The start of the new year is usually a time when we look to the future what a lies ahead for us and for the world. Here we will review a prophecy that may provide a useful guide, particularly because it has been pretty accurate so far.

The book ‘The fourth turning’ by William Strauss and Neil Howe was first published in December 1996 and it predicted that the next fourth turning would begin at around 2005. The prophecy regarding the fourth turning that we are currently in is described in great detail in chapter 10 of the book.

This isn’t just any old prophecy, this wasn’t just made up and plucked out of thin air. No, this was actually based on looking at centuries of history. It is also based on the concept of time being cyclical in nature and this is in contrast to the ideas that many humans have of time being either chaotic or linear. Society has tried to suppress the idea of cyclical time in order to try and feel more in control, as if society’s destiny could be completely self-directed. Those that believe in linear time also believe in happy endings and that the future can be extrapolated in a straight line from the past. However in the end cyclicality rules. The prophecy is also based on the existence of four generational archetypes that have recurred throughout history and each generational persona unleashes a new era, or turning.

Overall, this prophecy is the product of extensive historical research and has strong merits.

What is the fourth turning?

If we consider each turning to be a season, then the fourth turning would be winter. It is a period of crisis, an era of upheaval during which the old order is replaced by a new one. Just like the seasons, there is no exact date for it and the transition is gradual. As with seasons, it can come a bit early or a bit late. It could be mild or severe. However, one thing is for sure, it can’t be averted. Winter always comes.

Previous fourth turnings include the American revolution, the US civil war, and more recently the great depression and world war II. They varied in duration from 5 to 22 years, with roughly 80 years between each fourth turning.

The fourth turning so far

The prophecy stated that the next fourth turning would start at a roughly 2005, although there is no exact set date for these transitions. The spark for this turning might be a financial crash, a national election, or a rapid succession of small events that would lead to a chain reaction that would lead to debt, civil decay, and global disorder. It is fair to say that all of that has occurred so far to some extent.

The book also predicted that a state would lay claim to federal taxes, terrorist attacks would occur on America, federal budget impasse and government shutdowns would occur, and there would be a spread of a new virus that would lead to mandatory quarantine measures. The prophecy also stated that gold and oil prices would soar, which they did from 2000 to 2008. Considering that the book was written in 1996 the predictions seem surprisingly accurate, particularly given that in 1996 the world was a very different place and linear thinking would not have come up with such predictions.

The remainder of the current fourth turning

The current fourth turning is not yet complete, so what else is to come? According to the book, people will come to the jarring realization that they have grown helplessly dependent on a teetering edifice of anonymous transactions and paper guarantees. Debtors won’t know who hold their notes, homeowners who owns their mortgages, shareholders who run their equities. The book also predicts a great devaluation, either in the form of a short horrific panic or a series of downward ratchets. There will be a loss of trust. People will not be entitled but authorized to receive whatever they got from the government. The US economy will become less globally dependent. Businesses will be cartelized and workers will be more unionized.

There will be economic distress, social distress, cultural distress, technological distress, ecological distress, political distress, and military distress. That’s a lot of distress! However, it sometimes it takes distress to clear out the junk in a system.

The impact of the fourth turning on each generation

How will all of this affect each generation? The book discusses each generation in great detail. For the boomers the crisis will expose the thinness of their private savings. As their savings devalue, elderly boomers will become more dependent on the government just at a time when the government is less able to pay them benefits. Boomers will be at the vortex of the downward economic spiral and the money just won’t be there to support the consumption habits they had become accustomed to.

Generation X can expect their incomes to stagnate, most will lose ground but will do tolerably well and some will actually become destitute. Many a mid-life career will be quashed, and for those that continue in their careers their peak earning years will be burdened with increasing taxes.

Millennials will face large debt burdens, dwindling jobs, and huge tax burdens. This generation will also tend to embrace collectivism.

Conclusion

We are more than halfway through this current fourth turning, and with most fourth turnings things get worse in the second half. However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Remember that winter is always followed by spring and such is the case with turnings. It takes a crisis and something quite drastic to clear out a dysfunctional zombie system, and that paves the way for something a whole lot better. As with the seasons, we can’t stop them from happening but what we can do is prepare and take action. If we have some idea of what’s coming ahead, if we know that winter is on the way or winter is about to get worse, there are things we can do to get through it.