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When Things Change, They’re Actually Different

Posted January 27th, 2012 by Andrew Goodman

Turmoil is all around us, old assumptions no longer valid.

Richard Florida deftly lays out the scenario for the current economic and spatial Great Reset. Bob Garfield outlines the Chaos Scenario in traditional media and advertising (upon which I comment favorably here). Friendly, iron-fist in a velvet glove American liberalism-cum-imperialism is laid to waste in Chris Hedges’ Death of the Liberal Class. Seth Godin refers to a “forever recession,” somehow managing to remain optimistic (“and the coming revolution”) on behalf of the self-starters who can connect with markets by becoming extraordinary.

In light of this you’d think it would have percolated through to even the most frozen-in-amber members of the business-as-usual, Boomer-ec0nomic-boom-beneficiaries, that something is permanently different. As in not the same as before.

Yet a big ad agency demographer writing for Ad Age opines that the “millennials just might save our economic bacon” if they would “just begin acting a bit more like boomers.” Supposedly a statistician, he concludes the piece with “optimists such as myself continue to believe that the all-powerful primal human desire to have a home and produce children will prevail over whatever economic and political obstacles stand in the way”.

Let’s review.

In many societies around the world, the “all-powerful priman human desire” has taken a back seat to a declining fertility rate. Some countries have dropped from a fertility rate of 7 or 8 to just over 2 in a quarter of a century. In Europe and Japan, fertility rates are extremely low and the result (unless immigration increases) is an aging population and a smaller workforce, setting up an undeniable future fiscal burden for pensions and healthcare that can’t be outrun or outgrown. Even “Catholic” countries like Costa Rica have gotten into the action, some with fertility rates below 2. Check out the data on Iran, while you’re at it.

It seems nearly everywhere you go, people are having fewer babies. The blame lies where? Economics (affordability of families), more time spent in advanced study, cultural changes (less religion), women’s equality, women’s interest in careers, modernization, and a few other things.

Flip ahead to marriage and home life. Average age of marriage in many societies climbs inexorably towards (and eventually past?) 35. A skyrocketing percentage of adults over 30 (and yes, over 40 and over 50) live as “singletons”. Changing habits, changing tastes. This is permanent.

You can go broke waiting around for yesterday’s demographic trends and yesterday’s assumptions of secular, continuous growth in “this sector or that sector” or “the economy”. You’ll also be mistaken if you think “millennials” will soon become receptive to the same old media messages, broadcast in the same old ways. “Primal urges” don’t appear to trump the need to get more granular with your analysis in this, the most granular of ages ever seen.

One Response to “When Things Change, They’re Actually Different”

  1. aaron wall says:

    There was recently an article in the WSJ about how marriage rates were higher among the more well-to-do & how they have fallen drastically among the middle class. Also those in the lower & middle class have a much higher rate of single parent homes & so on. To some degree it is almost a vicious cycle that repeats itself…financial stress leads to broken homes, which sets about abnormal norms for children, they run into the same problems, so do their kids, etc.

    People the world over are being squeezed by inflation & a lot of the “go $100,000 in the hole” education investments are going to end up in tears because wages are not keeping up with inflation. If anything in the information age I think it helps to keep living costs low, build relationships & have eclectic tastes (so that you can tie together things from numerous disciplines).

    Many current economic models are to some degree garbage because they don’t account for companies that are stronger than countries, politics associated with energy, countries with 2 books of law, and so on. And the idea of an economic system that requires geometric growth & ever-increasing leverage or else it collapses is likely a bad idea in a finite world, especially as so many technological innovations are deflationary.

    How many millions of Dollars would a $1,000 computer of today cost a few decades back?


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