Tuesday, 19 April 2011

The Fourth Turning of the Philippines

Business Mirror

We are surrounded by cycles: the weather seasons, business booms and busts, and our own aging. The Christian calendar for most of us begins with the Nativity story in December and ends a few months later with the Easter and Resurrection story. It illustrates the cycle of life.

Historians William Strauss and Neil Howe have written several interesting books about their concept of generational cycles including, in 1997, The Fourth Turning. Boiled down, it is a theory of approximately 80-year economic and social cycles (roughly an average life span) influenced by the growth and maturity of four approximately 20-year age-group cycles.

The Four Turnings are the High, when institutions are strong and society is confident about where it wants to go collectively; the Awakening, when institutions are attacked people are weary of social discipline; the Unraveling, institutions are weak and distrusted, while individualism is strong and flourishing; and the Crisis, as an era when institutional life is destroyed and rebuilt in response to a perceived threat to the nation’s survival.

Within the Four Turnings are the people of different age groups that live through these periods. From Fourth Turning.com: “The young, the prophets, are born in a High, enter young adulthood in an Awakening, midlife in an Unraveling and elderhood in a Crisis. The Nomad archetype is born in an Awakening, enters young adulthood in an Unraveling, midlife in a Crisis, and elderhood in a High. The hero archetype is born in an Unraveling, enters young adulthood in a Crisis, midlife in a High, and elderhood in an Awakening. The artist archetype is born in a Crisis, enters young adulthood in a High, midlife in an Awakening, and elderhood in an Unraveling.”

For those of us who are the baby-boomers, we were born during the First Turning; the High. Not all countries experience the different types of turning cycles at the same time. However, the US and the Philippines somewhat correlate as the end of World War II marked an American optimism that corresponded to the hopefulness of the Philippines’ final independence.

And we who are able to stand in the senior-citizen checkout line at Shopwise, born during the High, have lived through an Awakening and an Unraveling. Perhaps, now we are entering a period of Crisis.

If the Philippines were to follow the Four Turnings, then this is what the timeline might look like: The High 1946-66, the Awakening 1966-86, the Unraveling 1986-2006, and now the Crisis, the Fourth Turning.

In a sense, there may be some slight truth to this. The 1996-86 period saw the founding of the Communist Party of the Philippines, martial law, an almost cult-like worship of President Marcos from some quarters, ending in the student revolts and, of course, Edsa 1. This was the Awakening of, as the authors write, “Youth-fired attacks break out against the established institutional order. As these attacks take their toll, society has difficulty coalescing around common goals. People stop believing that social progress requires social discipline.”

The Third Turning, the Unraveling, is not quite what you might think. There is a feeling that the individual now has the power that once people thought rested with the government. While the Awakening resulted in a push back against government institutions, now the people look to those same institutions and find them weak and ineffectual. “Public trust ebbs amid a fragmenting culture, harsh debates over values, and weakening civic habits.” While we complain bitterly about corruption, we also hear the same people saying that they will not pay the proper amount of taxes because the government wastes the money. On the one hand, the people talk about civic morality and duty and, on the other, ignore the rule of law in their own behavior. Further, there is a constant pessimism about the future.

If the Philippines is in the Fourth Turning, the Crisis, here is what it should be. “Crisis arises in response to sudden threats that previously would have been ignored or deferred, but which are now perceived as dire. Great worldly perils boil off the clutter and complexity of life, leaving behind one simple imperative: The society must prevail. This requires a solid public consensus, aggressive institutions and personal sacrifice.”

From that description, the Philippines has not entered the Crisis period but is still in the Unraveling stage. My own opinion is that the Philippines is a few years from the Fourth Turning.

Consider the issues of corruption and the economy. Coming from the Awakening to the Unraveling, Filipinos went to Edsa in 1986 for economic freedom and against corruption. Edsa Dos saw much less enthusiasm, regardless of the outcome. Where were the massive street protests in 2004 because of the “Hello, Garci” controversy? And while President Aquino campaigned on an anticorruption platform, the public seems for the most part only slightly interested in his efforts.

The Fourth Turning, the Crisis, is characterized by “a sense of public urgency that contributes to a clampdown on ‘bad’ conduct or ‘antisocial’ lifestyles. People begin feeling shameful about what they earlier did to absolve guilt.” Maybe, like suddenly making the “personal sacrifice” of paying correct taxes. Further, “Public order tightens and crime and substance abuse decline. Families strengthen, gender distinctions widen, and child-rearing reaches a smothering degree of protection and structure.”

Remember, the Crisis is triggered; it does not just happen. The last American Crisis (before now perhaps) was triggered by the Great Depression.

The trigger for the Crisis brings people together again in a communal effort to create solutions. The government picks up the message either the “easy way” or the “hard way” and eventually leads for the good of the country. People put aside differences and cooperate, working together for a common goal.

From the Crisis comes the High, a period marked by “a desire for investment, growth and strength—which, in turn, produces an era of commercial prosperity, institutional solidarity and political stability.”

The world is a very dangerous place right now both geopolitically and economically. The trigger for the Philippine Crisis period could come at any time in the relatively near future; $250 for crude oil, major war in the Middle East, hyperinflation in the US and a worthless dollar.

E-mail comments to mangun@gmail.com. PSE stock-market information and technical analysis tools provided by CitisecOnline.com Inc.

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