Generational Issues that Led to Our Economic Crisis

A look at the book 'The Fourth Turning' and how it maps out the potential future of America.

She Reports

The Economy: Talkin’ Bout My G-g-g-generation

How generational issues led to our current crisis

-Michele Woodward

$100 dollar billOver the summer I got together with my old friend and White House colleague Gerry Koenig – we had lost touch and happily reconnected via LinkedIn, the professional social-networking site. Gerry, once an Army helicopter pilot, now practices aviation law and keeps his mind agile by reading interesting books.

He told me about a fascinating book called The Fourth Turning by the late William Strauss and Neil Howe. When Gerry mentioned that the book, written in 1997, predicted the 9/11 terrorist attacks, I knew I had to read it. And I did. And I am now seeing the nation’s current financial crisis through different eyes.

Strauss and Howe, historians, economists and experts on generational issues, looked back through American history and identified not only political cycles but generational cycles. Roughly each 80 years, in 20-year cycles, the country moves through a High period, which gives way to an Awakening, which turns into an Unraveling, and then into a Crisis.

Strauss and Howe identify four distinct generations that have repeated over time: Hero, Artist, Prophet, Nomad. According to their research, a Crisis features the Prophets (baby boomers) entering elderhood; Nomads (my generation) entering midlife; Heroes (the millennials) entering young adulthood; and those entering childhood – the new Artist generation.

In other words, the conditions are exactly right exactly now for our country to enter Crisis.

Back in 1997, Strauss and Howe wrote: “Based on recent Unraveling-era trends, the following circa-2005 scenarios might seem plausible … Economic distress, with public debt in default, entitlement trust funds in bankruptcy, mounting poverty and unemployment, trade wars, collapsing financial markets, and hyperinflation (or deflation).” Sound familiar?

How about: “History offers even more sobering warnings: Armed confrontation usually occurs around the climax of Crisis. If there is confrontation, it is likely to lead to war. This could be any kind of war – class war, sectional war, war against global anarchists or terrorists, or superpower war.”


Before you start quoting lines from Ghostbusters (“a disaster of Biblical proportions! Real wrath-of-God stuff! Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together … MASS HYSTERIA!”), let me assure you, the nation has faced Crisis before – and will again – and we’ve emerged into a new High. All is not lost.

In the Crisis, America will want change. We will want the stability of a strong government that works. We will favor personal sacrifice. We will want to be more self-sufficient. We will want solutions, not more of the same. We will demand that our leaders reflect these national values.

What does this mean for you? For your career? For your business? For your kids?

Start now. Especially my fellow Nomads. Move toward self-sufficiency – don’t borrow more than you can pay back. Grow your own tomatoes. Wash your own car. Incorporate a dose of self-sacrifice – trust me, 23 pair of shoes in the closet work with your wardrobe just as successfully as 112. Save five to 10 percent of your income. Donate to charities you believe in. Build a business that really serves your best customers. Focus. Teach your children (and yourself) about money, budgets and prudent investing.

“With or without war, American society will be transformed into something different. The emergent society may be something better, a nation that sustains its Framers’ visions with a robust new pride. Or it may be something unspeakably worse. The Fourth Turning will be a time of glory or ruin.”

And so it is for each of us. A time of glory or ruin. We’ve had advance notice of what’s coming – what we do about it as a nation and as individuals is completely up to us.

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