Summer is over and autumn is here. You’re not surprised to see Halloween candy on the shelves of your local WalMart. Fall is just part of the cycle of nature, predictable in general — although we still may suffer with some high-temp days and nights. Summer is over.
If we’re not surprised by the cycles of nature, why should we be surprised by other cycles — some even longer than a season, perhaps as long as decades? In fact, there are economic cycles that have been documented to last for generations, so they are less likely to confront us with the need to prepare for change.
In this week’s column, I invite you to look beyond your personal finances, beyond the six-month rate of your Treasury bills, and beyond the tech stocks driving the market. Instead, it might be time to give some thought to the larger economic and demographic forces at work in our society.
That’s not to say you can do much to protect yourself from these broad cyclical peaks and valleys. But awareness will make you less likely to feel at the mercy of the powerful forces at work here and thus relieve some personal anxiety.
Long economic cycles
If you haven’t already stopped reading, you might want to look into all the fascinating studies of long-term economic cycles. The 87-year Kondratiev Wave is one of the prominent cycles, based on a presumption that every 50 years or so a new technology drives innovation and economic growth, which is eventually succeeded by a period of decline and debt — until another new technological era dawns. Just Google “Kondratiev” to get a far better description of the forces at work.
If indeed cycles do “rule” our long term economic evolution, it makes sense that they also apply to our socio-political condition. Do you have a queasy feeling at the rise of authoritarian rulers around the world? Draw a line between Putin and Kim Jong Un and Netanyahu and some of the forces at work in America this election cycle. It’s not coincidence.
A new book, “The Fourth Turning is Here” by Neil Howe (Simon & Schuster), delves more deeply into our current cycle and the changes he expects in the coming 10 years. To read an insightful summary of Howe’s work, go to MauldinEconomics.com. Sign up for John Mauldin’s free newsletter, “Thoughts from the Frontline.”
Or you can just ignore that big picture and go on with your life, which most people will do. But once awakened to these historic movements, you might look at current economic and political events with a slightly different view.
Baby boomer exit
On both political sides of the aisle, we see the end of a very powerful cycle occurring. The reign of the baby boomers is over. They — we — are too old to run things! It doesn’t matter whether Democrat or Republican. Age is no longer equated with political wisdom. Instead, we have a public demonstration of infirmity. This will be the last election in which boomers lead the country.
Labor vs. capital
For the first time since President Reagan confronted the air traffic controllers four decades ago, we are seeing an upswing in union activity. From actors and writers to UPS parcel drivers, from baristas to football running backs, and perhaps once again to steel and auto workers, labor is agitating for a bigger share of the profits. It’s part of a larger and longer-term cycle familiar to students of history.
The debt cycle
The millennials and GenXers are being left with a pile of debt. Soon, interest on the national debt will dwarf expenditures on Social Security and Medicare. Already, pundits are predicting a collapse of the currency and other dire forecasts. It will be fascinating to see how it’s resolved. But in the meantime, don’t fall for their pitches and convert your savings into crypto or cash or gold bullion that they volunteer to store safely for you.
Instead, do your best to get out of debt, which will become ever more burdensome with higher rates. Those with liquidity always manage to find bargains among the wreckage of previous declines. Because the economy will rebound. It always has, through our entire history.
Spanish philosopher George Santayana is credited with the aphorism, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Perhaps we have too few students of history. Or perhaps, it’s part of the human condition that new generations must learn the same lessons the hard way.
And that’s The Savage Truth.