HEY YOU (Oldie but Goodie)

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Posted on 12th March 2016 by Administrator in Economy |Politics |Social Issues

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Originally published in June 2013

 

 Hey you, out there on the road
always doing what you’re told,
Can you help me?
Hey you, out there beyond the wall,
Breaking bottles in the hall,
Can you help me?
Hey you, don’t tell me there’s no hope at all
Together we stand, divided we fall.

Pink Floyd – Hey You

  

“A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude.” Aldous Huxley – Brave New World

The world makes less sense every day. Little children are randomly slaughtered in their schoolrooms. Predator drones roam the skies over foreign countries exterminating bad guys, along with innocent women and children (collateral damage when it occurs in a foreign country). Drugged up mentally ill kids with no hope and no future live lives of secluded quiet desperation until they snap. Ignorant, government educated, welfare dependent drones with no self respect or respect for others, assault, kill and rob within their government created urban jungles. Sociopathic criminals who committed the largest financial crime in world history walk free and continue to occupy executive suites in luxury office towers in downtown NYC, collecting millions in bonuses as compensation for crushing the American middle class.

Academics, whose theories have been thoroughly disproven, continue to steer our economy into an iceberg while accelerating the money printing and debt issuance that will sink our ship of state. Corrupt, bought off politicians pander to the lowest common denominator as their votes are only dependent upon who contributed the most to their election campaigns, which never end. Delusional, materialistic, egocentric, math challenged consumers (formerly known as citizens) live for today, enslave themselves in debt, vote themselves more entitlements, and care not for future generations. The alienation and isolation created by our sprawling, automobile dependent, technology obsessed, government controlled, debt financed society has spread like a cancerous tumor, slowly killing our country.

Pink Floyd released The Wall 33 years ago. It was a concept rock opera album that explored the issues of ababdonment, isolation, alienation, authoritarianism, the brutality of war, a tyrannical conformist educational system, and the walls individuals and society build to protect themselves from having to confront reality and deal with the consequences of their actions. I attended the Roger Waters Wall Concert this past summer at Citizens Bank Park with my three sons. Three decades later, the message is more powerful than ever. The government oppression and never ending wars waged by the American Empire around the world have created a society built upon fear and loathing. Roger Waters’ vision is colored by Orwell’s 1984 dystopian nightmare of lies, misinformation, propaganda and brutality. The missing piece, which Waters didn’t see coming in 1979, was the ability of the oligarchs to use their control of the credit system to entrap the masses by convincing them to love their servitude and become so consumed with material possessions and the love of money that they would become nothing more than passive egotistical consumers.

(more…)

GENERATION SCREWED

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Posted on 22nd July 2012 by Administrator in Economy |Politics |Social Issues

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Neil Howe with another thought provoking post. He posted this on the same day that a Millenial named James Holmes committed one of the most horrific mass murders in history. Howe’s description of Millenial beliefs and hopes fits perfectly with my thesis about why Holmes snapped. Millenials have very traditional views on success and the American Dream. They believe education will lead to a good job, which will lead to a good income and a nice house in the burbs. Well reality sucks. Howe doesn’t address the current state of affairs, but shifts the discussion to the 2020s when Millenials may get the chance to succeed. That doesn’t cut it in my book. How do the Millenials get through the next ten or fifteen years with staggering student loan debt, lack of good jobs, miniscule income and no chance to buy a house? What does this do to their beliefs and minds? We’ve seen what it did to James Holmes. How many more Millenials will snap?

I was happy to find out that my Generation is actually the most screwed. But that’s alright, we expected it. Gen X relishes being crapped on. We don’t expect much and our expectations keep getting met.

Howe seems to have his own cognitive dissonance. His own books reveal clearly that Fourth Turnings are always violent and bloody, but he doesn’t seem to want to go there. Even when I met him, he didn’t want to talk about that aspect of the current Fourth Turning. I believe the levels of getting screwed that are happening in our society will lead to violence, social unrest and civil war in this country. But I’m Gen X and always expect the worst.

 

Generation Screwed and Unscrewed

Are Millennials the Screwed Generation?” asks Joel Kotkin in Newsweek.  A professor of urban studies and an astute observer of social trends, Kotkin answers his own question in the affirmative.

He describes a gauntlet of economic challenges facing today’s under-30 Americans that are, I think, pretty well known to readers of this blog.  Some of the adverse trends he cites are mostly of recent (post-2008) origin: High unemployment, falling real median personal and household income, falling median household net worth, a sharply rising share who are living with their parents, a falling share who own their own homes, and (symptomatically) a sharp decline in birthrates by younger moms.

Yet other trends prejudicial to youth, most of which he mentions, have been underway for much longer: a declining national saving rate; rising fiscal deficits; college tuitions rising faster than family incomes; a widening spread between the relative wealth and income of older versus young households; and the steady rise in the share of public spending that goes to the entitled old (pensions, health care)—versus a declining share that goes to future-oriented investment (infrastructure, research, education).

Sounds depressing, I know.  But the reason I emphasize how long many of these trends have been at work is to cast a bit of doubt on whether Millennials are really as screwed as all that.  Keep in mind that back in the early 1980s, many economists and policymakers commented on the “declining fortunes” of late-wave Boomers who came of age during the energy crises and stagflation.  At the time, experts thought that demographic size was the problem: Numbers-driven competition among young workers was depressing Boomer incomes.

Then came the early 1990s, when economists discovered that Gen-Xers–often, at that time, called “Busters”–were even more screwed than Boomers.  (Since there were relatively few of these Busters, the demographic explanation was quietly dropped.)  From the very beginning, a “reality bites” fatalism about diminished economic possibilities emerged as a cornerstone this generation’s very self-image.  Over the next twenty years, as first-wave Gen-Xers moved into their 30s and then their 40s, evidence of “living-standard decline” in their age brackets (despite two-income households and working around the clock) has steadily mounted.

So is there still a good case for calling Millennials yet more “screwed” than these two older generations?  I suppose one could argue that Millennials are uniquely penalized because the adverse trends cited above—savings decline, young-old divide, fiscal bias, etc.—are more advanced and pronounced today than when Xers or Boomers were young.  One could also point to the extreme severity of the recent recession’s impact on youth—for example, the highest unemployment rate over the most months for young adults than during any downturn since the Great Depression.  We know from abundant economic research, starting with Glen Elder’s great book (Children of the Great Depression) that extended unemployment early in life has an impact on future income that lasts long into a person’s career.

On the other hand, of course, one would have to note the even harsher impact of the Great Recession on Gen-Xers and late-wave Boomers (households today age 30 to 60), as I pointed out in my earlier blog post.  And who hurts most during a great famine—the guy who thinks he might someday have a home and kids, or they guy who actually has a home and kids?

One would also have to weigh in the balance certain collective advantages Millennials have enjoyed early in life that their elders did not.  These include arriving as newborns in an era when mothers were more likely to say their newborn was “wanted” and growing up in an era when parents and families (if not always government) spent more time with them, more money on them, spurred them to achieve, and protected them more from harm.  Today, as a result, Millennials have become a generation of youth who commit less crime, cooperate more with each other, take fewer personal risks, and get along much better with their parents.  They are also on track to have the highest educational attainment ever (following college completion rates that actually backtracked for late-wave Boomers and early-wave Gen-Xers).

What’s more, most Millennials already know that history favors them.  Interesting factoid: When asked if being a young person is harder today than it was when your parents were kids, a growing majority of young people since the late 1990s say no, it’s actually easier being a kid today—after decades of polls (in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and early ‘90s) that leaned the other way, with Boomers and Xers bemoaning, year after year, how much harder being a kid is for them.

Kotkin asserts that this generation still believes in a very conventional definition of life success—most aspiring to a stable career and to owning a home in the suburbs.  I agree.  The data I’ve seen point in the same direction.  My favorite recent survey on this topic is the 2011 MetLife Study of the American Dream, which shows that Millennials are significantly more likely than Xers or Boomers to say that a college degree, acquiring wealth, owning a home, and (yes!) even marriage is “essential” to realizing the American Dream.  Most Millennials have a fairly concrete idea of what they want in life, together with benchmarks for getting there, and thus far most surveys (admittedly, not the depressing Rutgers survey cited by Kotkin) indicate that they remain confident that they will someday get there.

But to me, the most persuasive argument for not regarding Millennials as America’s most “screwed” generation is simply this: They are still young.  Even if the economy continues to deteriorate, a steady recovery that gets underway by the early 2020s will still save the future for most of them.  At roughly age 20 to 40, in this case, most Millennials will still be able to launch successful careers in an expanding economy.  Moreover, they will be able to buy homes at record-low prices and buy stock portfolios at record-low P/E ratios.  Which means, by the time they fully occupy midlife in the late 2040s (at roughly age 45 to 65), they may be doing far better at that time, relative to other generations, than people that age are doing today.

So who really is the most screwed generation?  When it comes to aggregate economic security and upward mobility, I think the most screwed generation already know who they are: Generation X.  Consider the scenario described above.  More chaos followed by a steady recovery starting a decade from now would come too late for most Xers—who by then (their first-wavers hitting their early 60s and thinking about retirement) may be looking at senior benefits programs whose generosity has just been cut way back in the name of fiscal austerity and renewed economic growth.  Any Xer protest is likely to be weak and ineffectual.  Most Boomers will be grandfathered, and most of the public’s attention will be focused on saving America’s future for the Millennials.

As Bill and I forecast twenty years ago back in 13th-Gen (I’ve changed the “13ers” here to “Gen-Xers”):

Reaching midlife, the Gen-Xers’ economic fears will be confirmed: They will become the only generation born this century (the first since the Gilded) to suffer a one-generation backstep in living standards.  Compared to their own parents at the same age, the Xers’ poverty rate will be higher, their rate of homeownership lower, their pension and healthcare benefits skimpier.  They will not match the Boomers’ inflation-adjusted levels of disposable income or wealth, at the same age.  Gen-Xers will also experience a much wider distribution of income and wealth than today’s older generations, with startling proportions either falling into destitution or shooting from rags to riches…  Finding their youthful dreams broken on the shoals of market-place reality, Xers will internalize their disappointment.  Around the year 2020, accumulated “hard knocks” will give midlife Xers much of the same gritty determination about life that they gave the midlife Lost during the Great Depression or the Gilded during Reconstruction.

Twenty years later, I think this prediction still stands.  As I read back over it, the only adjustment I would make is to say “early-wave Boomers” where we wrote “Boomers.”  But now let me move on to something else about Xers—the fact that the economy will recover, in part, precisely because Generation X chooses not to insist on its rightful public entitlement in old age.  We wrote about that in 13th-Gen, as well:

Nor will Gen-Xers ever effectively organize or vote in their own self-interest.  Instead, they will take pride in what they don’t receive, in their lifelong talent for getting by on their own, and in their ability to divert government resources to help the young.  Policy experts who today worry about the cost of Social Security and Medicare past the year 2025 seldom reflect on the political self-image of those who will then be entering their late sixties.  Entitled “senior citizens”?  Hardly.  Like Lost Generation elders in 1964–who voted more for Goldwater than any younger generation even after he promised to slash their retirement benefits—old Xers will feel less deserving of public attention than richer and smarter young people who lack their fatalism about life.

Even back in 1993 we had the concepts of generational archetypes firmly in mind.  As readers of The Fourth Turning know, Gen-Xers belong to same (Nomad) archetype as the Lost Generation.  The location in history of both generations, which manifests so many obvious parallels early in life, will continue (I think) to track each other moving forward.  Who is getting hurt worst in the current age of stagnation and deleveraging?  Late-wave Boomers (born after 1950) to some extent, mostly by have their home and retirement assets values hit hard; Generation X most of all; and early-wave Millennials to some extent, mostly by delayed career starts.  Who got hit worst in the Great Depression?  Late-wave Missionaries (born after 1870) to some extent, mainly by losing their savings in failed banks in the early 1930s; the Lost Generation most of all; and early-wave G.I.s to some extent, mostly by having their careers put on hold until VE- and VJ-Day.  Same archetypes, same patterns.

Koktin points out that today’s hard times are pushing most Millennials in the developed world politically toward the left—that is, toward a greater commitment to national collective action by government.  We’ve witnessed this trend in every election globally since 2008—including of course the massive 2-to-1 margin by U.S. Millennials for Obama in 2008.  (In the fall of 2012, U.S. Millennials will almost certainly give another large margin for Obama, but it will be smaller than in 2008 and whether it will be enough to win the election is uncertain; this is an issue I will handle in a future post.)

These political trends also have interesting parallels in the last saeculum.  The Lost Generation, as we document in Generations and The Fourth Turning, leaned Republican and libertarian all its life.  The Lost hated President Wilson for the fiasco of World War I; voted heavily for Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover (though it turned against Hoover with the Bonus Army); comprised the most visible and colorful opponents of FDR; and voted GOP after WWII all the way to Goldwater.  The party valence turned sharply the other way, however, for cohorts born after 1900—those who missed WWI, who belonged (like John Steinbeck) to entirely different artistic circles than the likes of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, and who were disposed to mobilize around a new trust in community after the Crash of ‘29.

Although no one collected age-graded polling back in the 1930s, some historians estimate that a very large majority—perhaps 85 percent—of voters under age 35 voted for FDR and the Democratic Party in 1936.  It is widely agreed that this is the first election in which a clear majority of young African-Americans voted for the Democratic Party rather than the party of Abraham Lincoln.  Consulting our own American Leadership Database, we are able to confirm that 28 out of 32 (88 percent) of G.I. senators, representatives, and governors sent to Congress in 1936 were Democrats.  By 1940, 75 percent of incoming G.I.s were still Democrats.

Read the numbers, Republicans, and weep.  That is, unless your new Mormon, whiz-kid, C-suite candidate is able to project a stronger, more hands-on image of strong national leadership than Barack Obama—which may not be setting the bar too high.  Anything is possible.

One last point.  To most Millennials, the whole whiney victimization card (look at me, I’m screwed!) seems like such a stale trope of Boomers and Gen-Xers, that they instinctively recoil from it.  And right on cue, a bona fide Millennial offers a cocky and defiant reply to Kotkin in the Washington Post (“Generation Unscrewed”)—though in a sardonic (“It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)”) tone that may leave all generations mystified.

HOW MANY MORE WILL SNAP?

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Posted on 22nd July 2012 by Administrator in Economy |Politics |Social Issues

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A portrait of James Holmes is beginning to reveal itself. Personally, I feel what has been revealed about his life should make people more worried. At least with the Tucson murders we could comfort ourselves with the fact that Jared Loughner was clearly a crazed lunatic and his background revealed multiple signs that he would eventually do something crazy. We could blame the system, his parents, drugs, or mental illness. It made us feel safer to rationalize the behavior of a lunatic. But this time something is different.

This kid was brought up in a normal household in San Diego with what appear to be normal parents. He was an athlete who played on the football and soccer teams in high school. He was on the quiet side, but had friends. He worked as a counselor for underpriveleged kids. He liked video games. He was very smart. He graduated from college at the top of his class with a degree in neuroscience, not some worthless liberal arts degree that we like to scorn. But he couldn’t find a job after college. He was forced to work at a McDonalds. Then he tried to hide out in Grad School in Denver, far away from his family and friends.

Now this is why you should be worried. How many young people fit this description? My guess is hundreds of thousands. They did everything right. They listened to their parents. They didn’t get into trouble. They did well in school. They had pretty high self esteem. Then they graduated from college and the real world beckoned. But the country has been gutted by the warfare, welfare, Wall Street policies over the last three decades. There are few if any decent jobs for even the brightest young people. Over the last two years this kid has been holed up in his tiny apartment, accumulating more student loan debt, and getting progressively more depressed and bitter at the world. He’s done everything he thought he needed to do to become successful, but he’s a failure. He keeps asking himself why, but there is no logical answer. The anger against society builds until his mind is overwhelmed with thoughts of revenge against somebody and everybody. Something snapped after months of depression, anger and disillusionment with our unfair system.

There are reports that he was dressed like the Joker. The Dark Knight series of movies are particularly bleak, dark, violent, and not particularly optimistic about our future. People are desperately seeking some sort of logical motive for this mass murder. They will not find one. There is a scene in the first Dark Knight movie that captures the essence of what James Holmes did. This quote from Alfred says it all:     

“Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

No comfort can be gained by categorizing James Holmes as a lunatic. He wasn’t a lunatic for the first 22 years of his life. Did our warped society create the lunatic? Did our economic system that rewards financial criminals, corrupt politicians, and mega-corporations create the lunatic? Did our suburban sprawl, faceless, nameless, materialistic, greedy society create the lunatic? Admit it. The biography of this kid matches many 24 year olds that you know. It might even match the biography of your own son. That is why you should worry. It seems the discussion is already centered around gun control and whether someone with a gun could have prevented this tragedy. I’m not surprised. These are things that we have control over. No one wants to talk about why a seemingly normal young person could snap. We better get a handle on that question, because there are hundreds of thousands of men like James Holmes out there facing the exact same circumstances.