We tend to oppose our parents during adolescence and young adulthood. For whatever reason, maybe it’s defiance, we have a distaste for their choice of music, fashion, and sometimes vocation, and we significantly differ in social habits. The contradictory preferences younger generations have relative to the group one or two generations above them (their parents) has been going on for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. However, I bet you didn’t realize this human condition is one of the key drivers behind economic cycles… booms and busts, from the dotcom bubble to the 1970s inflation crisis.
With data spanning back to the 1500s, ‘The Fourth Turning’ by William Strauss and Neil Howe documents this phenomenon, specifically, how every four to five generations, our society/economy adopts similar tastes, theories and behaviors akin to 80-100 years prior. And this is why, as Strauss and Howe explain, every 80-100 years, we experience an unraveling (followed by a crisis) of our societal constructs and economic system.
For example, the leadership style of FDR (U.S. President in the 1930s) wasn’t far off from that of Obama. 80-90 years apart, yet dealt with a similar economic and social mood (Great Depression for FDR and Great Recession for Obama). Interestingly, they approached their respective crisis similarly (pushed for shovel-ready government-funded employment programs and increased entitlement programs).
These 80 -100 year cycles drive economic booms and busts, how we deal with family life, our views on taxes, geopolitical conflict, and culture. It’s fascinating.
As ‘The Fourth Turning’ explains, a ‘turning’ is a social mood that changes each time the generational archetypes enter a new constellation. Each turning represents a phase of life for a generation.
The First Turning is a High — an era that follows a crisis and when the citizenry bands together for the common good. Governments and institutions typically grow in size during this phase, and it is an era of disbanding what the previous leadership worked to create.
The Second Turning is an Awakening; spirituality comes into focus, new values are pushed, and the order created during the High comes under attack or at least intense scrutiny.
The Third Turning is an Unraveling — when individualism supersedes all else, and generational institutions come under attack. The civic order of the prior 30-40 years is now crumbling.
The Fourth Turning is a Crisis, and although good often comes from this period, it is full of “secular upheaval,” according to Howe and Strauss. Values once again supersede all else (not necessarily good values), and the old civic order from the first and second turnings is merely an afterthought.
Depending on when you were born in the 80-100 year cycle, you fall into one of four generational categories/personas:
“The Prophet archetype is born in a High and enters young adulthood in an Awakening, midlife in an Unraveling, and elderhood in a Crisis.”
“The Nomad archetype is born in an Awakening and enters young adulthood in an Unraveling, midlife in a Crisis, and elderhood in a High.”
“The Hero archetype is born in an Unraveling and enters young adulthood in a Crisis, midlife in a High, and elderhood in an Awakening.”
“The Artist archetype is born in a Crisis and enters young adulthood in a High, midlife in an Awakening, and elderhood in an Unraveling.”
When economic crises unfold, we like to blame it on one shock event (e.g. 2008 and Lehman Brothers’ collapse). Reality is, however, it was a series of events (spanning decades) that occurred and caused the crisis. From governmental regulations to pop culture and how people spend their free time, these choices and preferences add up and create cycles.
You know the adage: Hard times create great men, and great men create good times. Good times make soft men, and so forth.
If you’re a history buff and enjoy delving into economic cycles, ‘The Fourth Turning’ is a must-read, particularly during these highly-inflationary and turbulent economic times.