It was the most amazing revolution in economic history! Simply because nobody noticed. Oh sure, there was talk of the “Reagan Revolution,” where, supposedly, “morning in America” washed the malaise right out of our hair—and ended the cold war—easier than you can say “Reykjavik.”
That is a simplistic reading, which doesn’t take into account the Boomers’ critical role in what I call The Flower-Power Abdication. It began on February 2, 1977, when Jimmy Carter, aka “the wimp,” delivered his “sweater speech.” So called because he was seated by an energy-wasting gas fireplace, dressed in an unbuttoned, beige, cardigan.
The Twos had no real problem with what their president was saying. They loved competing to see who could keep their house the coldest and bragging about their cars’ mpg. But that sweater. Uh-uh. Wouldn’t be caught dead in that shmatte, dude. Bad enough that it was a cardigan. But beige? And unbuttoned?
I believe this visual triggered a mass freak out. Unmeasurable, yet a palpable disturbance in the ether. Decades later, Time magazine actually quantified the vibe that sweater created, ranking it 5th in Top Ten Political Fashion Statements. Right between the Mao Suit and Kim Jong Il’s Safari-suit-and-sunglasses look. Not bad for a one-termer.
By the time of Carter’s “popular” malaise speech, The Flower-Power Abdication was well underway. Whereas hippies had struggled stubbornly to avoid “selling out,” now they seemed to realize it was time to “get a life.” So they became yuppies.
It happened invisibly, silently, and more or less concurrently with the rise of Ronald Reagan. As I said at the beginning, people like to say that Reagan’s policies unleashed the economy’s “animal spirits,” to use Adam Smith’s term.
In the next Epistle, I will prove to you that the animal spirits were actually those of the Boomer hippies-turned-yuppies, abdicating flower power, and channeling all that, like-wow energy, into the time honored pursuit of making a living. No crime in that, is there? No way. Like, what would you have done?