Neil Howe: Expect Creative Destruction In This Fourth Turning

Neil Howe, demographer and co-authour of the book The Fourth Turning, returns to the podcast this week. In our prior interviews with him, we’ve explored his study of generational cycles (“turnings”) in America which reveal predictable social trends that recur throughout history and invariably result in transformational crisis (a “fourth turning”).

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 failing markets by the central planners, greater government control of critical systems like health care and the Internet — all of these are classic fourth turning signs of the desperation authorities exert as they lose control.

History shows time and time again that such overreach ends in rejection of the current order, usually via violent revolution.

Now that we’re roughly halfway through the current Fourth Turning and things have really started to unravel here in 2020, we’ve asked Neil back on the program to update us on what to expect next:

During times of peace and prosperity, inequality over time always increases. It always increases. There are only four things which reduced inequality through history: total war, total revolution, famines, and plagues.

You have this weird situation in America now the where interest rates are practically 0% and almost no one is doing any investing. How do you explain such high returns on existing capital with 0% interest rates, and yet no one’s using those low interest rates? Because new creators of business can’t get the same high returns as the incumbents. That’s the reason.

So we have a bifurcated market and I think that this is what has to be broken down. The fourth turning is to some extent an act of creative destruction. It destroys as much as it creates. We saw that in the 1930s. We saw that in the 1940s which, by the way, was a period of huge shift from inequality to equality in America.

But I do think there’s a broader point about inequality and this is point about creative destruction. There has to be some destruction in there. You have to destroy the privileges. You have to destroy the sinecures – and that’s never pleasant. But it’s part of the process.

I’ve often told people – if they expect to see Social Security reformed, global warming solved, and god knows what else you’re talking about on a peaceful sunny day – that big reforms come about during dark and stormy nights. And I’m talking about BIG reforms…reforms that actually commit society to huge new sacrifices.

To hear which developments are most likely to happen next during this current Fourth Turning, click the play button below to listen to Chris’ interview with Neil Howe (57m:25s)

Other Ways To Listen: iTunes | Google Play | SoundCloud | Stitcher | YouTube | Download |

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Now this is what I come here for!
Not just the great guest but the interviewer who knows the right questions to ask!
Thanks guys

Thank you both. I’ve been waiting for this conversation.

I’ve always pondered the idea that countries borrow money or tax to pay for war. I could see that when there was a solid money system in place. But if the US wanted to fund a war today, would the Fed just crank up the presses some more? Can’t print resources though…Standing on the deck of BB-63 a number of years ago with my Dad, and looking down the barrels of those humongous 16" guns, along with the mass of the rest of the ship, and thinking how many just like her, were sitting in Davy Jones’ locker, along with the many fine souls aboard…May we be spared a similar turning scenario…Will Cyberwar, the neutron bomb of the new millenium, be our fate?
Liked the “in irons” sailing analogy regarding our country’s current CV-19 strategy. Usually ends in lost ground…Aloha, Steve.

I don’t think we are at war with this virus, we are at the begging of this virus. It may be the virus will take 5 to 10 years to mature to the point that we treat like the spanish flu of 1918. If this virus dose out a lab in China then let us all hope that it dose have the fountain of youth attach to it.

Global Capitalism, “World Government” and the Corona Crisis

When the Lie Becomes the Truth There is No Moving Backwards

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist. (President Dwight D. Eisenhower, January 17, 1961)
*** The World is being misled concerning the causes and consequences of the corona crisis. The COVID-19 crisis is marked by a public health “emergency” under WHO auspices which is being used as a pretext and a justification to triggering a Worldwide process of economic, social and political restructuring. Social engineering is being applied. Governments are pressured into extending the lockdown, despite its devastating economic and social consequences. What is happening is unprecedented in World history. Prominent scientists support the lockdown without batting an eyelid, as a “solution” to a global health emergency. Amply documented, the estimates of the COVID-19 disease including mortality are grossly manipulated. In turn, people are obeying their governments. Why? Because they are afraid? Causes versus solutions? The closing down of national economies applied Worldwide will inevitably result in poverty, mass unemployment and an increase in mortality. It’s an act of economic warfare. (continued)

Funny how, while not exactly contradicting Chris’ assertions, Howe provides a different lens. For example, “Millenials are lonely and isolated by technology” to “Millenials seek community through technology, as opposed to individualistic Boomers and Xers.”

Well, I hope we can avoid kinetic war this time. The US will lose and probably turns out to go nuclear. The US essentially has no manufacturing capability vis a vis 1940’s. Neither Russia or China are going to let US materiel and troops anywhere near a staging point. If we marched (the very long way) to Moscow, which of the US successful models of occupation would it use?.. Iraq? I expect the US has no tolerance to lose, ergo now the nuclear option.
It’s unfortunate the US has spent 20 years of men and goods discovering how to be pinned down by pickup trucks, small arms and IEDs. The majority of the US forces are trained in this doctrine. The citizens of the US do not understand (that unlike WWII) the opponents can reach out and touch us in the US. I suspect that a couple of hundred conventional weapons on key targets and the US economy will be unable to repair the economy, ever, in the current configuration. Hence nuclear. Murica, champions of the lose, lose and of course never, ever learn a lesson from events.

Fascinating discussion - thank you Chris and Neil! I’m also interested in the exceptions to these useful and accurate generalizations. The Boomers, who are characterized as pushing individualism, also did the commune thing and their community was defined by “don’t trust anyone over 30”. I’m not saying it worked out well, especially once they all got past 30 :slight_smile: But these variations within the theme are important, because the Millenials can’t pick up and carry everyone else over the threshold of something new, all by themselves. They’re going to be doing it in conjunction with those Boomer parents they’re so close to, who will drag up out of their past personas, the memory of both resilience, of leaving the past behind, and of community. And the value of “back to the land”, that is certainly starting to come back as a collective myth, even if not achievable in its traditional form for most of the population. Also, of course, the lines are blurred. Older Boomers were the parents of GenXers, younger ones of the Millennials. But we’re all still around - there are threads to be grasped in each generation, whichever one is the main force. All quite thought-provoking and even, as Neil suggested, eventually hopeful. I just hope, as others have said better, that we can avoid war. It’s such a bloody waste.

The CDC, as he explains, needs to be fortified and extended. In other words we need to go back in time and reduce the corporatocracy while expanding government institutions that are for the people–to protect and serve us. We should not bow to the pressures of selfishness that pervade corporations, and corporate thought.
Communitarianism is a start but a high functioning democratic socialism would also work. And btw, check out what the super rich Americans paid in income tax post war! That was the ‘we’ decade.
And that’s as far as I got. Will listen to the rest later today.

This kind of argument, as well intentioned as it might be, supports the old way of thinking.
In this way of thinking, those who are unwilling to subvert any of their personal freedoms for the greater good, are “awake, heroes, rugged iconoclasts” while those who mask up to protect others are “sheep”
Dinosaur talk, Dude. Get with the next wave.

I especially liked the concept of crisis being required to get rid of sinecure and reduce inequality. I didn’t think of it before, but it makes sense - who wants to let go of a windfall? Not me, certainly.
Likewise, xenophobia (or - at the very least - the concept of a border) comes directly from a potential infection threat. Is it an actual “phobia”, or is it just a legitimate concern?
It is really interesting to hear how the broad sweep of history has influenced the thinking of each generation of people. We are all individuals, we are - all of us - programmed by our environment; parents, teachers, social circle, government. You would think that would make every generation the same. And yet, that’s not what happens. Why do we think that is? I certainly don’t know.
Why do millenials do so well with their parents (on average)? I know I left home and was very relieved to do so. I can’t remember having any urge to return - certainly not to live anyway.
Lastly. If we look through the crisis to come, what comes out the other side could be pretty cool. Theoretically anyway.

  Older Boomers were the parents of GenXers, younger ones of the Millennials. But we're all still around - there are threads to be grasped in each generation, whichever one is the main force. All quite thought-provoking and even, as Neil suggested, eventually hopeful.
I don't want to date myself, but I read Howe's books (as a Gen-X) back when they were first published. I was blown away how unscientific they were, even back then. The theories are completely improvable. Sure, fun to read, but hand-waving at best. Regarding the current interview? I'm amazed at how Howe gives barely a nod to the primary "generational" event today making his Boomerville books completely moot: immigration. How can he claim there are dividable "generations" we can group together when we aren't even talking the same culture anymore, with any shared experiences? Back when Howe was writing his books, Boomerville USA was majority white and born "in country". Being a shared culture, this was at least arguable; the generations were of the same people but very different: the baby boom + youth culture + massive cultural changes (e.g. the college wave, birth control, abortion, women working, civil rights). So it did make sense to "group" the generations into "new" vs "old". They had a lot of differences that were layered on the same peoples, even when going back several hundred years local events changed things more than external ones. But not today! Today, the USA is about half white and culturally disunified. And the immigrants are massively out-breeding the locals, further preventing any meaningful generational comparison. Their transformational experiences happened elsewhere. Howe wrote about generations who still shared a similar cultures, from Irish to Swedes to Italians to Germans. At most, they thought being Protestant or Catholic was a "big" difference. Today, it's nothing like that, there is no common culture at all. I'm not passing judgement on if this is good or bad, I'm just chuckling how "generations" make no sense to compare with massive immigration. At all. And this is assuming the whole unscientific hand-waving exercise has any validity to being with. YMMV.

Well according to the data I see, America isn’t overrun with immigrants. Go and google it yourself - what percentage of America was born here? [Answer: 86%]
I know a large number of second-generation Americans. They are my friends. To me, they appear to be Americans, with some distinct “flavoring” that comes from their original background. [Chinese, Vietnamese, and Mexican]. I don’t see them reproducing at alarming rates, either. They all seem pretty normal.
So, if you worry about that 14%, just wait a generation; all their offspring will be Americans, with immigrant flavoring. Just like always. Especially if they get educated.
Note: I’m all for border security and restricting immigration in order to preserve wages for the lower middle class; 320 million people is enough, given the carrying capacity of the land here. But it isn’t about having a problem with immigrants - its a problem with too many people for our landmass.

We believe in cycles, but not in such a sharp division between generations. And there is also a big difference in cultures and how people are wired. We are Dutch and live in Spain. The Dutch may be rather individualistic and lets say straight forward (not always appreciated), the Spanish (and Italians and Portuguese) are family people. It is not always a free choice. A lot cannot afford to live in a house of their own, it is more or less forced by their financial situation. The interview was interesting but we do not agree with all said. But it is good to have another opinion. One correction about what Howe said about the Dutch and Swedish strategy to let the virus go and create herd immunity (has anyone ever calculated how much time that will take, if you dont want to overwhealm your hospitals?). It was suggested in the beginning, but people did not accept it. It was not accepted that the elderly people were purposely put on risk of dying directly or indirectly from this pandemic. So the strategy was changed to an “intelligent” lockdown, which is a lockdown but with some more freedom.

22 minutes in so far. Might have been good back in early May, not so much right now. Experts have been fantastically off with their dire predictions. Regardless, thanks for sharing.

Well according to the data I see, America isn't overrun with immigrants.
Your focus on printed data regarding immigration is misleading, since many non-Americans come here for the express purpose of giving give birth (anchor babies). Also many are here illegally and thus not even counted. Finally, the new immigrants slant young, again, mixing up the whole "generation" theory. But if you want to get past all these "data" errors, just look at some basic facts: the USA was 180 million in 1960, 80% white, & native born whites have been barely replacing their population (TFR <2.1). Yet today, the USA is 330 million and is likely <50% white. Where did the extra generations of people come from? Well, mostly from people other than the original American stock. Hence, the "generations" of people from 1960 to today have very little shared experiences, and thus Howe's thesis just dosn't make any sense like it did when the USA was 80% European descent and shared the same religion & culture. Culture has a LOT more unifiying effect than age. The reason Howe's thesis could kinda work from 1860-1960 was because the immigrant waves were from the same European culture, and everyone tried really hard to become "American" and "fit in" when they got here. For better or worse, this is no longer the case, at all. If you have any doubt about this, just look at the political divide today. We are no longer one people, and trust me, this ain't due to "generations".

In the 90’s I worked with a woman who was the real estate consultant for the pension plan that I was associated with at the time. She told me once that she was in a commune as a young person. She would go off to work as a teacher each day as the rest of members stayed home and did their thing – drugs, etc. She grew to resent being the sole breadwinner and eventually left both her husband and the commune. After her stint as a consultant she went to work as an executive for Blackrock and after their IPO became a multimillionaire – and then she retired. The austerity and lack of initiative at most – not all – communes did not work for her and I’m guessing it did not work for many in her peer group.


Your focus on printed data regarding immigration is misleading, since ...
As opposed to oral data? Or made-up data? Give me a source and some numbers and I'll consider the evidence. If you don't have a source, then I must assume you're just pulling numbers out of your private space, and that tells me you've just got a belief system rather than a set of facts and I will leave you in peace and move on. I have a lot of non-white friends. They feel just as American to me as my white friends. Stating that my non-white friends aren't American and don't share my values, which they do, runs square in the face of my personal experience. You get one last chance. Do you have any actual data?

It had long seemed to me that Strauss and Howe’s book The Fourth Turning was one that was read and loved and internalized by most PP members. But not me. I checked out the book and didn’t get through the 1st chapter. Not saying it was a bad book, it just wasn’t readable for me. Howe has been a guest before and I never really “got it” until now. Good interview. I’m sure the book is much more in-depth, but at least this is a part of the PP body of knowledge that I no longer feel alienated from.