Class of ’96

I recently had a post on The Fourth Turning. Let me tell you why this concept resonates with me.

It’s because I’ve seen it in action.

There’s a term I used to use for the cohort that’s in power now. Not the geezers pulling the strings, but the feet on the street true believers. The term I used back in the day was “Class of 96ers”.

After being in the technical field service business for fifteen years, I left the company where I made my bones and went to a consulting firm where I was on a project to deploy a country wide voice and data network for a huge PAC in the DC area. Actually, in DC itself, a stones throw from the White House.

They hired a few grizzled veterans like me, and a bunch of new college graduates I thought of as puppies. The year was 1997. All these people graduated in 1996, and got good jobs straight out of school. As the Interwebs took off, if you were breathing and could halfway function, you found a job. These noobs were paid nearly $50k, straight out of school. In that time, that was a good salary. When I made that money, I had three kids, a house, a car, and a wife at home. These types were mostly single. A great example of this cohort is Jen Psaki. Although by my fingers-and-toes calculation, she probably graduated at or around 1998, she’s still a shining example.

True, some of them were incredibly smart, fast learners, and hard working. Most were utterly hopeless. One of them breezed in from corporate and declared we had to update our Exchange server right then and there. Explaining to the fool that we had service hours of 8am-8pm, with outages causing penalties – like $10k/4 hour span, went nowhere. The fool applied the patch one morning.

It took us veterans, and our program manager, most of the day to cleanup the inevitable shitstorm.

Fast forward a few years, to 2001.

I’m working for Lucent as a sales engineer. We had several of these on our staff, who had peter-principled their way up to a $100K base, with an $80K TI (target incentive – commission). To a man, they were on their fourth or fifth job since graduating in 1996. One year experience, times four. When the going got tough, they got a different job.

One of them found their wife pregnant, and decided he needed a new house prior to the blessed event. I asked why, knowing that my three kids were raised, prior to that point, in a 2000 sq. ft, 50 year old house. “Well, we’re having a baby, we need the space”. Dude lived in Plano, in a nice newer house, in a nice neighborhood with good schools – just like me. I think it was three bedroom. I had a discussion with him about cars earlier, and found he was paying like $700/mo for his truck, and about the same for his wife’s luxury car.

“Are you out of your mind?” I said. “Do you know what’s happening to real estate around here, and what’s going on in our industry? That’s insane” All to no avail. He was having it built, no matter what, and didn’t listen to me or our twice certified engineer boss about the importance of checking on the construction progress. Needless to say, he had many, many issues pop up. Within two years, he was laid off, lost the wife, and was living alone in the empty house he had built. I’ve talked to him once or twice since then. He bounced back ok. More or less.

The second guy I named short-dark-and-gruesome – SDG for short. Him and the missus traded both their cars and bought a single Lexus. Him and the missus would then commute to work together. They already had the McMansion built. “Are you insane?” I said “Riding every day with the wife? What if she or you want to go out to lunch, or need to run errands? You’ll be buying another car before you know it.” This isn’t DC, you don’t get from McKinney to Addison on public transit. You have to have a car, and if two are working? Knucklehead.

I gave him the same talk, about how the industry was burning down, he could get laid off, the wife could get pregnant. Taking on a fat car note in a crappy economy was utterly stupid when you aren’t sure what’s around the corner.

What happened?

In short order, the wife got pregnant, and he was laid off. One of the first, if memory serves.

I was at my cube one day when SDG walked up and sat down.

“Did you get a bonus check this month?” he asked.

We were paid salary once a month, at the end of the month. Mid month, we got commission checks. Since neither of our teams was selling anything, and just started the year long process just to get gear into our customer’s labs, we were given a small comp based on the whole greater team number.

“I did” I said

“Was it any good?”

“It was”

“What counts as good?”

“It was 4 digits, I count that as great”

“How much, if I can ask?” He says. I told him it was $1400 or so.

“Man, that sucks! This sucks”

I told him since neither of our groups were selling anything at the moment, these checks were manna from heaven. Don’t be an ingrate. We were lucky to get them. Then he explained why it sucked.

The fool, and the other fool above had used their base plus commission (TI) to run their finances. Roughly spending double their base with money they didn’t have and weren’t going to get anytime soon.

These two were lucky in a way. They both were presented with life lessons, that having talked with them since, I doubt they learned all that well. There are millions more like them, especially where I grew up in the DC area that had no such schooling. Many went to work for the government, political parties, PACs, and whatnot. I know many, many of them.

So circling back, this is why we are seeing what we are seeing. For instance, gas is $.20 more a gallon here than it was two weeks ago. Having done the exact same thing they did during Obama’s term, they are getting the exact same results. They simply can’t learn, don’t want to learn, or worse – are evil. One of the reasons is the DC area doesn’t endure economic troubles like the rest of the country. We saw this during Carter and Obama. We would have seen it under Clinton. He did, after all give it a shot in his first two years, but then he lost the house and senate, and was given a reprieve by a fat economy taking off in his first term.

But make no mistake. We know what’s coming, as pointed out in the Fourth Turning. We know because it’s happened throughout history like clockwork. And it’s the same type of people, doing the same type of stupid things that causes it every time. And having endured few, if any repercussions, they’ve kept it up until matters are far, far worse.

They will learn a lesson. Probably more than one. Hard lessons. And all of us will wind up paying for them.