Obama and long-term trends

Posted in energy, health, long waves, politics by thenextwavefutures on 6 November, 2008

In among the reams of Obama coverage one of the more interesting articles – certainly from a futures perspective – was by David Brooks in the New York Times.

In summary,  he argues that election day represents a unique conjunction of the end of three long-run cycles: economic, political, and generational.

Brooks suggests that:

Economically, it marks the end of the Long Boom, which began in 1983. Politically, it probably marks the end of conservative dominance, which began in 1980. Generationally, it marks the end of baby boomer supremacy, which began in 1968. For the past 16 years, baby boomers, who were formed by the tumult of the 1960s, occupied the White House.

He’s not a fan of the era which is closing, suggesting that it was “a time of private achievement and public disappointment” – and observes that despite growing up in an age of student activism in the 60s, the boomers have not been distinguished public leaders.

In contrast, the ‘post-boomers’ of Obama’s generation have spent most of their adult life in a long period of economic growth: Theirs is a generation of consolidation and neo-traditionalism — a generation of sunscreen and bicycle helmets, more anxious about parenthood than anything else.”.

And whether it is ironic or paradoxical, Brooks argues that the political and social problem that now confronts this generation as they come to power is the one they are poorly equipped to deal with: the problem of scarcity. “Raised in prosperity, favored by genetics, these young meritocrats will have to govern in a period when the demands on the nation’s wealth outstrip the supply.”

As Robert Samuelson writes in this week’s Newsweek (an extract from his imminent book The Great Inflation and its Aftermath), we might be at a moment when the past is not a good guide to the future. The combination of higher health costs for an ageing population, and higher energy costs leads to a state of mind he calls “affluent deprivation”

“Affluent deprivation” signifies a state of mind. People feel poorer, because their sluggish income gains get siphoned off into higher taxes, energy costs and health spending. Though these all involve benefits, they don’t pay everyday bills or cover people’s routine pleasures. There’s an approaching collision between private and public wants—government spending for everything from retirement benefits to defense to the repair of roads and bridges.

Politics usually privileges the interests of the present over those of the future, if only because the present is shouting more loudly. The post-boomers will have to find ways of listening better to the demands of the future as well. It may not be an easy habit to learn.

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  1. ElectionWatcher said, on 7 November, 2008 at 6:38 pm

    Interesting post and blog. Relevantly, many prominent experts and publications have pointed out that Obama is part of Generation Jones, born 1954-1965, between the Boomers and GenXers.

    You may find this page interesting: it has, among other things, excerpts from publications like Newsweek and the New York Times, and videos with over 25 top pundits, all talking specifically about Obama’s identity as a GenJoneser:

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