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The New Demographic-Technological Model

The 4 Cycles Time Frame
1). The Textile -- Cotton Cycle 1790 - 1842
2). The Railroad - Western Expansion Cycle 1843 - 1896
3). The Cycle of Mass Urbanization -- Mass Production 1897 - 1942
4). The Auto/Petroleum -- Mass Suburbanization Cycle 1943 - 1999?

One of the most important points regarding the four periods listed above is the fact that they represent more than just a series of random economic cycles. They are in fact a systematic process of economic development. During the first phase of that development, the Textile and Cotton Cycle, the United States entered the Industrial Age when it mastered the mechanical skills required to construct and operate textile factories.

During the second cycle, the Cycle of the Railroads and Western Expansion, the United States applied the mechanical skills acquired in the first cycle and built a great national transportation infrastructure, which united the country and made available to the whole nation America's staggering reserves of natural resources. In the third cycle, the Cycle of Mass Urbanization and Mass Production, the United States drew upon those seemingly inexhaustible natural resources to create the worlds' greatest industrial economy and also launched an era of unprecedented urban expansion.

Finally, in the fourth cycle, the Auto-Petroleum and Mass Suburbanization Cycle, America constructed a second great national transportation infrastructure. Thus time, however, it was built not with steel rails but with concrete. The construction of the national highway system laid the foundation for a new era, which was based upon the twin technologies of the automotive and petroleum industries. During this period the nation undertook the construction of vast tracts of suburban housing and the creation of a system of mass distribution that brought a unimaginable material wealth to most of its citizens.

Another critical point to understand is that each technological cycle has, as does every piece of equipment ever made and every factory every constructed, a natural useful life cycle of its own. As a consequence of this reality, each of the cycles listed has had three distinct phases associated with its own useful lifecycle.
These phases are:

1). An expansionary phase, lasting around two decades;
2). A shorter plateau phase from four to nine years;
3). A declining phase of approximately twenty years;

These phases represent the constituent parts of the natural life cycle of any industrial complex.

The Demographic Connection

In their book Generations: The History of America's Future, Neil Howe and William Strauss list twelve generations who have lived out their lives since the formation of the United States as a nation. In chronological order the twelve are the Republicans of Thomas Jefferson's generation; the Compromisers of Daniel Webster, Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun's generation; the Transcendentals, whose most famous member was Abraham Lincoln.

Next came the Gilded generation, named by Mark Twain and including J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller. That generation was followed by the Progressives of Theodore Roosevelt's generation. The Missionaries succeeded the Progressives in turn, whose most important member was T.R.'s cousin Franklin D. Roosevelt. The next generation in Strauss and Howe's progression was the Lost generation of the 1920s, who later matured into the generation of Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower. The Losts were followed by the Gl generation of John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George Bush. The Gls were followed by the least conspicuous generation in American history, the Silents, the only generation in the nation's history to have never seen one of its members elected to the Presidency. The twelfth generation in this progression is the Boomers, the massive generation born in the wake of the Second World War.

The relationship between the generational paradigm propounded by Straus and Howe and the model of industrial development outlined above is extraordinary and very dramatic. This is because each of the phases of all four technological cycles corresponds perfectly with the generational progression enumerated by the authors in their book Generations. It does so as follows.

Cycle Time frame Generation Mature Adult/
Young Adult
1. Textile--Cotton Cycle 1790 - 1842

    Expansionary phase

1790 - 1818 Republicans/Compromisers

    Plateau/Declining phase

1819 - 1842 Compromisers/Transcendental
2. Railroad--Western Expansion 1843 - 1896

    Expansionary phase

1843 - 1872 Transcendental/Gilded

    Plateau/Declining phase

1873 - 1896 Gilded/Progressive
3. Mass Urbanization & Production 1897 - 1942

    Expansionary Phase

1897 - 1919 Progressive/Missionary

    Plateau/Declining Phase

1920 - 1942 Missionary/Lost
4. Auto-Petro/Mass Suburbanization 1943 - 1999?

    Expansionary Phase

1943 - 1968 Lost/G.I.

    Plateau/Declining Phase

1969 - 1999? GI & Silent/Boomer

The Hidden Structure

Listed above are the lifecycles of the four distinct technological cycles or eras of the Industrial Age, as well as the generational progression that Straus and Howe have independently discovered. The combination of these two paradigms can be seen as revealing the hidden structure of American history. The ultimate reality of that hidden structure is that it is formed by the relationship between each and every individual generation and the unique place they occupy in the lifecycle of each succeeding and new technological cycle.

What makes the above of interest to more than just students of history is the fact that both our country and the world now find themselves at an extremely critical juncture, the end of the Industrial Age and the beginning of a Post Industrial age. And what makes this new model manifestly so important is the indispensable aid it can provide us as we struggle to enter the first stage of this new and uncharted era.

The Future
The Industrial Age is ending for a simple reason - its great historical purpose has been fulfilled. The historic mission of the age that is ending was to develop capital as an economic factor of production, thereby creating a vast store of capital wealth for a world starved for that wealth. The achievement of this mission stands as one of the great transforming accomplishments in human history. For the truth is that the systematic development of capital, produced over the course of the four cycles outlined above, has caused not simply a quantitative increase in the world's wealth, but the increase has in fact been so prodigious that there is now a qualitative economic change that fundamentally separates the Industrial and Post Industrial Ages.

The overwhelming drive to develop and increase capital during the Industrial Age meant, with absolute certainty, that the technologies of the age would inevitably sacrifice overall efficiency in a quest for scale. This represents a fundamental point, but a point that is obscured by the fact that during the Industrial Age efficiency has, in a misleading manner, been defined as anything that increases scale, rather than anything that maximizes resource utilization. The ultimate result of this process in the real world has meant that over time the technologies of the Industrial Age have become increasingly resource intensive, with the technologies of the last period of industrialism, the Auto/Petroleum-Mass Suburbanization Cycle, being particularly so.

The intense use of natural resources during the Industrial Age is now leading, inexorably, to a new economic imperative. Global Warming, or more accurately climatic instability, is the ultimate consequence of the overly intensive utilization of resources produced by the final cycle of the Industrial Age. The great challenge and overriding mission of the Post Industrial Age will be to respond to the challenge represented by Global Warming by developing an economic structure that is much less resource intensive then the economies of the Industrial Age, but one that still allows for an expanding material standard of living.

The Fourth Structure
As crucial as an understanding of the technological cycles of the Industrial Age is to understanding the future, there is another aspect of industrialization that must also be addressed in order to have a complete picture of what the human race now faces. That other factor is the structure of industrialization itself. If we look closely at the four cycles listed above, it is possible to break them down into two types. The first cycle, the Textile--Cotton Cycle and the third, the Cycle of Mass Urbanization and Mass Production involved the development of what can be termed industrial production superstructures. The second cycle, the Railroad--Western Expansion, and the fourth, the Auto/Petroleum--Mass Suburbanization Cycle, centered on the creation of industrial transportation infrastructures.

In fact, what actually took place was the creation in the first cycle, in the early 19th century, of the first factory superstructure, followed in the second half of that century with the creation of the first industrial transportation infrastructure. Then in the twentieth century, in the third cycle, a great production scale-up took place during the Age of Mass Urbanization and Mass Production. This was followed in the second half of the 20th century, as it was in the 19th, by an era dominated by the creation of another great industrial transportation infrastructure. Indeed, the entire industrialization process in the United States can be viewed as being composed of four cycles alternatively emphasizing production and distribution.

The Tangible Structures
The transportation infrastructures and production superstructures described above represent the two tangible structures of industrialization. There are, however, two other equally important structural components associated with the process of industrialization, of industrial capitalism. The critical difference between the first two structures, just described, and the third and fourth structures, however, are that the second two are intangible.

The Intangible Structures
The third structure then is the financial structure, the structure whose total collapse at the onset of the declining phase of the age of Mass Urbanization and Mass Production in 1929 threw the world into the Great Depression of the 1930s. The fourth structure, also intangible, is the organizational structure. The transformation of this fourth structure from an Industrial into a Post Industrial model represents the great issue that will now determine humanity's future.

Summary: The New Demographic--Technological Model
The organizations that dominate and define our lives, that are responsible for solving most important national problems and organizing the way in which we work are all products of the Industrial Age, an age that is now ending. The transformation of these industrial age organizations and the creation of a new resource efficient economy are the great challenges that history has placed before the Boomer and Xer generations, in the same way that dealing with the Great Depression and the Second World War were the challenges that defined the lives of the Lost and Gl generations at the end of the third cycle of industrialization.

Going back in time even further, the transformation of our industrial age organizations and the creation of a new resource efficient economy confront the Boomer and Xer generations in the same way that the Civil War crisis and the building of the transcontinental railway system tested the Transcendental and Gilded generations of the 19th century. For as was stated before, the ultimate reality of the hidden structure that defines American history is that it is formed by the relationship between each and every individual generation and their unique place in the lifecycle of each succeeding new technological epoch.

--- by Kirt Sechooler, February, 1998

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