense of unreality about all of this, as though all of these people involved are really unused to contemplating or having any knowledge of what real war is about. You get that sense from both sides there. As you should. I mean none of them do have any real knowledge of it, right?

Chris Martenson: Absolutely. And from my perspective there is another macro theme playing out which is a little bit different than anything we have had to face before as a species, which is that we just can’t get ever more high quality resources at our disposal. It turns out the world has been pretty well mapped. Last year was the worst year in decades for oil discoveries by the world oil players. And we’re just having a harder and harder time finding the resources we need.

One of the macro themes that I work with all the time is that pretty much any war you want to talk about was a resource war at some point. It had resources at its heart. So that is sort of a theme that I see going on here is that I don’t think the people in power have – like the people at the Federal Reserve, when I interview people that work at big banks, they literally have no working knowledge of resources and the fact they are becoming harder and harder to come by. To them it is just a market problem. You throw money at it and more will show up.

And that is on one side. On the other side, I talk with other economists who have different models that seem to have better predictive explanatory power for what is going on and they basically say, "look it is just too much debt, you know?" We took our 2008 crisis and in response, worldwide, crammed our total worldwide debt levels up by another 35 trillion across the globe to almost 200 trillion of outstanding debt. Of course we are not going to have robust growth under that environment no matter what the interest rate. I feel like we have these big macro explanations that at least ought to have a reasonable adult sized conversation around them and you can’t have any conversation because the holders of the dogma say "no, no this is how we look at the world; we are just going to keep looking at it this way. You just stay to the side, we don’t have any interest in talking."

Neil Howe: Since we talked, this must have been I don’t know, maybe a year ago, we haven’t talked about commodity prices and oil prices. So I’d like to turn this interview around, but I am sort of interested in your point of view on what is happening.

Chris Martenson: This is a fascinating story. We have probably with oil supply and demand are the two pieces that you have to understand. World demand is low. We are having very low global growth. In particular, China is slowing down at an absolutely horrific pace. I don’t believe their official numbers of growth nearly as much as I trust the fact that their imports of key commodities—and the biggies for me are oil, coal, copper and iron ore. Those have all collapsed. They have absolutely slowed down all the ships coming in because they don’t need it. They’re done with their growth cycle. So when I look at the demand side of the story I say okay that’s part one.

Part two on the supply side there is a little extra supply, but there is not a lot. When you take the United States shale plays out of the story. The world, the rest of the world including Canada, is putting it all together in one spot are producing exactly as much oil today as we did in 2005. The United States is the only place which is added to the overall mix and that is going to be a relative flash in the pan because the shale plays deplete very rapidly. They were going to peak in 2020 regardless of how things turned out economically.

So when we put all of that in, I see what we are going to have a very, very large supply shock in a number of years. Two, maybe three given how these things work out because the big companies aren’t finding more on the world stage and they aren’t investing anything at these current oil prices. So this is something that I predicted a long time ago is you would see oil become too expensive for the economy to afford so supplies would start to outrun demand and demand might even fall back and then prices would fall and you would find that oil became too cheap for the oil drillers to drill. And that is sort of the accordion that we are stuck between. But in this story the ceiling and the floor are getting closer and closer together in this story.

Neil Howe: That’s interesting. You know I totally agree on your analysis. I think there is far too little awareness about the main driver of the fall of commodities in particular in oil is due to the fall in demand, not the rise in supply. I don’t know how many times I’ve had this argument with people relating to the shale oil revolution in America. I’m sure you have done battle with these people yourself.

Chris Martenson: Oh yes.

Neil Howe: You look, it is very clear in the global data it was a decline in demand and it really is due to the global – it is due to the problems with the global economy today. And that is what is going on here and the epicenter of it all is China. Of course, Europe and a number of other places are participating as well. I think also that people have not fairly characterized the impact of the lower oil prices. The transfer from producers to consumers is not going to drive through to increasing consumption the way people I think assume. And that is, I think a lot of people have in their mind the days of you know the kind of idle oil sheiks in the mid east and instead of all of this money going into their bank accounts and just sitting there piling up, it is going to go in the hands of consumers and spending. I mean the reality is that most of these big producers now other than – even Saudi Arabia isn’t quite what it was. You are looking at Nigeria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Russia, Venezuela, you are looking maybe half a billion people and these are countries where every cent of that oil revenue is spent immediately on their clients and greedy customers and populations that really need that wealth, really need that income. So these are not piling up as idle assets.

And interestingly too, on the other side, on the consumption side, I have been amazed at the number of countries, particularly Indonesia and India, that are not letting the prices to the consumer fall. They are actually using this as an excuse to get rid of their subsidies, which is probably good public policy, but it certainly doesn’t lead to an increase in consumer demand, right? It just leads to more flush public sector balance sheets, which may be great for them in the long run but it certainly doesn’t do anything to boost consumption globally. And I think there has just been a little bit too much use of outmoded assumptions on the impact of a global oil price decline on use and consumption when I just don’t see quite the same dynamic there as might have been there 30 years ago.

Chris Martenson: Oh absolutely and particularly—I did battle on this a lot—you look at the United States, people said "oh this is going to be such a huge boost to consumption." I’m like "no it’s not, because one man’s gain is another man’s loss in the story to the extent we are talking about domestic producers, right?" So if Whiting Petroleum is suddenly receiving a billion dollars less in revenue for its activities in the Bakken, and that billion transfers over to consumers, from a GDP standpoint that is a zero. That’s just how the accounts work. The only way it helps is for an importing nation, perhaps Japan. Now their import bill for fuel has been cut and that definitely has a measurable impact statistically, but I think to your point, the speed of the change and the fall in the price is a shock to the system.

Here is my sense of our global system: The central banks did everything they could to just pump the whole thing back up. They were very clear cut about it. They said "we are going to target, we want equity prices to go up so we are going to target that. We want bond prices to go up, or yields to go down so we are going to target those." They have done everything they can. I think their strategy, Neal, was with two fingers crossed going "please growth come back soon." And it hasn’t happened. That’s confusing.

Neil Howe: Yea. And this is a sign of our times that the Fed, I should say the collective Feds of the world, now they are kind of all in it, basically said to grow the economy we are going to turn financial markets from something that reflects the markets or something that reflects the economy to an indicator of future economic performance to an actual tool of economic performance, right? So we are going to turn that into a tool and we are call it quantitative easing and we are going to flatten the entire yield curve down to the floor and the result will be to inflate the prices of all of these assets and that is going to get people to spend.

Well, predictably we have had this long, robust stock market boom around the world and everyone is looking at a boom explicitly engineered by central bank authorities around the world to get our economy back going again and they look at that and they say "look at how great our economy is doing." Right? This is perverse thinking, right? Perverse logic. And it amazes me how often you see people pointing to the stock market as an indicator of how well our economy is doing.

The thing that worries I think everyone—I’m sure it has to worry the Fed—is how in the world are we going to get the global economy off this steroid, right? How are we going to go back to 5, 6% interest rates or 2, 3% real interest rates around the world? We have become accustomed to this hot house designed for orchids, right? We are all living in it and it is like, how can we go back to live in a real world again without all of these financial markets crashing? And I think it is that realization that is pushing I think, inevitably, delay after delay after endless delay in plans to raise rates again. I think it just keeps getting put off because people are so, you know, concerned about that decision.

Chris Martenson: Well certainly and it cuts to the idea that when Yellen speaks or Bernanke used to, it was always couched in this idea that you know, central banking is a very sophisticated practice. We have a lot of science, we got the math, you need derivative level calculus to understand what we are talking about. But really, you get down to it, money is a social contract and they have basically said "we are going to upend that contract by preferentially printing it out and picking winners and losers," right? And here is what I mean by that – savers were punished. Right? They said we are going to give you 0% return on any savings you have preferentially so that we can induce this other sector over here, we will call it big banks and lending, the credit market cycle. So that was picking winners and losers. That is upending the contract a little bit. They are no longer neutral participants in sort of holding the container that the economy functions in. They have said we are now grossly picking winners and losers on this.

You mentioned competitive devaluations; now we have central banks trying to pick themselves and their whole country as winners and losers by devaluing their currencies competitively. And I think mostly when the Fed and when the Bank of Japan, Bank of England, all of them, ECB, say "we are going to target rising equity values as a social principal, as a social engineering principal, as a marker because then everybody will think things are going great so they will feel great so we will spend more…" These things, Neil, these are so against what are supposedly core principals of free market capitalism are. They have been so grossly distorted that I can’t really recognize the landscape as having anything to do with those principals. I think those make people nervous, not comfortable to your point. I think that their policies work against what they are hoping.

Neil Howe: As always you've got to compare it with alternatives. Was QE a bad thing? Well, what was the alternative? And I think this is the logic by the way we talk about history’s fourth turnings, right? Full of Hobson’s choices. Full of grim choices. I think that what the Fed did and what the Fed got into back in 2000 and well obviously fiscal policy back then was also at that time a big part of it as well 2009, 2010 and then the beginning of the first QE. I think they got into that with a feeling of they had no choice, you know, this is crisis intervention. And crisis intervention became a habit because going off crisis intervention would lead to a crisis, right? And ultimately we got here not because anyone kind of wanted it to happen, but because we just ended up here. And there is a real worry in the same way there was, by the way, and as there was back in the 1930’s. I think 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 the picking of winners and losers throughout the economy and to your point throughout the world. You know, that was the era of competitive devaluation as you recall. Global trade shrank down to a fraction of what it was back in the 20’s. And it was each country was making a decision which felt to it like survival, and nations were taking enormous collectivist measures with their economy as we were here in our own economy. And that is where we are. 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 perceived 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, year and a half. And, in fact, you know if it even takes that long.

Chris Martenson: Interesting. So here we are, it is 2015 right now, we are seven years into this fourth turning. Is war always an inevitable marker of the fourth turning?

Neil Howe: No. I don’t think it is inevitable. I just would point out just as an empirical fact that all of the total wars—or I should say the vast majority of the total wars that have been fought, have been fought in fourth turnings. So you know, that is just a sobering thought, right? Certainly in American history you think of – you think of all of our total the war that created us as a political unit, the American Revolution, you look at the Civil War and you look at World War II, those are all fourth turning events. So I wouldn’t say that war is necessary. I certainly hope it is that. What I will say is that 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. And that may not hopefully again that may not involve war. It may simply be an organized response to an economic crisis, you know what I mean? It may be – or it may be war in a somewhat different form, right? Certainly today when you look around the world and we look the kinds 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.

Chris Martenson: I understand. Well said. So I want to turn back to the Millennials then. The American Dream – you study hard, get good grades, go to college, get a good job, work your way up the career ladder, have two and a half kids, you increase your standard of living, you retire to life of ease, right? I know an ever increasing number of people under the age of 30 that do not even remotely connect with that dream, that narrative anymore. Is that just a predictable outcome of their generation here or is something else at work?

Neil Howe: Well, it’s interesting because we have a lot of survey data on that question. We know something about it. We knew the Millenials are actually very much attached to that American Dream as an aspiration. It is amazing. I mean if you look—for instance the reason Met Life survey the American Dream you see that Millenials are actually more likely than older generations to think that eventually owning a home you know, having a family, being married and having a family, owning a home, having some kind of retirement plan is part of the American dream that they aspire to. However, the problem is that all of those things seem out of reach for them, for a lot of them. And in fact, a lot of the things that we used to do as a foundation in life, for example get married, is now Millenials feel that is a cap stone. You don’t do that until you are actually prepared to do that. You really see that in marriage now. I believe it is about two years ago for the first time, going back decades, the first time someone is more likely to be married at age 30 with a college degree than without. It is a real turn around for those of us who remember back when—I don’t know about you, Chris, but I remember a time when you know, you graduated high school and those who did not go to college got married instantly. Right? And those who did go to college were the ones who put it off, right? Well this has completely changed. So economic necessity or the perception of economic means is much more important now in determining whether or not Millenials and young people today feel as though they can buy into this thing. Feel as though they can attain this thing which, by the way, they really want. I can tell you that Millenials are – if you can say anything about them it is they are utterly conventional in the degree to which they will jump through hoops and do everything they can to be qualified, to be worthy of the American Dream and to set themselves up as being, you know, validated by the meritocracy.

I mean just look at the explosion in the share of Millenials who take standardized tests to get into college? The enormous increase in Millenials enrolling in college. Just the quadrupling and quintupling of the number of Millenials who are taking AP tests, right? Advanced placement tests to get in. This is a generation that will do anything to the popularity of smart drugs on college campuses. You know, back when I was in college campuses it was dumb drugs, right? Whatever happened to them? The point is here is a generation very focused on actually winning that meritocratic validation and getting ahead, but the problem is it is receding for them.

And this gets back to this issue we talked about before, namely what monetary authorities are doing in QE. Because what QE has done by inflating financial assets and pushing the return on financial assets down to razor thing levels is that it is the generational inequity. It has hugely enriched older Americans who already have, and it is pressed down to nothing the return to savings for a younger American who wants to invest and wants to save, right? And one thing I will say is that a huge stock market crash in which the S&P 500 falls to half of what it is today—I mean I will just tell you this bluntly, I can’t imagine anything more favorable to Millenials than to be able to buy into a piece of America at half the price, right? And get double the return on their investment. And I think from a younger person’s point of view today, it is their parents and their grandparents who are benefitting by current economic policy. It is one of the reasons why Millenials are happy living at home and going on family vacations and having their older relatives pay for everything, that is kind of how they are used to getting by today in America.

Chris Martenson: I totally understand and I see this play out in certain key markets. I’m familiar with Northern California because that is where my work partner, Adam Taggart lives. The Fed did everything it could to resurrect home buying out there – driving interest rates down, all of this, but the problem was they took already expensive houses and made them even more expensive. That is great for the people who already own them, that is the older generations. For people who are trying to start out in life it looks totally unattainable because you know, a starter 1970’s not yet refinished one bedroom ranch in Palo Alto is 1.2 million. Totally unthinkable at anything but a super, super upper class wage, which not everybody earns. So there is that sense of a generational divide, which is part of why I found—in my work I find younger people disconnecting from the dream because it looks a little bit like a rigged game sometimes to them. They don’t feel like they have gotten a fair hearing in this.

Neil Howe: It is rigged. And by the way, Chris I was a teenager, I grew up in Palo Alto and at that time I think our Eikler home—I think the full price was $30,000. That was it. That's what you could buy an Eikler for. And that was an expensive home in the suburbs back then. Yes, times have definitely changed.

Chris Martenson: Yes. So as a final thought then—I get asked this a lot by young people: What should they do in life? Here we are at this fourth turning, they are asking should they go to college, if they do, what sort of employment they should seek, what skills would be good to learn? What does the fourth turning offer by way of macro guidance here to young people?

Neil Howe: I would just stay open in what you are able to do. I think we are entering a period unlike any like we have seen in recent decades. It is a period where history is going to change very rapidly. Public events are going to change your life—sometimes even overnight. And I think that as the fourth turning unravels and as the economy goes through the kind of trials and tribulations required to get to the other side, ultimately of course we will get to the first turning, which will be a new era of optimism and hope and solid foundation, solid economic and institutional foundations. But it won’t be without a period of tremendous insecurity before we get there. That is simply how history works, right? And I would say that if you are a Millennial, and this is what I tell them all the time, I say don’t assume that today’s institutional arrangements will stay this week. Don’t assume that the stock market will stay this current level. Don’t assume that the bond market will be anything like it is. Don’t even assume all of those student loans will necessarily have to be paid off. And I meet young people all the time who say that, they say all of these banks are getting their loans paid off, do you really think that I’ll have to actually pay all of this off? And I'm saying you know what, actually you may not. I can easily imagine the next New Deal which will suddenly reshuffle the cards in the economic deck and basically say okay we are going to do it differently now. You don’t have to pay those off. We are going to kind of reshuffle the deck in a certain way that will at last benefit your age group and maybe make it a little bit easier for you to save and look forward to the future. This is not something that older people are terribly enthusiastic about. On the other side of the – on another political party. But it is something young people are enthusiastic about. Interestingly, on both sides of the political party, we did a recent survey on this and found it is amazing among Millenials both democrats and republicans feel it is very important that government should be doing something for younger people. A little less surprising from young democrats, more surprising from young republicans, but basically a generational attitude that simply goes totally across a partisan boundaries.

Chris Martenson: Understood, and let’s hope that we do get something going on because this wealth gap and the generational gap are destabilizing influences if left unattended. I feel they have gone on too long, personal opinion there. So Neil, where can people find out more about your work, your book, any future events you might be holding? How would they keep track of you?

Neil Howe: I would say stay tuned on the political front. We actually do have a study coming out on the differences in attitudes by generations in politics which would be available for both parties for the upcoming election, which ought to be interesting. The presidential election 2016. Doing a fair amount of work recently—we have been talking about the Fed and I am actually speaking at an upcoming event. Actually the Fed has a policy conference here in Washington DC so I am actually going to be presenting a paper I think in April on mobility across generations over the post war period and looking ahead to where Millenials are going. I think that will be interesting. I’ve worked on this a little bit with the St. Louis Fed and this will be a time to present if you are in DC.

I would say people interested in our work, Generations and The Fourth Turning are probably the two still the last full length books on this subject that I think are out there. I do have in the works a plan to have a new addition of Generations come out so you can look for that in probably around a year. And I would say we have a new website going up SaeculumResearch.com and I think we have a lot of free news alerts and newsletter services available to readers who just want to stay current with this subject.

Chris Martenson: Well fantastic and Neil thank you so much for your time today. Fascinating as always and we’ll be keeping an eye out for all your work coming up.

Neil Howe: Okay, Chris. Great to talk to you.

Chris Martenson: Thank you.

Neil Howe: Bye.

Chris Martenson: Welcome to this Peak Prosperity podcast. I am your host, Chris Martenson. You know, we’re living through one of the most exceptional periods of human existence, defined on one side by remarkable technological advances and on the other side by ecological degeneration and resource depletion. Geopolitically, things have not been as tense as they are between the east and the west at any time in my entire lifetime. And though it is tempting to think of this time being different, it may not be. Not really. If history doesn't repeat itself, it sure does rhyme. History, if looked at correctly, is not names and dates strung together and embellished by the victors, but rather it has a structure, a structure that repeats. A grand motif that plays out over and over again but with different notes. And if one can understand this pattern, then one can better understand the times in which they live and how the future may unfold.

Today we are going to talk about generations and historical patterns, and we have invited back Neil Howe, an American historian, economist and demographer to discuss these historical patterns against current events. Now, he is best known for his work with William Strauss in social generations and generational cycles in American history including the book The Fourth Turning. Neil is a renowned authority on generations and social change in America, an acclaimed author and speaker. He is the nation’s leading thinker on today’s generations, who they are, what motivates them and how they will shape America’s future. Welcome, Neil. It is a real pleasure to have you back.

Neil Howe: Great to be here, Chris.

Chris Martenson: Well when we had you on before, we covered generational cycles and the fourth turning concept, and we’ll link to that earlier interview for those interested in that background. But just to set the stage for today, would you be willing to review the generational and social change theory for us all?

Neil Howe: Well, you know it is a way of looking at social change which is both familiar to people because in a way we do it all the time, but it is also unfamiliar and it is basically keeping in mind that as society moves on year by year, we all get older. It is really as simple as that. And I go to corporations all the time and talk to them about how are they forecasting how people in their 30s and 40s are going to behave, you know, 10 years from now. And they say "well we know everything about 40 year olds and 30 year olds and we have researched the whole history and we just project it forward. Thirty year olds 10 years from now, 30 year olds 20 years from now and so you know everything about 30 year olds." And then I say "well you know when I want to know about 30 year olds 10 years from now, I look at today’s 20 year olds." They look at me shocked. "You do what?" I say "well actually those are the people; they are going to be 10 years older." It sounds elementary; it sounds almost stupid, right? But it is amazing we never think this way when we look at history, when we look at the future.

When you look at time that way, if you have an age on the Y axis and time on the X axis, we all live in a diagonal line, right? Bill and I in our work used to call that the generational diagonal, and that is where we live. Any individual event is a vertical line thrust down through all of those diagonals, right? That is a point in time. But it hits us all differently depending on how old we are. And when we are young, history shapes us, shapes us in a certain way in our attitudes and behaviors, and then later on—maybe 30 or 40 years later—those same people, shaped a certain way, in turn shape history, right? So history both shapes us and it is the thing we shape as we get older. Both as leaders and as parents, right?

So that’s the circle and one of the things that we found in our work looking at history as a sequence of social generations—groups of people that are shaped by history a certain way—is that not only are generations very different and surprisingly even going way back in American history to the 17th and 18th century, people were actually aware of these generational differences. But these generations in their overall attitudes and behaviors tended to assume a certain collective personality that was not only different from each other but tended to recur in a certain kind of pattern. That is, certain kinds of generations tend to follow other generations. And we notice that this pattern was also linked to some of the broader patterns that we have seen in American history. The fact, for instance, that we have had these enormous cataclysmic events in our public life. The great crises, turning points in American history that affect politics, the economy, empire, the great total wars in our history are all in these eras. That these tend to occur about once every long human lifetime, right? You think of the wars of Spanish succession, then the American Revolution, then the Civil War, then World War II and the Great Depression and so on. And roughly halfway in between these great cataclysmic events has been the great cultural and religious awakenings of American history. And there is a reason for these patterns, these patterns are tightly integrated into this because different kinds of generations are either coming of age during one of these events and then subsequently the leaders and the senior people – the mid life parents and ultimately the senior leaders of America during the second one of these events. Looking at how that works out actually leads to a certain kind of choreography of history where we describe history as a sequence of seasonal moods which does recur.

So we look at four recurring types of generations each around 20 years long and associated with that are four recurring social moods which we call turnings. These are almost like seasons of a year which take about the length of a long human lifetime to repeat.

And as we probably went into last time, Chris, you know, we talked about the winter season in history is what we call the fourth turning, and it is the crisis era, right? And we estimated at that time and certainly still do that we probably entered that era in 2008. Each of these periods, each of these turnings, each of these moods can be dated. I mean you can kind of tell when you are entering it and when you are leaving it. And we thought that that—you know, it takes a little while sometimes for you to look back in history, right? To actually know when a date was, when a new generation comes along or when the social mood changes. But I feel pretty comfortable with that date and thus far we haven’t had much occasion to change it and I think we are well into that mood and I think the generational line up is pretty clear. Boomers are moving into the senior leadership position. Generation X, people born in the 1960s and 1970s are in the process of moving into mid life where they will be the hands on managers. And the new millennial generation is coming of age into young adulthood. They are about halfway into that phase of life right now, a little bit less than halfway in. They are the generation we first wrote about in our first book back in 1991 when we first gave them a name. Chris, we may have talked about that, our first awareness of Millenials. At that time when we were writing about them the oldest of them were only about eight years old back in 1991. But now, of course, they are the coming of age generation. Back in 1991 we were just beginning to learn about and for the first time talk about Generation X, which interestingly at that time hadn’t even been named yet. So there we are.

Chris Martenson: Well fantastic. Thanks for that. To put this in context, that crisis stage, it is about a 20 year chunk, right? I assume each one of these four turnings is about a 20 year period roughly. The period before that would have been the unraveling period. That would have sort of ended I guess in 2008.

Neil Howe: Yea, exactly.

Chris Martenson: So what characterizes that period? I want to try to understand how we understand where we are in crisis. So unraveling, what is that about?

Neil Howe: One way to think about this, Talcott Parsons said it perfect. He was a famous sociologist in the early post-war era. He had an interesting fourfold way of looking at social transitions, which I think actually is an interesting way of looking at turning shifts. At least one way of characterizing turning shifts. He said that at any given time there is a kind of a supply and demand for order in society. And that one way of thinking about a first turning which is like the American high, you know, the presidencies of Truman and Eisenhower and Kennedy. These were post crisis eras when individualism is weak and institutions are strong and we feel very good collectively about who we are. And in Talcott Parsons words, this is an era when the supply and demand for social order is very strong. In other words, there is order out there and people want it, right? And feel good about it.

The awakening era which is the second turning and of course a lot of us who call that experience from you know, the mid 60’s through the 70’s into the early 80’s that was the great consciousness revolution, what some historians call America’s fourth or fifth great awakening. Or Frances Fukiyama in a recent book actually called it The Great Disruption, this period of social and family experimentation. That period was a period in Talcott Parson’s words in which the supply of order was so strong but the demand for it was very weak, which is what created all the demonstrations and protests and people wanting to throw off social obligation and authority, right?

The third turning, which really began with the Reagan years and lasted on throughout obviously the 1990s and into the 00’s is a period in Parson’s words, when both the supply and demand for order is weak. Right? Nothing was very ordered. We are all happy being free agents and the kind of social entropy was high and everyone kind of loved it. So this is what we call I think when you use the word "unraveling," these are periods of kind of maximum social disorder in the sense of what we feel we need from society to help order our lives. A certain kind of generation comes of age during these eras we call a nomad archetype. Most recently of course, that was Generation X coming of age. During the roaring 20’s, by the way, that was the Lost Generation coming of age, and you and me can go back in American history—you find these particular kind of generations. You know a little bit wild, certainly a huge reputation for being young, risk takers. And that is what we associate with these eras.

The fourth turning, and to use Parson’s terminology, the supply of order is still absent that the demand for order grows. Right? 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, right? 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 mean I live in the Washington DC area and government here—Congress literally does nothing. I mean all they do is argue and fight and nothing gets done in this city. And it is amazing, a great testament to the inertia, the power of institutional inertia that things keep moving forward in some manner. But I think there is this great unsettled feeling that 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 them and I think no one feels that more than the millennial generation coming of age. I think that will be one of the great burdens they will have to manage as they move through this period.

Chris Martenson: I would like to get back to that in just a second because that is a really important topic for us and our audience. Before we do though—this idea of this institutional inertia in the sense that our leadership is being outpaced and outclassed by events. I want to explore that. So the US and Europe have, for reason that are not entirely transparent to this observer, decided to cast Russia out of the fold, demonize Putin personally, continually accuse Russia of invading Ukraine with hundreds of pieces of heavy equipment. 20,000 men, General Breedlove just said from Russia are in Ukraine, without ever providing a single piece of photographic evidence, which it must be noted is just child’s play for today’s satellites to detect such movements like that. So this breakdown in relations and even the breakdown of basic and reasonable diplomatic protocols—are these expected features of the crisis stage? Does this help us understand what is happening now?

Neil Howe: Yes. And you know, the idea of a global order, which used to be so strong for so many of us growing up most of our lives. Remember the whole period of the cold war. And then of course followed by this period of one hyper power, which was America seeming to preside over this new – kind of a very third turning notion, right? Of a world that would just be run by the dynamism of markets and that would solve everything. That was the end of history as I recall as the millennium came to a close. It has now been overtaken by this much grimmer scenario of power vacuums and failed states in the context of a multi polar world in which absolutely no one is in control and none of the major players terribly much trust anyone anymore. The last time we had this kind of scenario was the 1930’s. I mean this was the 1930’s. And in fact, many of the things we talk about now which is competitive devaluations, right? Which is, I mean, that is a script taken from the 30’s.

In fact, I would say many of the ways in which we describe our economy are basically putting new paint on old bottles that we found in the 30s. I’m sure that you certainly have heard Larry Summers, one of our foremost economists has hugely repopularized the expression "secular stagnation" to describe what America and the world was going through—this period, this kind of era of chronic under demand, low employment, below capacity production, deflation, and even strong downward pressure on fertility rates. Well that expression and that idea was invented by Alvin Hanson in 1937. He was a Keynesian and that is how he was going to popularize Keynes and bring it to America and he coined this expression "secular stagnation." So your point, have we been there before? The point is yes. We’ve been there before.

Chris Martenson: Just to put a finer point on it, it was just yesterday that the president of the European commission, Mr. Yunka, he called for the creation of an EU army in order to show Russia, “That we are serious about defending European values.” It’s interesting to me that he’s framed it in terms of values. We need an army besides NATO to show Russia that we are serious about defending European values. And in response there was Chairman of the United Russia Faction of the State Duma, Franz Kinsovitch[ph] said, "in the nuclear age, extra armies do not provide additional security, but they surely can play a provocative role." So there is Russia just pulling out the nuclear trump card just instantly.

When I see two sets of statements just going sort of by each other like ships in the night, there is really no way to get my hands around them and understand really what is being said here. It feels to me like we’re at one of those 1930’s moments, or perhaps a 1914 moment, where nobody can really explain why relationships are as sour as they are, but they keep getting more sour. Is that a fair way to look at this?

Neil Howe: I think it is a fair way to look at it and not just – probably another example of where the relevance the 30’s comes in strongly. Every leader of the Baltic states—I’m talking about Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania—have made explicit references to Czechslovakia in the 1930s as their best comparison to what is going on now. You know, I think for a lot of Americans we may not be as knowledgeable about what Hitler did before the war actually broke out in the fall of 1938 and I know he invaded Poland but it was a series of maneuvers, right? Where he basically took pieces of countries around Germany that had Germans in them, right and acquired them and through kind of intimidation and then sort of by osmosis his troops would move in and then pretty soon kind of a fait accompli and then the most famous instance where Chamberlin came back as prime minister to Britain and said "we have peace in our time." It is interesting that what happened then is used by these—obviously these Baltic States are part of NATO, right? And they would like to feel that they are protected, but I think they’re extremely nervous. It is amazing that Poland is really nervous right now. And I don’t know, is Western Europe really nervous? What does it mean to defend our values? What the hell are they talking about? You know, defend their values? We are talking about defending territory. Is this the way you talk about an alliance?

I totally agree with you the sense of unreality about all of this, as though all of these people involved are really unused to contemplating or having any knowledge of what real war is about. You get that sense from both sides there. As you should. I mean none of them do have any real knowledge of it, right?

Chris Martenson: Absolutely. And from my perspective there is another macro theme playing out which is a little bit different than anything we have had to face before as a species, which is that we just can’t get ever more high quality resources at our disposal. It turns out the world has been pretty well mapped. Last year was the worst year in decades for oil discoveries by the world oil players. And we’re just having a harder and harder time finding the resources we need.

One of the macro themes that I work with all the time is that pretty much any war you want to talk about was a resource war at some point. It had resources at its heart. So that is sort of a theme that I see going on here is that I don’t think the people in power have – like the people at the Federal Reserve, when I interview people that work at big banks, they literally have no working knowledge of resources and the fact they are becoming harder and harder to come by. To them it is just a market problem. You throw money at it and more will show up.

And that is on one side. On the other side, I talk with other economists who have different models that seem to have better predictive explanatory power for what is going on and they basically say, "look it is just too much debt, you know?" We took our 2008 crisis and in response, worldwide, crammed our total worldwide debt levels up by another 35 trillion across the globe to almost 200 trillion of outstanding debt. Of course we are not going to have robust growth under that environment no matter what the interest rate. I feel like we have these big macro explanations that at least ought to have a reasonable adult sized conversation around them and you can’t have any conversation because the holders of the dogma say "no, no this is how we look at the world; we are just going to keep looking at it this way. You just stay to the side, we don’t have any interest in talking."

Neil Howe: Since we talked, this must have been I don’t know, maybe a year ago, we haven’t talked about commodity prices and oil prices. So I’d like to turn this interview around, but I am sort of interested in your point of view on what is happening.

Chris Martenson: This is a fascinating story. We have probably with oil supply and demand are the two pieces that you have to understand. World demand is low. We are having very low global growth. In particular, China is slowing down at an absolutely horrific pace. I don’t believe their official numbers of growth nearly as much as I trust the fact that their imports of key commodities—and the biggies for me are oil, coal, copper and iron ore. Those have all collapsed. They have absolutely slowed down all the ships coming in because they don’t need it. They’re done with their growth cycle. So when I look at the demand side of the story I say okay that’s part one.

Part two on the supply side there is a little extra supply, but there is not a lot. When you take the United States shale plays out of the story. The world, the rest of the world including Canada, is putting it all together in one spot are producing exactly as much oil today as we did in 2005. The United States is the only place which is added to the overall mix and that is going to be a relative flash in the pan because the shale plays deplete very rapidly. They were going to peak in 2020 regardless of how things turned out economically.

So when we put all of that in, I see what we are going to have a very, very large supply shock in a number of years. Two, maybe three given how these things work out because the big companies aren’t finding more on the world stage and they aren’t investing anything at these current oil prices. So this is something that I predicted a long time ago is you would see oil become too expensive for the economy to afford so supplies would start to outrun demand and demand might even fall back and then prices would fall and you would find that oil became too cheap for the oil drillers to drill. And that is sort of the accordion that we are stuck between. But in this story the ceiling and the floor are getting closer and closer together in this story.

Neil Howe: That’s interesting. You know I totally agree on your analysis. I think there is far too little awareness about the main driver of the fall of commodities in particular in oil is due to the fall in demand, not the rise in supply. I don’t know how many times I’ve had this argument with people relating to the shale oil revolution in America. I’m sure you have done battle with these people yourself.

Chris Martenson: Oh yes.

Neil Howe: You look, it is very clear in the global data it was a decline in demand and it really is due to the global – it is due to the problems with the global economy today. And that is what is going on here and the epicenter of it all is China. Of course, Europe and a number of other places are participating as well. I think also that people have not fairly characterized the impact of the lower oil prices. The transfer from producers to consumers is not going to drive through to increasing consumption the way people I think assume. And that is, I think a lot of people have in their mind the days of you know the kind of idle oil sheiks in the mid east and instead of all of this money going into their bank accounts and just sitting there piling up, it is going to go in the hands of consumers and spending. I mean the reality is that most of these big producers now other than – even Saudi Arabia isn’t quite what it was. You are looking at Nigeria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Russia, Venezuela, you are looking maybe half a billion people and these are countries where every cent of that oil revenue is spent immediately on their clients and greedy customers and populations that really need that wealth, really need that income. So these are not piling up as idle assets.

And interestingly too, on the other side, on the consumption side, I have been amazed at the number of countries, particularly Indonesia and India, that are not letting the prices to the consumer fall. They are actually using this as an excuse to get rid of their subsidies, which is probably good public policy, but it certainly doesn’t lead to an increase in consumer demand, right? It just leads to more flush public sector balance sheets, which may be great for them in the long run but it certainly doesn’t do anything to boost consumption globally. And I think there has just been a little bit too much use of outmoded assumptions on the impact of a global oil price decline on use and consumption when I just don’t see quite the same dynamic there as might have been there 30 years ago.

Chris Martenson: Oh absolutely and particularly—I did battle on this a lot—you look at the United States, people said "oh this is going to be such a huge boost to consumption." I’m like "no it’s not, because one man’s gain is another man’s loss in the story to the extent we are talking about domestic producers, right?" So if Whiting Petroleum is suddenly receiving a billion dollars less in revenue for its activities in the Bakken, and that billion transfers over to consumers, from a GDP standpoint that is a zero. That’s just how the accounts work. The only way it helps is for an importing nation, perhaps Japan. Now their import bill for fuel has been cut and that definitely has a measurable impact statistically, but I think to your point, the speed of the change and the fall in the price is a shock to the system.

Here is my sense of our global system: The central banks did everything they could to just pump the whole thing back up. They were very clear cut about it. They said "we are going to target, we want equity prices to go up so we are going to target that. We want bond prices to go up, or yields to go down so we are going to target those." They have done everything they can. I think their strategy, Neal, was with two fingers crossed going "please growth come back soon." And it hasn’t happened. That’s confusing.

Neil Howe: Yea. And this is a sign of our times that the Fed, I should say the collective Feds of the world, now they are kind of all in it, basically said to grow the economy we are going to turn financial markets from something that reflects the markets or something that reflects the economy to an indicator of future economic performance to an actual tool of economic performance, right? So we are going to turn that into a tool and we are call it quantitative easing and we are going to flatten the entire yield curve down to the floor and the result will be to inflate the prices of all of these assets and that is going to get people to spend.

Well, predictably we have had this long, robust stock market boom around the world and everyone is looking at a boom explicitly engineered by central bank authorities around the world to get our economy back going again and they look at that and they say "look at how great our economy is doing." Right? This is perverse thinking, right? Perverse logic. And it amazes me how often you see people pointing to the stock market as an indicator of how well our economy is doing.

The thing that worries I think everyone—I’m sure it has to worry the Fed—is how in the world are we going to get the global economy off this steroid, right? How are we going to go back to 5, 6% interest rates or 2, 3% real interest rates around the world? We have become accustomed to this hot house designed for orchids, right? We are all living in it and it is like, how can we go back to live in a real world again without all of these financial markets crashing? And I think it is that realization that is pushing I think, inevitably, delay after delay after endless delay in plans to raise rates again. I think it just keeps getting put off because people are so, you know, concerned about that decision.

Chris Martenson: Well certainly and it cuts to the idea that when Yellen speaks or Bernanke used to, it was always couched in this idea that you know, central banking is a very sophisticated practice. We have a lot of science, we got the math, you need derivative level calculus to understand what we are talking about. But really, you get down to it, money is a social contract and they have basically said "we are going to upend that contract by preferentially printing it out and picking winners and losers," right? And here is what I mean by that – savers were punished. Right? They said we are going to give you 0% return on any savings you have preferentially so that we can induce this other sector over here, we will call it big banks and lending, the credit market cycle. So that was picking winners and losers. That is upending the contract a little bit. They are no longer neutral participants in sort of holding the container that the economy functions in. They have said we are now grossly picking winners and losers on this.

You mentioned competitive devaluations; now we have central banks trying to pick themselves and their whole country as winners and losers by devaluing their currencies competitively. And I think mostly when the Fed and when the Bank of Japan, Bank of England, all of them, ECB, say "we are going to target rising equity values as a social principal, as a social engineering principal, as a marker because then everybody will think things are going great so they will feel great so we will spend more…" These things, Neil, these are so against what are supposedly core principals of free market capitalism are. They have been so grossly distorted that I can’t really recognize the landscape as having anything to do with those principals. I think those make people nervous, not comfortable to your point. I think that their policies work against what they are hoping.

Neil Howe: As always you've got to compare it with alternatives. Was QE a bad thing? Well, what was the alternative? And I think this is the logic by the way we talk about history’s fourth turnings, right? Full of Hobson’s choices. Full of grim choices. I think that what the Fed did and what the Fed got into back in 2000 and well obviously fiscal policy back then was also at that time a big part of it as well 2009, 2010 and then the beginning of the first QE. I think they got into that with a feeling of they had no choice, you know, this is crisis intervention. And crisis intervention became a habit because going off crisis intervention would lead to a crisis, right? And ultimately we got here not because anyone kind of wanted it to happen, but because we just ended up here. And there is a real worry in the same way there was, by the way, and as there was back in the 1930’s. I think 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 the picking of winners and losers throughout the economy and to your point throughout the world. You know, that was the era of competitive devaluation as you recall. Global trade shrank down to a fraction of what it was back in the 20’s. And it was each country was making a decision which felt to it like survival, and nations were taking enormous collectivist measures with their economy as we were here in our own economy. And that is where we are. 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 perceived 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, year and a half. And, in fact, you know if it even takes that long.

Chris Martenson: Interesting. So here we are, it is 2015 right now, we are seven years into this fourth turning. Is war always an inevitable marker of the fourth turning?

Neil Howe: No. I don’t think it is inevitable. I just would point out just as an empirical fact that all of the total wars—or I should say the vast majority of the total wars that have been fought, have been fought in fourth turnings. So you know, that is just a sobering thought, right? Certainly in American history you think of – you think of all of our total the war that created us as a political unit, the American Revolution, you look at the Civil War and you look at World War II, those are all fourth turning events. So I wouldn’t say that war is necessary. I certainly hope it is that. What I will say is that 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. And that may not hopefully again that may not involve war. It may simply be an organized response to an economic crisis, you know what I mean? It may be – or it may be war in a somewhat different form, right? Certainly today when you look around the world and we look the kinds 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.

Chris Martenson: I understand. Well said. So I want to turn back to the Millennials then. The American Dream – you study hard, get good grades, go to college, get a good job, work your way up the career ladder, have two and a half kids, you increase your standard of living, you retire to life of ease, right? I know an ever increasing number of people under the age of 30 that do not even remotely connect with that dream, that narrative anymore. Is that just a predictable outcome of their generation here or is something else at work?

Neil Howe: Well, it’s interesting because we have a lot of survey data on that question. We know something about it. We knew the Millenials are actually very much attached to that American Dream as an aspiration. It is amazing. I mean if you look—for instance the reason Met Life survey the American Dream you see that Millenials are actually more likely than older generations to think that eventually owning a home you know, having a family, being married and having a family, owning a home, having some kind of retirement plan is part of the American dream that they aspire to. However, the problem is that all of those things seem out of reach for them, for a lot of them. And in fact, a lot of the things that we used to do as a foundation in life, for example get married, is now Millenials feel that is a cap stone. You don’t do that until you are actually prepared to do that. You really see that in marriage now. I believe it is about two years ago for the first time, going back decades, the first time someone is more likely to be married at age 30 with a college degree than without. It is a real turn around for those of us who remember back when—I don’t know about you, Chris, but I remember a time when you know, you graduated high school and those who did not go to college got married instantly. Right? And those who did go to college were the ones who put it off, right? Well this has completely changed. So economic necessity or the perception of economic means is much more important now in determining whether or not Millenials and young people today feel as though they can buy into this thing. Feel as though they can attain this thing which, by the way, they really want. I can tell you that Millenials are – if you can say anything about them it is they are utterly conventional in the degree to which they will jump through hoops and do everything they can to be qualified, to be worthy of the American Dream and to set themselves up as being, you know, validated by the meritocracy.

I mean just look at the explosion in the share of Millenials who take standardized tests to get into college? The enormous increase in Millenials enrolling in college. Just the quadrupling and quintupling of the number of Millenials who are taking AP tests, right? Advanced placement tests to get in. This is a generation that will do anything to the popularity of smart drugs on college campuses. You know, back when I was in college campuses it was dumb drugs, right? Whatever happened to them? The point is here is a generation very focused on actually winning that meritocratic validation and getting ahead, but the problem is it is receding for them.

And this gets back to this issue we talked about before, namely what monetary authorities are doing in QE. Because what QE has done by inflating financial assets and pushing the return on financial assets down to razor thing levels is that it is the generational inequity. It has hugely enriched older Americans who already have, and it is pressed down to nothing the return to savings for a younger American who wants to invest and wants to save, right? And one thing I will say is that a huge stock market crash in which the S&P 500 falls to half of what it is today—I mean I will just tell you this bluntly, I can’t imagine anything more favorable to Millenials than to be able to buy into a piece of America at half the price, right? And get double the return on their investment. And I think from a younger person’s point of view today, it is their parents and their grandparents who are benefitting by current economic policy. It is one of the reasons why Millenials are happy living at home and going on family vacations and having their older relatives pay for everything, that is kind of how they are used to getting by today in America.

Chris Martenson: I totally understand and I see this play out in certain key markets. I’m familiar with Northern California because that is where my work partner, Adam Taggart lives. The Fed did everything it could to resurrect home buying out there – driving interest rates down, all of this, but the problem was they took already expensive houses and made them even more expensive. That is great for the people who already own them, that is the older generations. For people who are trying to start out in life it looks totally unattainable because you know, a starter 1970’s not yet refinished one bedroom ranch in Palo Alto is 1.2 million. Totally unthinkable at anything but a super, super upper class wage, which not everybody earns. So there is that sense of a generational divide, which is part of why I found—in my work I find younger people disconnecting from the dream because it looks a little bit like a rigged game sometimes to them. They don’t feel like they have gotten a fair hearing in this.

Neil Howe: It is rigged. And by the way, Chris I was a teenager, I grew up in Palo Alto and at that time I think our Eikler home—I think the full price was $30,000. That was it. That's what you could buy an Eikler for. And that was an expensive home in the suburbs back then. Yes, times have definitely changed.

Chris Martenson: Yes. So as a final thought then—I get asked this a lot by young people: What should they do in life? Here we are at this fourth turning, they are asking should they go to college, if they do, what sort of employment they should seek, what skills would be good to learn? What does the fourth turning offer by way of macro guidance here to young people?

Neil Howe: I would just stay open in what you are able to do. I think we are entering a period unlike any like we have seen in recent decades. It is a period where history is going to change very rapidly. Public events are going to change your life—sometimes even overnight. And I think that as the fourth turning unravels and as the economy goes through the kind of trials and tribulations required to get to the other side, ultimately of course we will get to the first turning, which will be a new era of optimism and hope and solid foundation, solid economic and institutional foundations. But it won’t be without a period of tremendous insecurity before we get there. That is simply how history works, right? And I would say that if you are a Millennial, and this is what I tell them all the time, I say don’t assume that today’s institutional arrangements will stay this week. Don’t assume that the stock market will stay this current level. Don’t assume that the bond market will be anything like it is. Don’t even assume all of those student loans will necessarily have to be paid off. And I meet young people all the time who say that, they say all of these banks are getting their loans paid off, do you really think that I’ll have to actually pay all of this off? And I'm saying you know what, actually you may not. I can easily imagine the next New Deal which will suddenly reshuffle the cards in the economic deck and basically say okay we are going to do it differently now. You don’t have to pay those off. We are going to kind of reshuffle the deck in a certain way that will at last benefit your age group and maybe make it a little bit easier for you to save and look forward to the future. This is not something that older people are terribly enthusiastic about. On the other side of the – on another political party. But it is something young people are enthusiastic about. Interestingly, on both sides of the political party, we did a recent survey on this and found it is amazing among Millenials both democrats and republicans feel it is very important that government should be doing something for younger people. A little less surprising from young democrats, more surprising from young republicans, but basically a generational attitude that simply goes totally across a partisan boundaries.

Chris Martenson: Understood, and let’s hope that we do get something going on because this wealth gap and the generational gap are destabilizing influences if left unattended. I feel they have gone on too long, personal opinion there. So Neil, where can people find out more about your work, your book, any future events you might be holding? How would they keep track of you?

Neil Howe: I would say stay tuned on the political front. We actually do have a study coming out on the differences in attitudes by generations in politics which would be available for both parties for the upcoming election, which ought to be interesting. The presidential election 2016. Doing a fair amount of work recently—we have been talking about the Fed and I am actually speaking at an upcoming event. Actually the Fed has a policy conference here in Washington DC so I am actually going to be presenting a paper I think in April on mobility across generations over the post war period and looking ahead to where Millenials are going. I think that will be interesting. I’ve worked on this a little bit with the St. Louis Fed and this will be a time to present if you are in DC.

I would say people interested in our work, Generations and The Fourth Turning are probably the two still the last full length books on this subject that I think are out there. I do have in the works a plan to have a new addition of Generations come out so you can look for that in probably around a year. And I would say we have a new website going up SaeculumResearch.com and I think we have a lot of free news alerts and newsletter services available to readers who just want to stay current with this subject.

Chris Martenson: Well fantastic and Neil thank you so much for your time today. Fascinating as always and we’ll be keeping an eye out for all your work coming up.

Neil Howe: Okay, Chris. Great to talk to you.

Chris Martenson: Thank you.

Neil Howe: Bye.

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