With the events of the last week pushing the world further into Crisis, I thought this November 2009 article would be appropriate to rerun. I’m finalizing an article that I hope will be a bookend to this piece.
The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the LORD said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. – Genesis 6
Everyone is familiar with the story of Noah. God was angry at the evil and wickedness of mankind. God instructed Noah to build an ark in order to save his family and two of each animal on earth from the coming flood. Noah could have ignored God’s warning and continued to live his life as before. By heeding God’s warning and building the ark, Noah was able to save himself, his family, and two of every animal from death and destruction. The warning signs regarding the current American Crisis have been discernible since the 1990’s. The un-sustainability of the government’s fiscal social guarantees, the inevitability of peak cheap oil, and the policing of a far flung empire with troops in 130 countries, were all known during the 1990’s. Americans had swelled their use of debt since 1980 and had not saved enough for their looming retirement years. The culture wars fractured the country. Just like a squirrel prepares for winter by collecting acorns and storing them in his nest, Americans had an opportunity to prepare for the coming winter. Instead we squandered the remaining days of autumn, ignoring our monetary problems, buying $45,000 SUVs, borrowing at 125% of the value of overpriced McMansions, initiating wars of choice, expanding our empire and enlarging our police state.
We had the power to influence history in a positive manner. Appropriate preparation could have lessened the impact of the long cold hard days ahead. Some winters are bitter and deadly. Others are mild and harmless. Since most Americans, including our leaders, think linearly they never see the turning of the seasons of history until it is too late. We are currently in the midst of a Fourth Turning, and most people have no clue. With winter approaching, it is always wise to get the heater checked, buy some firewood, make sure the snow plow has gas, store some food and water in case of a blizzard, buy some salt in case of ice, and tune up the car.
Instead of having their heater tuned up, Americans decided a new kitchen with granite counters and stainless steel appliances paid for with a home equity loan was a better idea. Instead of buying firewood, Americans bought a 52 inch HDTV using their platinum credit card. Instead of making sure the snow plow had gas, Americans outsourced their lawn care and snow removal to illegal immigrants. Instead of storing food and water, Americans decided to spend their money eating out four times per week. Instead of buying salt for an icy winter, Americans bought salt for the rims of their margarita glasses. Instead of tuning up their cars, they leased a new BMW every two years. Bitter winds have begun to blow, dark clouds are on the horizon, and winter has arrived. The country is completely and utterly unprepared.
Only Noah Saw It Coming
All you zombies hide your faces
All you people in the street
All you sittin’ in high places
The pieces gonna fall on you
No one ever spoke to Noah
They all laughed at him instead
Working on his ark, working all by himself
Only Noah saw it coming
Forty days and forty nights
Took his sons and daughters with him
Yeah they were the Israelites – Hooters – All You Zombies
The Hooters were a Philadelphia rock group from the 1980’s. The first concert I attended was a Hooters performance at the Spectrum. Their music still rings true today. The American zombies had a chance to prepare for the coming Crisis. They instead laughed at Noah. Now the pieces will fall on them. The pieces will fall on the average American and the elitist rulers in Washington and on Wall Street. When Strauss and Howe wrote their book The Fourth Turning in 1997 there was approximately a decade to prepare for the coming Crisis. They warned that the two parties needed to change their messages to prepare the country for the coming winter:
“Yet both parties are also harmfully post-seasonal. In their quest for an ever bigger harvest, Democrats want to remove sacrifice ever further from the public lexicon. They seek entitlements for every victim, including the entire middle class, without caring whether all this guaranteed consumption is sustainable. If Democrats get their way, they would impose huge debts and future taxes on Millennial children. In their quest for ever more individualism, Republicans want to make public authority ever more dysfunctional. They seek to starve all government of revenue and are willing to shut down whole federal agencies to make their point. If Republicans get their way, they would prevent Millennials from forging a positive bond with government and limit the public resources directed toward the care and schooling of the neediest children.”
The Fourth Turning requires personal sacrifice by all Americans and the government must be seen as a high functioning authority that protects its citizens and successfully accomplishes big missions. In the last twelve years, we have done the exact opposite of what was needed to prepare for the Crisis. The two Parties reached a consensus by increasing entitlements for everyone with passage of Medicare Part D, creating a new $15 trillion unfunded liability. George Bush provided rich people with entitlements of lower taxes and middle class entitlements with rebate checks. The banking industry was given free rein to rape the American public and the rest of the world with the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act. Rather than killing or reducing governmental agencies, George Bush used 9/11 as an excuse to greatly expand government by creating the Department of Homeland Security and increasing Defense Spending by 200%. Democratic politicians, with the wholehearted support of George Bush, used their authority over Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and threats against banks to open the mortgage market to people who had no means to actually make a mortgage payment. The two wars of choice in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost $934 billion since 2003.
In 1997, the United States spent approximately $300 billion annually on Defense related areas. Today, we are spending in excess of $900 billion in those same areas. At the end of 1997, the National Debt was $5.4 trillion. If Congress and the Presidents had chosen to prepare the country for the unavoidable Crisis period of twenty years, they would have scaled back government spending, tackled the Social Security and Medicare train wreck, developed a multi-pronged energy plan, and asked Americans to save. Instead, they pressed their foot to the accelerator as they approached a curve on a mountain road.
Today, the National Debt stands at $12.1 trillion. Our politicians proceeded to saddle us with an additional $6.7 trillion of debt in the space of 12 years, after taking 208 years to accumulate $5.4 trillion of debt. Based on current projections, the National Debt will exceed $25 trillion by 2019. These reckless actions were akin to entering winter by not paying your utility bill for a year, having your windows wide open, not having the oil changed in your car for 10,000 miles, and being two quarts low with your anti-freeze.
Strauss & Howe recommended that the country prepare in the following ways:
- Prepare values: Forge the consensus and uplift the culture, but don’t expect near-term results.
- Prepare institutions: Clear the debris and find out what works, but don’t try building anything big.
- Prepare politics: Define challenges bluntly and stress duties over rights, but don’t attempt reforms that can’t now be accomplished.
- Prepare society: Require community teamwork to solve local problems, but don’t try this on a national scale.
- Prepare youth: Treat children as the nation’s highest priority, but don’t do their work for them.
- Prepare elders: Tell future elders they will need to be more self-sufficient, but don’t attempt deep cuts in benefits to current elders.
- Prepare the economy: Correct fundamentals, but don’t try to fine tune current performance.
- Prepare the defense: Expect the worst and prepare to mobilize, but don’t pre-commit to any one response.
Rather than finding common ground and forging alliances, Baby boomer culture warriors upped the ante. The extreme wings of the Democratic and Republican parties gained control of the dialogue. Neo-conservatism has dominated the thinking in the Republican Party while ultra-liberals have dominated the Democratic Party. The culture has deteriorated, with the media perpetuating a nihilistic, selfish, materialistic attitude among the citizens. TV and movies have portrayed lives of the dregs and lowlifes of society as desirable and normal. The lives of washed up rock stars, drugged out TV personalities, vapid housewives, and brainless house flippers passes for entertainment in today’s society. Getting rich by any means necessary has been glorified.
The best and brightest MBA students graduated and trooped off to Wall Street. Working at real companies that produced something became passé. The degeneration of moral, ethical, and cultural standards has made it more likely that a fascist government could gain control during the Crisis. The dysfunction of both the Federal government and state and local governments have dramatically reduced the trust level of the American public in these institutions. During a Crisis, public faith in government is necessary for swift decisive action. With an approval rating of 26%, Congress is more despised than Osama bin Laden.
The politicians who have chosen to lie to the American people and not face up to the national problems of deficits, unfunded promises, and peak oil, have set the country up for a cataclysmic Crisis. The only statesmen who have spoken candidly about the coming Crisis have been David Walker and Ron Paul.
“Washington has charged everything to the nation’s credit card – engaging in tax cuts and spending increases without paying for them. Washington’s imprudent, unethical and even immoral behavior is facilitated by a lack of transparency. While the US government is too big to fail, continuing on our current path will have adverse implications for our economy and international standing. The sooner Washington acts, the better. Our country, children and grandchildren deserve no less.” David Walker – 9/2008
“We’re indeed stuck between a rock and a hard place, and we don’t talk about how we got here; we talk about how we are going to patch it up. The solutions proposed so far – stimulus packages, bailouts and interest rate cuts – just amount to printing more money, which will lead to greater currency devaluation, contribute to the rising cost of living, and further squeeze the middle class and our senior citizens.” Ron Paul – 8/2008
A candid discussion of these issues has been avoided at all costs by the cowards who crawl around the halls of Congress. Politicians had a chance to stem the downward slide of cynicism, apathy, and disgust with government. They failed miserably. As the Crisis deepens, Americans will turn to those who told the truth. It is a small list.
Society needed to prepare our youth for the test that awaited them during the Crisis. Civic duty, teamwork, and a sense of community needed to be encouraged by adults in our youth. The Millenials (Hero generation) will be the generation on the front lines during this Crisis. The youth of today have been coddled, protected, and have not been required to participate in community efforts. Government efforts such as No Child Left Behind have been failures, as school districts concern themselves with bureaucratic test results and bringing the poor students up to average rather than giving added support to the truly outstanding students. Overall performance of students has continued to decline. Selfish narcissistic Boomer parents have concerned themselves with materialistic trinkets and their own self actualization rather than sacrifice for their children’s future. Our youth are entering the Crisis unprepared for the harsh winter.
The youngest Boomers reached the 50’s in 1997. Government leaders needed to prepare the Boomers for less benefits in the future, which would have pushed Boomers to save more for their retirement. The 50 year average national savings rate has been 6.5%. In 1997, the national savings rate was already below average at 4%. Government leaders urged Americans to buy houses, buy cars, and spend, spend, spend. The American zombies heeded the call and drove down the savings rate to below 0% in 2005. It has subsequently risen to 3% as the Crisis has unfolded. The Baby Boomers are completely unprepared for their old age and will fight all efforts to cut their benefits. Rather than accepting cuts in benefits to secure the future well being of their children and grandchildren, Boomers continue to push for more healthcare benefits. A bitter generational war is now a certainty.
“During the Crisis, the American economy will experience the most extreme shocks to asset values, production, employment, price levels, and industrial structure in living memory. The economy may also, at some point be pushed to the breaking point in order to produce the tools necessary to save the nation and, later the infrastructure that will underlie the next saeculum.” – Strauss & Howe – The Fourth Turning
What was required was a build out of our energy infrastructure, with natural gas, nuclear, geothermal, wind, and solar all playing a part in weaning us off Middle Eastern oil. Instead, the myopic government bureaucrats, NIMBY crowd and green extremists have succeeded in driving our usage of Middle Eastern oil to new heights as we now import 67% of all our needs. Peak oil will hit the United States like a sledgehammer. Americans needed to increase the national savings rate so we would have the ability to invest in new dynamic technologies. Instead we chose a debt fueled frat party, driving the national savings rate below 0%. The government needed to run budget surpluses as we entered the Crisis period. Accepting a recession during the Third Turning would have mitigated the chances of a Depression in the Fourth Turning. A recession was unacceptable to George Bush and Alan Greenspan. Tax rebate checks and 1% interest rates, along with Bush urging Americans to defeat terrorism by shopping, buying cars and buying houses, resulted in immense deficits. Obama has since added $1.8 trillion to the national debt in one year. Tax policy should have shifted toward taxing consumption and not taxing investment. The economic path chosen by our politician leaders has ensured a 2nd Great Depression.
From a foreign policy and military preparation standpoint, our leaders have squandered an opportunity to strengthen alliances and form new alliances in advance of the coming battles. Every prior Fourth Turning has resulted in all-out war for survival. Strauss & Howe provided the roadmap to our future:
“But before the Fourth Turning catalyzes, America should gird for something else: a possible war whose scale, cost, manpower, armaments, casualties, and home-front sacrifices far exceed anything the nation would tolerate now.”
Instead of conserving our strength for the coming epic challenges, our leaders have engaged in two wars which have depleted our Treasury, stretched our manpower beyond the breaking point, used up valuable military equipment, strained our alliances, and diminished our moral standing in the world. These wars have revealed our weakness and have made it more likely that potential foreign adversaries will contest our super power status. These foreign ventures have failed to secure democracy in the Middle East or secure future supplies of oil. They have succeeded in inflaming the Muslim world and creating more terrorists than existed on September 10, 2001. The loss of credibility and moral high ground will make it more difficult for Crisis Saeculum leaders to rally the American people to a higher cause.
As I watch ancient doddering Congressmen parade and bluster while debating the Obama healthcare bill, I can’t help but think that these are the wrong people, at the wrong time, fighting the wrong war, for the wrong cause. The country is in the midst of a Crisis and our leaders have decided to expand the welfare state, bailout failures with our grandchildren’s money, expand our wars of choice, and stifle the ingenuity of the American people. This will surely not end well.
Stupid Is As Stupid Does
We know with certainty that our leaders have not prepared the country for this Crisis. As individuals, we also had the opportunity to prepare. Did you harvest the crops, fatten the livestock, cut the firewood, stockpile the propane, hoard ammunition and batten down your farmstead? Did you deepen your relationships with family and neighbors who would support you during a Crisis? With a potentially devastating howling blizzard forecast in the near future, delay could be fatal. What if the blizzard lasted five years? There is no way to avoid this blizzard. The snow has begun to fall and Americans are concerned with Michael Jackson’s corpse, the breakup of Jon and Kate, Oprah’s future plans, Britney Spears’ weight, and whether President Obama should be bowing to the Japanese emperor. Talking heads on the Sunday morning talk shows distract the public with meaningless drivel regarding polls and minor differences between the corrupt political parties. The bitter winds have begun to howl.
During a Crisis the virtues of faith, trust, reliability, endurance, perseverance, frugality and self-sacrifice are essential. These virtues were indispensible during the Great Depression and World War Two. Strauss and Howe recommended preparation by individuals in the following areas:
- Rectify: Return to the classic virtues.
- Converge: Heed emerging community norms.
- Bond: Build personal relationships of all kinds.
- Gather: Prepare yourself (and your children) for teamwork.
- Root: Look to your family for support.
- Brace: Gird for the weakening or collapse of public support mechanisms.
- Hedge: Diversify everything you do.
Your reputation will be crucial during the Crisis. Are you a man or woman of your word? Can your family and neighbors count on you? Your honor and word will be judged by others during the Crisis. If you are seen as an outcast, loner, or opponent of the majority, you risk personal harm. The materialistic investment banker swine who have feasted off the carcasses of the American middle class and senior citizens are at extreme risk. Their gated McMansion communities and their BMW getaway cars will not save them from the angry lynch mobs. The community will require your acquiescence to their norms. A more authoritarian government will punish those who do not fall into line. It will be important that your personal relationships with authority figures be in good order. The lone wolf will not survive the deep snows of a Crisis.
The final resolution of this Crisis will depend upon the youth of today. Their ability to function in teams and use technology to overcome their opponents will be critical. Boomer parents who have smothered their children, fought their battles, did their class projects for them, and generally coddled them, have not done them any favors. If they are unprepared or unwilling to take the mantle of the GI Generation, our society may be in its final stages. Social outcasts will not fare well during the Crisis. Strong families will be essential to survival, with multigenerational households providing support and safety in dangerous times. The continued disintegration of the family unit, especially in the inner cities, will make it more difficult for many in the Crisis. Divorce rates have declined to 40% of all marriages, but marriage rates have declined to a greater degree. Children living in one parent households have increased, as millions of men have shirked their fatherhood duties.
The un-sustainability of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and government employee pension plans was clear in 1997 and it is clearer today. Americans with half a brain should have seen that the government could never deliver on the social fiscal pledges they’ve made. The $100 trillion unfunded liability will never be paid. The government is going to stiff the elderly. Americans should have increased their personal economic security by saving for emergencies, saving for retirement, cutting back on their excessive lifestyle choices, distinguishing between needs and wants and ratcheting their lifestyles down to a sustainable level in an effort to prepare for hard times. Instead, millions or morons proved that stupid is as stupid does.
The average 401k balance for those over 60 years old is only $93,000. This is skewed higher by a few high savers. The median balance is in the range of $60,000. The Boomer generation has proven to be the most spendthrift, irrational, delusional generation in history. The life expectancy of a 60 year old is twenty years. How do these people expect to live twenty years on $60,000 to $100,000? A rational human being approaching 50 years old in 1997 with $50,000 in retirement savings should have realized their dire predicament and maxed out their savings for the next fifteen years.
Average 401(k) Balance by Age Group
Age 2007 Balance 2008 Balance
20s $9,190 $6,690
30s $40,990 $27,360
40s $93,350 $62,580
50s $138,660 $99,420
60+ $115,700 $93,470
Source: Hewitt Associates
Instead of acting rationally, the Boomers went on a glutton-like spending spree, buying McMansions, beach houses, Mercedes, 60 inch HDTVs, electronic gadgets, and taking exotic vacations to the Far East. Household debt as a percentage of GDP soared from 90% in 1997 to over 135% today. Over this same time, personal savings plummeted. The delusional Boomers convinced themselves that 10% annual gains in the value of their houses for eternity would fund their every material desire and pay for their comfortable retirement.
Option ARM loans, home equity withdrawals, auto loans, and credit card debt were the weapons of choice. In the last two years zombie Americans have learned a brutal lesson they should never forget. Home prices can drop 30%, but the debt remains like an anchor around their necks. Consumers increased their debt from $5 trillion in 1997 to over $13 trillion today. Most Americans are completely unprepared financially for a harsh winter.
The American financial system’s near disintegration in 2008, initiated by the housing crash, revealed who was swimming naked. If Americans had diversified their portfolios with foreign stocks, bonds, gold, and commodities they would have survived the stock market crash with minimal losses. We sit here late in 2009 with thousands of Boomers reaching the age of 60 every day. They are racked with immense debts, have saved little for their retirement, and have trillions of government IOUs in their pockets. The only way the government can pay these obligations is to double taxes on the children and grandchildren of Boomers. Will Boomers be selfish and egotistical enough to rob their kids because they chose not to prepare for winter?
Ten Years Have Got Behind You
Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
You fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way
Tired of lying in the sunshine
Staying home to watch the rain
And you are young and life is long
And there is time to kill today
And then one day you find
Ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run
You missed the starting gun
And you run, and you run to catch up with the sun, but it’s sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in a relative way, but you’re older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death – Pink Floyd – Time
America has frittered away ten years. Americans missed the starting gun. If you had prepared for the Crisis and it hadn’t touched you personally, the loss of material satisfaction would have been a minor inconvenience. Strauss & Howe describe the implications of not preparing:
“If you haven’t prepared, you will have put much at risk. History warns that saecular winters can be searing times for everyone, especially for those who are caught entirely by surprise. No matter what your age, sex, income, race, family status, or line of work, sensible choices today could help you avoid truly desperate choices in the Fourth Turning.”
The sad truth is that the nation and most of its citizens did the exact opposite of what Strauss and Howe recommended in 1997. The nation and its people are now destined to experience a terrible winter on par with the Civil War and World War II, with no safety net. The politicians driving the country into this Crisis period continue to think linearly and will be blindsided as the Crisis deepens. Politicians in Washington continue to do business as usual, passing laws and programs that will only worsen the Crisis. Every prior Fourth Turning has seen a Grey Champion Prophet figure appear on the scene to lead the country through the storm. Washington, Lincoln, and FDR proved their mettle in times of extreme danger. Barack Obama is not today’s Grey Champion. He will be cast aside in 2012. A Boomer leader must arise to lead the country through the difficult days ahead.
With a National Debt projected to reach $25 trillion by 2019, a government that has promised Boomers $100 trillion more than it can deliver, the end of the cheap oil age, looming resource wars, and nuclear proliferation, it is hard to fathom a happy ending to this Crisis. We appear to be hurtling towards the abyss and no one in charge seems capable of averting disaster. Americans need to understand the danger that is approaching. The final outcomes of this Crisis range from Armageddon to a restoration of the American Republic. The final pages of the Fourth Turning are truly frightening. The possibilities according to Strauss & Howe are:
- The next Fourth Turning could mark the end of man. It could be an omnicidal Armageddon, destroying everything, leaving nothing.
- The Fourth Turning could mark the end of modernity.
- The Fourth Turning could spare modernity but mark the end of our nation.
- Or the Fourth Turning could simply mark the end of the Millennial Saeculum. Mankind, modernity, and America would all persevere. Afterward, there would be a new High.
Several months ago my University repaved the walkway leading to my building. Along with the new bricks they placed stones within the walkway with words of wisdom from Ben Franklin. Every morning I walk across the same words and ponder their significance. “Lost Time, is never found again.”
The nation and its citizens have not made good use of our time. We have entered this Crisis severely weakened and vulnerable. Our appalling fiscal choices and failure to address the coming energy crisis have set us up for a calamity of epic proportions. The linear status quo statists argue that our ingenuity and technological prowess will save the day. They ignore the fact that our best and brightest have spent the last three decades focused on creating financial weapons of mass destruction, pilotless drones that make war as easy as playing on your PS3, improving the distribution chain for aerosol cheese, and inventing the drive thru fast food window. The corporate fascists who have Congress in their back pockets, supported by the Federal Reserve and the banking cartel, have raped and pillaged America to the point that there is nothing left for the middle class. The ruling elite have no intentions of relinquishing their wealth or control without a fight.
I’m just an average guy who has lived his whole life in suburban America. I’m the guy at the little league baseball field and the local ice hockey rink cheering my sons on. I shop at Wal-Mart and I take my family to the Jersey shore on vacation. I decorate my house with multitudes of Christmas lights every year after I untangle the ball from the previous year. I’m an average guy who is also a wide eyed realist. My heart and my mind tell me that our leaders have failed us mightily. The next 15 years will be full of pain, suffering and angst. In the previous two Crisis periods, America entered with the moral high ground. The Civil War was ultimately seen as a moral war to free the slaves. World War II was fought against evil Nazis and Fascists. I fear that America’s next Great War will be fought for oil. The shortsighted narrow-minded morons who have controlled our nation will try to cover-up their epic failures by falsifying the reasons for war. I have said this once in a previous article. I will not sacrifice my sons for oil. That is not a cause worth fighting for. Hell no, they won’t go.
I do not believe Americans will fall into line behind a leader whose cause is fighting to secure some other country’s oil. I do believe that the credibility and honesty of our politician leaders has been destroyed through their own corrupt immoral actions. A splintering of the country into competing factions and/or regions is a distinct possibility. There is precious little time left, as the howling blizzard gains strength. You will need to hunker down for a long hard winter. Build close relationships, protect your family at all costs, don’t trust government officials, don’t expect the government to honor any fiscal promises, don’t trust the mainstream media, learn to live locally, buy a gun, buy some gold and silver, and be prepared to fight for the truth.