Generational Dynamics: Forecasting America's Destiny Generational
 Forecasting America's Destiny ... and the World's


Generational Dynamics forecasting methodology

The methodology and tools used in generational theory to produce forecasts and predictions (3-May-2009)
Summary The Generational Dynamics forecasting methodology requires a great deal of historical analysis of any country's situation, and uses a number of tools in an interdisciplinary approach.

Contents - This page
Long-term and short-term forecasting
Financial and technological forecasting
Geopolitical forecasting - Example
Polya's Urn
Generational eras and archetypes
Determining generational eras and crisis wars
False panics and the 58 Year Hypothesis
The 'War Scenario Test'

There are over 1,500 articles on this web site, many containing Generational Dynamics predictions. In those articles I frequently discussed bits and pieces of the prediction methodology. The purpose of this article is to bring together many of those bits and pieces into one place.

There is no single forecasting method. Rather, the forecasting methodology is a set of tools united by a common theme: Identify a long-term trend, relate current events to the long-term trend, and infer a forecasting result with a high probability of being correct.

(Please download and read the article (PDF file), "International business forecasting using System Dynamics with generational flows."

This white paper brings together in one place and updates many other materials this web site, including most of the material on this page.)

There is a generational component to this methodology because people are highly resistant to believing the relevance of any events that occurred before they were born, or even before their 25th birthday. Thus, if someone is discussing the current financial situation, you can usually guess what generation he's in by how far back his historical analysis goes. Thus, if a financial analyst mentions the recession of 1961 or 1974, then he's probably a Boomer; if he only mentions the recession of 1980-82 or 1990-91, then he's probably a Generation-Xer; and if he only refers to the recession of 2001, then he's probably a young Millennial.

It's this refusal to believe the relevance of pre-birth events that means that people don't learn anything from history. For example, from the point of view of Generational Dynamics, such events as the Tulipomania crash of 1637 and the South Sea Bubble crash of 1720 are extremely relevant to today, but until recently almost no one even believed that the 1929 Wall Street crash was relevant to today.

However, the relevance of these events to today is not in the technology that was used or the details of the transactions; those things obviously change. The irrelevance is "the insanity of crowds," how entire populations panic and do stupid things that lead to financial catastrophes or genocidal wars.

"Insanity in individuals is something rare - but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule." -- Friedrich Nietzsche

One way to think of Generational Dynamics forecasting is that it predicts the most likely causes, kinds and times of generational panic, although there's a lot more to it than that.

Long-term and short-term forecasting

There are many kinds of "trends" that can be examined by Generational Dynamics forecasting. In all cases, the trend data has to be available for at least 100 years, and preferably much longer.

Contents - This page
Long-term and short-term forecasting
Financial and technological forecasting
Geopolitical forecasting - Example
Polya's Urn
Generational eras and archetypes
Determining generational eras and crisis wars
False panics and the 58 Year Hypothesis
The 'War Scenario Test'

In the financial arena, most of the trends are numeric trends, and in many ways they're the easiest to analyze.

For geopolitical events, such as wars, the trend analysis is more informal, using a variety of tools. We'll discuss these tools in this article.

In all cases, extrapolating the trend forward from the present time into the future usually produces a prediction or forecast that's 100% certain (a war, a stock market crash), but provides no clue as to what the scenario will be. Furthermore, the timing is usually within a window that's years and sometimes decades long.

We refer to this as "long-term forecasting," because it provides a certain forecast, but with a very long time window.

Once a long-term forecast is established, we match up day-to-day news events to the long-term forecast to narrow the window and establish a scenario. This leads to probabilistic "short-term forecasts." These forecasts have a much shorter time window, usually months or a couple of years, and have an 80-90% probability of correctness.

I first began developing this methodology in 2003, and I've accomplished things that, ten years ago, I would have insisted were mathematically impossible. I've been working on this obsessively now for six years, and it's a large complex subject. If I were to teach a college course on it, it would take a couple of semesters to go through all the basics, and then there would be all kinds of possibilities for further research at the undergraduate or graduate level. It's also an interdisciplinary subject, involving history, mathematics, economics, macroeconomics, system dynamics, chaos theory, complexity theory, and even the theory of evolution. I just wish that the news weren't so bad.

(See "List of major Generational Dynamics predictions" for more examples of Generational Dynamics predictions.)

Financial and technological forecasting

Financial and technological trends are usually numeric, usually exhibiting linearity or exponential growth.

I discussed exponential technology growth trends in my first book in Chapter 11 -- Trend Forecasting.

I discussed financial trends at length in "How to compute the 'real value' of the stock market."

Here I'll just give one example from that August, 2007, article.

The following graph shows the S&P 500 Price/Earnings index for 1871-2007. For each company, it takes the stock price and divides by the company's earnings for the previous year per share of stock. The term "P/E1" means "price divided by previous year's earnings."

S&P 500 Price/Earnings Ratio (P/E1) 1871-2007
S&P 500 Price/Earnings Ratio (P/E1) 1871-2007

The blue line is the trend line -- in this case, it's the average of the P/E values from 1871-1995, or around 14. From 1995 to 2007, it's averaged around 25, indicating a huge bubble. Since 2007, it's increased even further, and is currently around 60. (See "Wall Street Journal and Birinyi Associates are lying about P/E ratios.")

By the Law of Mean Reversion, the price/earnings ratio will fall well below 10 for a dozen years or so. You can see that it's poised to fall quickly in the near future, leading to a stock market crash.

The Law of Mean Reversion is based on an assumption: That when a data series establishes a long-term average value, then it will maintain that average in the future.

In this case, the assumption is that if the P/E ratio average was 14 for over a century, then it will continue to be 14 in the future.

For someone who claims that this assumption is wrong, the burden of proof is on him to explain why. Just saying "We have better technology," or "We're so much smarter than before," or "It's different this time" is not sufficient.

Even if an argument can be made that the average should be higher -- say 15 or even 16 -- and this would be a highly dubious argument -- the Law of Mean Reversion would still apply, since the average was 25 since 1995.

Furthermore, if you look at the above graph, you can see that P/E ratios have fallen to the 5-6 level several times in the last century, most recently in 1982. In fact, if you look at that above graph, you'll see that the bottoms, labeled with 5.31, 5.82 and 6.79 on the graph, occurred at roughly 31-year intervals. The next bottom would thus be in 2012, meaning that it would have to start falling about now.

From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, the conclusions drawn from the Law of Mean Reversion in this case are almost mathematically certain. These are the kinds of forecasts and predictions that I've been posting on my web site since 2003, and the results have been overwhelmingly successful.

When I describe these predictions in an article on my web site, a problem arises in specifying time frames. It's always been a problem to decide on effective wording. I experimented with different types of wording, and usually settle on something like, "The exact time can't be predicted. It might happen next week, next month, next year or thereafter, but it will happen sooner rather than later."

Geopolitical forecasting - Example

For geopolitical trends, including many of the trends that are at the heart of generational forecasting, there are no easy numeric measurements, and you have to use informal methods based on an extensive historical analysis. This is much more complex than financial forecasting.

Contents - This page
Long-term and short-term forecasting
Financial and technological forecasting
Geopolitical forecasting - Example
Polya's Urn
Generational eras and archetypes
Determining generational eras and crisis wars
False panics and the 58 Year Hypothesis
The 'War Scenario Test'

As an example, let's apply Generational Dynamics forecasting principles to the US and Japan, starting from the end of WW II in 1945.

If we had understood generational theory in 1945, then we could have predicted that the US and Japan would have to go through some sort of new crisis some time during the period 1995 to 2025. We could not have predicted whether the US would be enemies in a new war, or allies in a new war, or whether they would even be at war with each other.

In fact, at the end of the 1940s, the expectation was a war with Communism -- Russia and China. This concern led to non-crisis wars in Korea and Vietnam. As the decades passed, it became increasingly clear that the US and Japan were allies, and that the possibility of a new war against each other was increasingly unlikely. On the other hand, during the 60s, 70s and 80s, the possibility of war with the Soviet Union or China loomed large.

Skip ahead to the 2000s and the post-9/11 world.

I doubt that anyone over the age of 40 would doubt that the mood today is far more tense and anxious than it was in the 1980s and 1990s. Although many people attribute the change to politicians, generational theory shows that it always happens when the survivors of the previous crisis war disappear (retire or die), all at once, taking with them the wisdom that they learned in surviving that war.

The younger generations have no personal memory of World War II, and its horrors, and when something goes wrong, they often overreact.

It's easy to imagine a situation where the 9/11 attacks might have led to a world war. Since al-Qaeda was being protected by the Taliban in Afghanistan, we went to war with Afghanistan. But suppose al-Qaeda had been protected by a group of radical Islamist Uighurs in northwest China? Then things might be very different today.

Today we know a lot more about the coming crisis that we did in 1945. We know that we won't be fighting Japan. Or Russia. It looks like we'll be fighting China. And a lot of radical Muslims. And the time frame is sure to be much sooner than 2025.

There's a great deal that we can predict about the next few years, as I have done in the hundreds of articles on my web site. A lot of analysis, especially historical analysis, is required to make these predictions, and this article describes some of it.

Polya's Urn

Pólya's Urn is not so much a tool as a conceptual model for understanding how to choose among possible alternative forecasts.

In the example of the last section, generational theory experts in 1945 could have predicted a distant crisis with few details. As time goes on, it's possible to use news events to narrow the choices and provide the details.

Pólya's Urn
Pólya's Urn

Pólya's Urn is a mathematical model that's sometimes used in social sciences to explain (or model) why groups sometimes act in certain ways, and sometimes others.

Pólya's Urn starts out with one red ball and one green ball.

(In more complex situations, there may be more than one ball of each color, or they may be more than two colors.)

A "move" consists of removing one ball at random, and then replacing it with two balls of the same color. When the Urn contains 1000 balls, the game stops.

Example: Suppose the urn starts out with one ball of each color. Suppose the first move selects a green ball and replaces it with two green balls. At that point, the urn contains two green balls and one red ball. On the next move, there is a 67% chance that the ball selected will be green, and each time a green ball is selected, the probability of a green ball on the next turn is even higher.

Thus, if a green ball is chosen on the first move, then there may quickly be so many green balls that a red ball is rarely selected. Thus, the color of the ball selected on the FIRST move may well determine the final outcome when the ball contains 1000 balls.

The analogy is that the "destiny" of two countries after a crisis war may be determined by the first few acts that each side performs.

For example, after the Japanese surrender in 1945, we proceeded to provide aid and help to the Japanese, much to their surprise. This was a lot of "green balls," right at the beginning.

Suppose, instead, that a few renegade American soldiers had conducted hate crimes and acts of terrorism in Japan. Or suppose that a renegade Japanese soldier had shot and killed General Douglas MacArthur. Those would have been "red balls," and they may have multiplied, and we might be close to another war with Japan right now.

So Pólya's Urn doesn't help you predict what's going to happen in sixty years, but it does provide a model that helps you understand it, and what you can do about it.

For example, in the case of the renegade soldiers just given, you have to find a way to toss a whole bunch of green balls into the urn to offset the red balls that the renegade soldiers provided. That might mean extra aid or money or whatever.

Here's another example: Some Chinese claim that North America would be Chinese if a Chinese sailors had "discovered" America, rather than a Europeans.

That may or may not be true. If a Chinese sailors had landed in America first (one red ball), China would have had to follow up with aggressive program of exploitation (more red balls), in the same way that Portugal and other European countries exploited North America (green balls). Without that, there would still have been a preponderance of "green balls," and North America would still have been mostly ethnically European.

Another example: Ever since Yasser Arafat died, there was a brief period when the "peace process" seemed to be working, especially when Mahmoud Abbas was elected Palestinian President. Since that time, things have gotten worse almost every day.

On this web site I explained this in terms of chaotic "attractors" (from Chaos Theory). Day to day political events are chaotic events that fall like snowflakes in random ways. But just as millions of snowflakes get "attracted" to large snow drifts, millions of individual political events get attracted to the impending Mideast war. War is a "chaotic attractor" at this time, 60 years after the end of the 1940s genocidal war between Arabs and Jews.

The theoretical concept of "attractor" comes true on a day to day basis. It's been happening every since Yasser Arafat died, and has evidently accelerated ever since Ariel Sharon became incapacitated.

Look at the day to day political events as they've occurred since Arafat died. Pick almost any day and look at the headlines for that day, and you'll see that it most likely moves the Mideast in the direction of war. There are a few exceptions of course, like the period when Mahmoud Abbas was elected and took office, and hopes were raised at that time.

But those brief intervals are like a heat wave in New York City in November -- just because the weather gets warm for a few days doesn't mean that winter isn't coming. Once the heat wave is over, the weather starts getting much colder again. Similarly, there are brief periods when things seem to get better, but they pass quickly, and then political events move back towards war.

That's what "attractor" means in Chaos Theory. It doesn't mean that every political event brings the Mideast closer to war; it means that political events float around in all directions, at random, but most of them, not necessarily all of them, are attracted to Mideast war.

So now, another way of looking at this whole phenomenon is with Pólya's Urn. After many years, the Urn is filled with "red balls" (political events that move the Mideast toward war), with few "green balls" (political events that move the Mideast away from war, such as the 1994 Oslo treaty, or the 2003 Mideast Roadmap to Peace). Today there are so many red balls in the Urn that almost everything turns out badly, and the region moves closely to war.

Making a probabilistic prediction using a "Pólya's Urn" technique requires an analysis of news events over a period of years, and mentally estimating the number of red balls and green balls. It's very rare to find a situation where it isn't completely obvious whether red or green balls predominate. This technique has worked very well.

We'll close this section with one more example: Iran. As I've described many times on this web site, Iran is almost a schizophrenic nation. It's in a generational Awakening era, with a population that's mostly pro-American and a leadership that's virulently anti-American. In this case, the Pólya's Urn analysis doesn't give you a clear result, because there are too many balls of both colors. (For more information, see "China 'betrays' Iran, as internal problems in both countries mount.")

Generational eras and archetypes

For a simpler introduction to the concepts of generational theory, see "Basics of Generational Dynamics."

Here, we wish to focus on how generational flow creates a feedback loop, generating historical cycles. The historical feedback loop is illustrated by the following "diagonal flow" diagram:

The Generational Dynamics Diagonal Flow Diagram
The Generational Dynamics Diagonal Flow Diagram

The feedback loop is initially launched by a special kind of war called a "crisis war." These are the worst, most genocidal kinds of wars, when the value of an individual human life becomes so close to zero that almost any means is used to win the war. America has had two such wars since the nation's founding: The Civil War, in which Northern General Sherman marched through the South, and conducted the world's first "scorched earth" war campaign, burning buildings and crops to the ground; and World War II, in which we firebombed Dresden and Tokyo, killing millions of civilians, and dropped nuclear weapons on two other Japanese cities. (I'm not blaming America for this, only stating that it occurred.)

Contents - This page
Long-term and short-term forecasting
Financial and technological forecasting
Geopolitical forecasting - Example
Polya's Urn
Generational eras and archetypes
Determining generational eras and crisis wars
False panics and the 58 Year Hypothesis
The 'War Scenario Test'

The Crisis Era launches three following "eras," each approximately 20 years long -- Recovery, Awakening and Unraveling. There are four generations of people, designated as Heroes, Artists, Prophets and Nomads, according to the generation in which they're born. Strauss and Howe showed, through study of contemporary diaries and histories of six centuries of Anglo-American history, that people of different generational archetypes are quite dissimilar, but that people in the same archetype, even when they lived centuries apart, are remarkably similar in attitudes towards everything from gender issues to political activism to war.

Briefly, the feedback loop works as follows: the survivors of the crisis war (Civil War, WW II) are so traumatized that they spend the rest of their lives making sure that nothing like that ever happens again. During the Recovery Period that follows the crisis war, they implement austere rules to guarantee that result. This period is an "Austerity era" to the survivors of the war, but it's a "High era" to those born after the war, the Prophet generation (our Baby Boomer generation), who have no personal memory of the war, and who rebel against the austere rules. This results in a political conflict and a "generation gap" in the Awakening Era (our 1960s-70s), leading to an Unraveling Era (our 1980s-90s), during which all the austere rules completely unravel. After that, the Prophet generation leads the society into a new crisis war.

It's not specific events or specific times that determine the generational era. What Strauss and Howe showed was that, no matter what the century, each Anglo-American since the 1400s was characterized by a specific public mood:

Generational Dynamics has shown that these same characterizations apply to all countries at all times in history.

Determining generational eras and crisis wars

Determining whether a war is a crisis war or non-crisis war, and determining whether a country is in a Recovery, Awakening, Unraveling or Crisis era is the heart of generational theory. People frequently ask me for some kind of numerical scoring method for making these determinations, but that's not possible. In particular, the number of war deaths does not determine whether a war is a crisis war, although it serves as one of many indicators.

I've now evaluated hundreds of wars over the seven years I've been working on this project. Some wars are easy to evaluate -- for example, the 1994 Rwanda genocide is a pretty easy call as a genocidal crisis war.

But most evaluations require a study of the country's history, to get a feel for how they got where they are. Actually, it's a lot more than that because you usually have to figure out the histories of the various ethnic and religious groups.

When I first started out in 2002, the first war I had a lot of trouble with was the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-09). I think I must have spent 150-200 hours on that war, spending hours at the bookstore reading various histories, etc. Today it would take me a lot less time, since I know what to look for, but in 2002 the evaluations were completely new to me.

And you can't understand a country or society just by evaluating its crisis wars. You really can't understand a Crisis era unless you also understand the Recovery, Awakening and Unraveling eras, and how they create a constellation of generations that bring about the next crisis war. Generational Dynamics is potentially a major field of study, and a simple numeric measure doesn't make sense.

You can't understand the mood of the American people today unless you understand the Revolutionary War, the Civil war, and their effects on attitudes towards freedom.

You can't understand the relationships between England, Scotland and France unless you understand the War of the Spanish Succession and the Napoleonic Wars.

You can't understand Iraq today unless you understand the 1920 Great Iraqi Revolution, and its aftermath. And yet, I doubt that even Boomer analysts, politicians, journalists and policy makers in Washington know anything at all about these wars, and most younger people (Gen-Xers and Millennials) would consider knowing anything about them to be worse than a waste of time.

This is a major contribution that Generational Dynamics can make to public policy. Generational Dynamics provides a structured methodology and framework for analyzing a country's history, and showing how it applies to today's world. This methodology can provide very useful guidance to international corporations and government agencies trying to decide whether to do business in a country, or whether to start a war.

With that introduction, here's a bare bones outline of the guidelines that I use in determining generational eras (or turnings). These guidelines seem to work in all the cases I've seen, though they sometimes yield results that are a year or two different than what others might get.

It's important to remember, when reading these guidelines, that generational eras are determined not by specific events, but by the "mood" of the great masses of people.

It's worthwhile pointing out that there are two distinct methods for determining where a particular country is at a particular time: (1) By number of years since the last crisis war; or (2) By turning-specific events. In practice, it's easiest to use the two methods together, especially for historical periods in countries where little information is available.

In Generational Dynamics, here are some guidelines for estimating turnings and turning boundaries:

Every society and nation experiences a genocidal crisis war every 70-90 years, with a new one starting just around the time that the generations of survivors of the previous one all disappear (retire or die), all at once. This is a basic component of generational theory.

An interesting question is this: How can a government lead the people to peace and prosperity in the 50-70 years between such crisis wars? In other words, if you have to have a miserable 20-year crisis era out of roughly every 80 years, then how, at least, can you make the remaining 60 years as pleasant as possible?

Research indicates that the key to this question is the nature of the crisis war itself. In particular, if a country's crisis war is a civil war, then the government will be extremely oppressive in the decades that follow; but if the country's crisis war is against an external foe, then the chances are that the following governing style will be more open and free.

That rule isn't ironclad, of course. But when exceptions exist, it seems that they're determined within the first few years after the crisis war ends. Thus, America's civil war ended with a relatively generous Reconstruction period, while China's civil war ended with the split with Formosa (Taiwan).

England's civil war is interesting -- Oliver Cromwell held the country together until the monarchy could be restored. Only Scotland was left out in the cold, and that issue was settled during the following crisis war, the War of the Spanish Succession.

So when evaluating a country's generational timeline, look at the 2-3 years that follow the end of a crisis war, and that will set the pattern for how the country is governed for the next six decades or so. Once the pattern is set, it will never change, until the next generational crisis war.

False panics and the 58 Year Hypothesis

Panics and mass insanity are the stuff of history. There's no other way to describe the South's attack on Fort Sumter, or Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. In both cases, the attacker had zero chance of winning the war, but the state of denial was so massive that they went ahead.

Mass insanity also describes the lead-up to the current financial crisis, characterized by ordinary people taking "liar loan" mortgages that they had zero chance of repaying, and investment bankers who repackaged liar loans into structured securities that had zero chance of paying off as promised.

The other side of mass insanity is panic -- the panic that occurs when the mass insanity is understood.

Generational Dynamics distinguishes between two kinds of panics: Real panics are based on real concerns, like the panic of 1929 that occurred after the massive 1920s stock market bubble. False panics are based on anxiety and fear, but are not based on real concerns, such as the "false panic of 1987" in the stock market.

It's worth noting at the outset that whether a panic is "false" or "real" may not be known, except in hindsight. The most prominent example of recent years was the 2003 ground invasion of Iraq, which occurred because of massive nationwide panic over weapons of mass destruction. It turned out to be a "false panic," because no such weapons were found; if they had been found, then it might well have been a "real panic."

Generational Dynamics research shows that false panics almost always occur exactly 58 years after a real catastrophe. Many real panics also occur 58 years after a catastrophe as well. This has led to the "58 year hypothesis," which is now supported by many examples.

Unless you've been studying generational theory for a while, this hypothesis it almost seems fantastical. So instead of simply stating it, I'm going to try to present it in a way that (I hope) will be credible to most readers. This is in the form of a thought experiment, a mental challenge.

First, suppose that you're a child, between 5 and 10 years old. You're living a happy life, playing with your trucks and dolls and your playmates, learning to read, write and compute percentages.

You have a happy, idyllic life, with nice parents, living in a nice house. Everyone is happy. You're happy, your little friends are happy. Your parents are happy. This is the way life is supposed to be -- because you've never seen it any other way. Remember, you're only 5 to 10 years old.

Then something horrible happens -- a national event that's so terrible and so unexpected that it changes your life completely. It causes deaths around you or starvation around you. Your parents talk about it all the time. Your teachers talk about it all the time. It's an event that's SO TRAUMATIC to you that you will remember it vividly for the rest of your life. You'll even have nightmares about it for decades. It affects everything and all your relationships for all time.

And not just you. This is an important point: it's not just you. EVERY person around your age goes through the same trauma. It's a national event, and so EVERY child was affected by it in the same way, and EVERYBODY in that age group suffers the same trauma throughout their lives.

What are examples of these horrible events? We'll consider four of them:

  1. The Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 that kills tens of millions of people, including some of your friends and perhaps people in your family.
  2. The stock market crash of 1929, leading to the Great Depression and the horrors of massive unemployment, massive bankruptcies, massive homelessness and massive starvation, perhaps affecting your own family.
  3. The genocidal war between Jews and Arabs in Palestine in 1948. For this example, we'll assume that you're a young Jewish child, 5 to 10 years old, and that you experienced the massive deaths and destruction all around you at that time.
  4. The use of nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Not exactly a traumatic event for you (unless you're Japanese), but in the context of the horrors of WW II, enough to cause you to fear nuclear weapons for the rest of your life.

So now let's go back. You're a young child, 5 to 10 years old, when something so horrible happens that it traumatizes you for life. You never forget it, and you never want it to happen again.

And so, you go through life, from one adventure to another, getting older and older. And so do all the other people who were kids at the same time that you were.

There's one more characteristic of the traumatic event that we have to mention. It's a commonly used phrase in generational theory. The traumatic event must have been one that was "foreseeable but poorly foreseen."

This means that there will be "lessons learned" for the survivors of the event. As you go through your life, you take steps to apply these lessons, so that the same kind of event will never happen again. All the people in your age group will feel the same, and as long as your generation is in control of society, you will always feel confident that the traumatic event will never happen again.

Now let's move ahead to the time 58 years after the traumatic event. When the original event occurred, you were 5 to 10 years old. Now, 58 years later, you're 63-68 years old.

Something strange happens. You have conversations with other people around the same age, in your generation. That might include your wife, or your pals on the golf range or board room. But you really begin to wonder: Can it happen again?

There's the realization that all the people younger than you and your friends don't even care. They don't think about it at all. They're oblivious to the danger. They were born after it happened, or were too young to know what was going on. It's your group of 63-68 year olds that even realize that there's a danger, and can even do anything about it; younger people don't.

This is when panic sets in. Something happens to make you fear that the event is going to happen again. The same anxiety grips all the other 63-68 year olds across the country.

Maybe the anxiety is well-founded, maybe it isn't, but the people in your age group panic, and the panic spreads to younger people who are influenced by your concerns.

That's the 58-year hypothesis: That 58 years after a traumatic national event such as we've described, the 63-68 year olds, fearing a recurrence, cause a panic to occur. If the danger isn't real, then we refer to it as a "false panic." Whether or not a panic is "false" may not be known for several years, until the danger can be fully analyzed.

Now let's return to each of the four examples above, and look at what happened in each case, 58 years later:

  1. The Spanish Flu epidemic occurred in 1918. In 1976, 58 years later, the "swine flu" panic occurred. The public became hysterical over the possibility of a new flu pandemic. Responding to public demands, the government prepared millions of doses of swine flu vaccine. The pandemic amounted to nothing, and the whole thing was a political fiasco.
  2. The stock market crash occurred in 1929. In 1987, 58 years later, the "false panic of 1987" occurred. The market fell 25% in one day, but recovered quickly, because the market was underpriced at that time.
  3. The genocidal Jewish/Arab war occurred in 1948. In 2006, 58 years later, the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers near the Lebanon border caused the Israelis to panic and and launch the war against Hizbollah within four hours, with no plan and no objectives.
  4. America used weapons of mass destruction on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, bringing WW II to an immediate end, and causing widespread fear that weapons of mass destruction would one day be used on Americans. In 2003, 58 years later, Americans panicked over weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and launched a ground invasion.

    Today, the younger generations have no fear of weapons of mass destruction, and have turned against the war.

Most people, including myself, have assumed that the 2003 ground invasion of Iraq was triggered by 9/11. The 58-year hypothesis provides an alternate explanation, indicating that it would have occurred anyway, even if the 9/11 attacks hadn't occurred.

The 58 year hypothesis can't be understood unless you can go into the minds of a specific set of people -- the 63-68 year olds who experienced a national disaster in their youth. Anyone younger would have no emotional connection to the event, other than dry historical facts and a contagious sense of panic urged by their elders.

It's still a hypothesis, although the body of evidence supporting it in the form of additional examples is growing. I now have almost a dozen solid examples.

For college students who are interested in historical research, there's plenty to be done here -- determining additional examples.

Contents - This page
Long-term and short-term forecasting
Financial and technological forecasting
Geopolitical forecasting - Example
Polya's Urn
Generational eras and archetypes
Determining generational eras and crisis wars
False panics and the 58 Year Hypothesis
The 'War Scenario Test'

However, I have to indicate a HUGE METHODOLOGICAL WARNING: Beware of cherry-picking.

Take the first example above -- the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic causing the false swine flu panic in 1976. That's 58 years later, so it appears to support the hypothesis -- but more has to be proven.

Suppose that false flu panics happened in other years, say 1960, 1965, 1971, 1976, 1981 and 1985. They you can't just pick the 1976 date because it appears 58 years later, and claim that it supports the hypothesis, because it doesn't in that case. You can't ignore similar cases in other years. You can't "cherry pick" the years and events that make the hypothesis work.

In this case, there were no such other false flu panics. The only major flu fiasco of this kind that occurred in the last century, as far as I know, was the swine flu panic of 1976. Since there are no other similar dates around, it's fair to claim that you're not cherry-picking, and the 1976 date provides genuine support for the 58-year hypothesis.

Similarly, there was no other false stock market panic like the false panic of 1987, and there was no other panicked war like Israel's attack on Hizbollah in 2006, and so that isn't cherry picking either. (In the latter case, you'd have to do more research to verify that other Israeli wars were much better planned than the 2006 war, something that few people would doubt anyway.)

With regard to the 2003 ground invasion of Iraq, were there similar events in other years? The Afghan invasion had nothing to do with WMDs. Neither did the original Iraq war in 1991.

The only previous war that appears to be similar was the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. That crisis was based on a panic that was remarkably similar to the panic that led to the 2003 Iraq invasion. The previous Bay of Pigs disaster had been based on faulty intelligence from the CIA, and the Cuban missiles probably could not even have reached American soil at that time.

However, the Cuban missile crisis occurred 41 years prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and those events were far enough apart so that there's really no danger of cherry-picking.

The 58-year hypothesis, if it can be verified, adds a very powerful tool to the Generational Dynamics forecasting toolbox. It's particularly interesting that it can be applied to explain the ground invasion of Iraq.

There's also an interesting set of data that provide statistical support for the 58 year hypothesis.

The table below shows the length of time from the end of one crisis war to the beginning of the next, based on an analysis of over 100 crisis wars around the world, throughout history.

    # years  of total  Turning
    -------  --------  ------------------
      0- 40      0%    1T, 2T
     41- 49     11%    first half of 3T
     50- 59     33%    second half of 3T
     60- 69     25%    first half of 4T
     70- 79     16%    second half of 4T
     80- 89      4%    fifth turning
     90- 99      6%
    100-117      5%

As you can see from this table, there's a fair amount of variation in the length of time between crisis wars. However, there are NO crisis wars during the first and second turning (Recovery and Awakening eras), simply because there are too many survivors of the last crisis war, and they will not tolerate their kids making the same stupid mistakes that they made. By the time of the third turning (Unraveling era), enough war survivors have disappeared, replaced by kids with no memory of the war, that a crisis war can recur. In fact, 44% of all crisis wars actually begin during the Unraveling era, rather than the Crisis era (fourth turning).

If we go back to my original figures, and we focus on the range of years from 40-79, then here's the distribution table:

        0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9
------- --  --  --  --  --  --  --  --  --  --  
40-49   0   1   0   1   1   1   1   2   2   2
50-59   2   2   3   3   3   3   4   4   5   4
60-69   4   4   3   3   2   2   2   2   2   1
70-79   2   2   2   2   1   1   1   1   1   1

As you can see, of the 100+ wars that I looked at, 5 of them began in year 58, with 5 being the highest count. The counts drop off rapidly before and after 58, indicating that 58 really is a special year in generational theory.

I interpret this result as follows: Year 58 is a transitional year because it's just about the last time that survivors of the last crisis war climax have the ability to influence events. They realize that society is unraveling, because younger generations have no knowledge of the wisdom learned from the previous crisis war, and they panic, leading to either a false panic or a new crisis war.

I now have plenty of anecdotal and circumstantial evidence to support the "58 year hypothesis," so much so that it may now be fair enough to say that it's no longer just a hypothesis. Still, a great deal more research is needed, combining disciplines of psychology, sociology, historical analysis, and even pediatrics, to provide solid theoretical and experimental support.

The 'War Scenario Test'

Generational Dynamics tells us that we're headed for a "Clash of Civilizations world war," but the question always is, who will be fighting whom? Who will be the new "Allies," and who will be the new "Axis"?

I've commented several times in the past that, based on current trends, we can expect the following: China will be aligned with Pakistan and Sunni Muslims against India; Russia will be aligned with India and Shia Muslims; and India will be aligned with Britain and the west. Japan will be aligned with the West against China.

The "War Scenario Test" is a new test that will provide an additional analytical tool for making such forecasts.

Here's the test: For any given country, is there any realistic scenario that would propel the US immediately into a war with that country?

For China, the answer's obvious: China is spending massively on military spending to recover Taiwan, and a Chinese attack on Taiwan would bring us to war within just a few hours.

For North Korea, any move by their army across the border towards Seoul would require us to retaliate immediately.

What about Russia? I can't think of any realistic scenario that would bring us to war with Russia. In fact, last year's war in Georgia almost proves it -- there was never any consideration whatsoever that we would go to war with Russia over Georgia the way we would go to war with China over Taiwan.

India is the same - no chance of war. But Pakistan? There are two realistic possible war scenarios. One is that a war with India would bring us in on the side of India. Another is if Islamist extremists gain control of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.

Iran is an interesting case. As I've written many times, Iran is a schizophrenic nation, with people who are pro-American, and a government that's anti-American. There is a possible war scenario -- if Iran develops a nuclear weapon, and either the EU, Israel or the US decide that their nuclear capability must be destroyed. But that's far in the future, and my expectation is that in the meantime the pro-West attitudes of the people will diffuse Iran's nuclear threat against the West.

So the idea is that if you can think of realistic war scenario, then we're likely to be enemies in the Clash of Civilizations world war. It makes sense, because if such a scenario CAN occur, then sooner or later it probably WILL occur.

Contents - This page
Long-term and short-term forecasting
Financial and technological forecasting
Geopolitical forecasting - Example
Polya's Urn
Generational eras and archetypes
Determining generational eras and crisis wars
False panics and the 58 Year Hypothesis
The 'War Scenario Test'

The "War Scenario Test" is an analytical tool, and like all tools, it has to be used carefully and appropriately. When used this way, it provides us additional views of the future that we'll all share.


There is no single Generational Dynamics forecasting "method." Rather, it's a methodology consisting of a growing and evolving set of tools.

I've tried to make it clear in this article that generational forecasting is a complex subject involving multiple disciplines. If it were taught in college, I estimate that a beginning course would require two semesters, with plenty of analytical homework. There would be plenty of opportunity for follow-on research at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

The web site has always been a live, dynamic experiment. Since 2003, over 1500 articles have been posted, containing hundreds of predictions. The purpose was to test Generational Dynamics predictions in a verifiable way. Every article and every prediction is still available on the web site, and can be checked by anyone with the time and inclination to do so.

It's also been a chronicle of new developments in Generational Dynamics. As each new analysis and method was developed, it was posted on this web site. Thus, anyone wishing to understand Generational Dynamics forecasting on his own, without benefit of a college course, can do so by studying this web site. Hopefully, this article provides a useful summary.

(Comments: For reader comments, questions and discussion, see the Generational Crises and Methods for Evaluation thread of the Generational Dynamics forum.)

Copyright © 2002-2016 by John J. Xenakis.