We Are on the Verge of a New Decade!
Milestones are a time for reflection and in a few short weeks there will be a biggie – the passing of one decade and the dawn of another.
Can you believe it? There are so many thoughts to meditate on… how am I different today than 10 years ago? What will I remember of the ‘Teens? What might the next 10 years have in store? What do I want to accomplish in the next decade?
Over the next few weeks and months I hope to find some quiet time for this vision-quest. However, as a history buff, I’m also interested in what the past can teach us about what the next 10 year may bring.
A Century Ago…
Turning back the clock one hundred years places us in 1919. As the revelers gathered in Times Square, there was excitement and anticipation but probably uncertainty and trepidation as well. The decade of 1910-1919 was particularly harsh and optimism was in short supply.
In 1919, the world was emerging from a decade of war and upheaval. There was the first great global war, socialist upheaval and a devastating influenza pandemic.
Having seen the devastation in Europe and Russia, the U.S. pivoted towards isolationism. That year, the US Senate rejected membership in Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations. Then two years later, like an echo to our time, Congress passed the Emergency Quota Act, which established national immigration limits for the first time.
Economically, the new decade could not have gotten off to a worse start. The US entered a painful depression in January 1920 and did not emerge until July 1921. The economy shrank by 7% and saw the worst deflation in the 140 years for which we have data.
And yet, the confluence of war fatigue, cultural blossoming and technological and financial innovation led to a decade no one saw coming. This decade quickly became known as the Roaring 20’s: a decade of Jazz, social liberalism, the dawn of ‘celebrity’ and vast wealth creation.
For the first time, more Americans lived in cities than on farms. The nation’s total wealth more than doubled between 1920 and 1929, and this economic growth swept many Americans into an affluent but unfamiliar ‘consumer society.’
Back to the Future
Yes, the 1920’s were quite a time for wealth and if you don’t believe that history rhymes, consider that next year, we will see three billionaires vying for the Presidency of the United States.
Today we are again seeing a backlash against outsiders, not only in the US but also in the UK, Hungry, Russia, Turkey and many other places where populism has taken root. Like in the 1920’s, the US is distancing itself from leadership on the world stage.
Like in 1919, it’s easy to find reasons to worry about the future. Many of us are anxious about the direction of the country, wary about the timing and impact of the next recession, losing jobs to technology, climate change, etc.
What if however, like the go-go 1920’s, the next decade holds something better in store for us? Here are a few possible trends that could make this next decade equally roaring.
– Today, it feels like there is nowhere to hide from the constant noise of politics. Beyond actual politics, it seems like everything from fast-food (Chick-Fil-A) to sports (the NFL) is being re-interpreted through a political lens. Statistics show that Americans are sorting themselves along political lines more than ever before.
In many ways the free-wheeling 1920’s were a response to the depressing 1910’s. After years of war, and despite the reactionary early years, people were ready to let loose. Could the 2020’s see us put the divisiveness of the last few election cycles behind us?
Demographics may point the way. As of 2019 Millennials (born 1981 to 1996) surpassed Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) as the largest U.S. adult generation, and they differ significantly from their elders in many ways.
For instance 43% of Millennials are nonwhite. Millennials are also much more likely than their elders to hold liberal views on many political and social issues, though they are also less likely to identify with either political party: 50% call themselves politically independent. As Boomers age out of leadership positions in government and the courts, the views of Millennials, Gen X and Gen Z may come to the fore.
Millennials entering mid-life
– Similar to Millennials’ political muscle, their economic impact will begin to be felt around the middle part of this next decade.
The Census Bureau’s data show that the peak age for household incomes is 45-54. The first millennials will turn 45 in 2026. When people make more money they tend to spend more. Currently Millennials lag boomers and Gen X in home ownership but that will eventually change.
Also, higher income leads to higher savings. The incredible stock market surge in the 1990’s has been attributed in part to Boomers reaching their peak earning and saving years. Could Millennials provide a similar boost?
– Ask anyone older than 30, and the Great Recession of 2007-2009 is probably still seared in their memory. With 10% unemployment, a 50% drop in the stock market and millions of foreclosures, it was truly PTSD inducing.
Ten years on and investors are still on edge for the next big one. While recessions are a part of natural economic cycles, we don’t expect the next recession to be as severe as the last one. For one thing, compared to other recessions the last one was truly an outlier in terms of depth and duration. Also, the causes of the last recession such as bank weakness and consumer debt are much less extreme today.
At some point, perhaps in the next 10 years, after we go through another, more benign recession, people and businesses will start to look forward, rather than over their shoulders.
– Generation Z is passionately tackling climate change from a young age and holding those in positions of power accountable and responsible. While we can’t turn back the clock, priorities and behaviors are shifting.
According to the Oxford Handbook of Science Fiction, the 1920’s were the dawn of modern science fiction. With soldiers coming back from the war, the total number of science fiction stories published tripled from 1918 to 1919.
As our great-grandparents imagined the future, would they have expected that life expectancy could be increased by 25 years, that we would walk on the moon, and lift more than half the world out of poverty. At Longwave, we believe in the ability of the younger generation to tackle problems their parents viewed as intractable. We believe that cycles in the economy, politics, invention and openness vary along the way but ultimately bend in the direction of progress.
While the future is inherently unknowable, history suggests it’s ok to approach it with optimism and courage.