IN-DEPTH WEEKEND READING
The Fourth Turning – the influential work by William Strauss and Neil Howe published in 1997 – uncannily predicted much of what has happened in America over the past twenty years. “The next Fourth Turning,” the authors predicted, “is due to begin shortly after the new millennium, midway through the Oh-Oh decade. Around the year 2005, a sudden spark will catalyze a Crisis mood. Remnants of the old social order will disintegrate. Political and economic trust will implode. Real hardship will beset the land, with severe distress that could involve questions of class, race, nation, and empire.”
Howe designates 2008 as the start date for the current fourth turning. Since turnings typically last 20-23 years, it will end sometime between 2028 and 2031. That puts us about midway through the cycle. At the moment, if the politicians, Wall Street and press accounts on the status of the economy are to be believed, the good times have arrived. For many Americans, though, that arrival has some pretty dark clouds hanging over it – the deep political divisions, the escalating trade wars, the emerging nation debt and currency crisis, the overvalued stock market, the threat of rising interest rates – and that is just a sampling of fourth-turning strata that worries global investors. The nation despite the rosy outlook is a bit unnerved by it all. For his part, Howe, who saw it coming, believes things could get much worse before before they get better.
“The fourth turning,” he said in a MacroVoices interview last August, “is the final season of history, if you will, the final generation. And that is the period of crisis. That is the period when we tear down institutions that we’ve built, everything that’s dysfunctional. And we sort of rebuild things from scratch again. And it usually follows a period where—it’s bound up in a period – where there’s complete disgust, complete distrust with what we have.”
There is a certain amount of inevitability interlaced throughout Howe’s analysis and a good many will have a hard time accepting it for that reason – especially those who believe that somehow this period in economic history is going to be different from others. Howe though sees strong similarities to the period just before and after World War II, the last fourth turning.
Once again his viewpoint, expressed almost a year ago, is uncanny: “And then the crisis,” he says, “when all of these problems begin to coalesce into one huge problem. It’s when the Great Depression met all of these—the rise of fascism both in Asia and in Europe, and everything came together, currency wars, everything became part of a huge problem. Which, by the resolution, you see—and this is what happens at every fourth turning. All the little problems come together into a giant problem. And then the giant problem gets completely resolved.”
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Is that not where we find ourselves today – in the current fourth turning?
“. . .I would say these are strong parallels that we see between the decade we’ve been living through and the 1930s,” he says. “Because it isn’t just what happens to/in the economy. I mean, you consider so many ways in which this last decade has recapitulated the 1930s, starting off with a financial crisis, worries about deflation, worries about declining fertility rates, and currency wars, and beggar thy neighbor policies, and radical attempts by monetary and ultimately fiscal policy to remedy the situation.”
Howe has something of a philosophical partner in the great Russian novelist, Leo Tolstoy who examined the role of fate in human affairs in his masterpiece novel, War and Peace. I am among the group that believes we are carried on great waves of history whether we like or not – what Tolstoy referred to as an historic “fatalism” to which we are all subject:
*We are forced to fall back on fatalism as an explanation of irrational events (that is to say, events the reasonableness of which we do not understand). The more we try to explain such events in history reasonably, the more unreasonable and incomprehensible do they become to us. Each man lives for himself, using his freedom to attain his personal aims, and feels with his whole being that he can now do or abstain from doing this or that action; but as soon as he has done it, that action performed at a certain moment in time becomes irrevocable and belongs to history, in which it has not a free but a predestined significance.
There are two sides to the life of every man, his individual life, which is the more free the more abstract its interests, and his elemental hive life in which he inevitably obeys laws laid down for him. Man lives consciously for himself, but is an unconscious instrument in the attainment of the historic, universal, aims of humanity. A deed done is irrevocable, and its result coinciding in time with the actions of millions of other men assumes an historic significance. The higher a man stands on the social ladder, the more people he is connected with and the more power he has over others, the more evident is the predestination and inevitability of his every action. ‘The king’s heart is in the hands of the Lord.’ A king is history’s slave.” – Leo Tolstory, War and Peace
Like Howe, I too believe that the “giant problem” will somehow find resolution, but my concern is getting across the bridge between the “final season of history” and its ultimate resolution – whatever fate might dictate. That is why I own gold personally and why I think every thinking investor should own it as well. The name of the game is to protect wealth and not leave the results of your life work on the table as the fourth turning moves into its final phases.
A diversification of about 10%-30%, in my view, will get the job done as it did in the first phases of the crisis from 2008-2009.* How high you go within that range depends upon on how strongly you feel about the dangers that lie ahead.
–– Michael J. Kosares, USAGOLD
Neil Howe interview (Courtesy of MacroVoices/Audio version)
* During the early stages of the crisis that began in 2008, gold moved sharply to the downside. In January, 2008 the metal was trading in the $900 range. By October, as the first wave of the crisis washed over the financial markets, it had fallen to $730 – a decline of roughly 20%. Then as the full extent of the financial crisis became apparent and the Fed introduced money printing measures, it began to rise reaching $880 by the end of 2008. From 2009 to September 2011, gold rose to its all-time high of $1895 – a 215% gain in three years.