Monday, February 13, 2017

Steve Bannon’s Bizarre Documentary “Generation Zero”

By Robert Wenzel

Now that Steve Bannon has joined the Trump Administration, as White House chief strategist, focus has turned to a 2010 documentary made by him, "Ground Zero."

The documentary looks at current events from the perspective of  William Strauss and Neil Howe who hold the view that there is a  recurring generation cycle in American history. Specifically, a fourfold cycle of generational types and recurring mood eras in American history.

The four phases, Strauss and Howe call them turnings, are identified as:

The First Turning, which is a High that occurs after a Crisis. During The High institutions are strong and individualism is weak.

The Second Turning is an Awakening. This is an era when institutions are attacked in the name of personal and spiritual autonomy.

The Third Turning is an Unraveling. The mood of this era they say is in many ways the opposite of a High: Institutions are weak and distrusted, while individualism is strong and flourishing.

The Fourth Turning is a Crisis. This is an era of destruction, often involving war, in which institutional life is destroyed and rebuilt in response to a perceived threat to the nation's survival. After the crisis, civic authority revives, cultural expression redirects towards community purpose, and people begin to locate themselves as members of a larger group.

The authors describe each turning as lasting about 20–22 years. Four turnings make up a full cycle of about 80 to 90 years, which the authors term a saeculum, after the Latin word meaning both "a long human life" and "a natural century"

This generational theory strikes me as being very similar to the economic cycle theory known as the Kondratieff Long Wave Cycle. The economist Murray Rothbard in discussing the Kondratieff Wave wrote in a 1984 essay:
Man has always yearned to know his future. And, since it is an economic law that demand tends to create supply, there have always been gurus and mountebanks to meet that need, people who claim to have a special handle on all that the future may hold in store. Soothsayers, palm-readers, astrologers, crystal-ball gazers have poured in to take advantage of the credulous and the gullible.

Techniques of soothsaying or prophesying have changed over the centuries, but the basic tactics and strategy have remained the same. In the more frankly mystical atmosphere of the Middle Ages, it became common for gurus to arise and predict the Second Coming and the end of the world, with seemingly stunning precision....

A few years ago, I sat on a panel where one of the speakers, with absolute authority and self-confidence, announced that his "researches had shown" that nuclear war would arrive in the summer of 2010. A gasp, a frisson of delighted fear, went through the large and intent audience. But, when the year 2010 comes around, will any of us still here remember, much less bother to call this man on his prediction?... 
One of the mystical "cycles" that has been getting a lot of play from time to time is the flimsiest "cycle" of them all: the Kondratieff long cycle. The Kondratieff is supposed to be a strictly, or at least roughly, periodic cycle of about 54 years, which allegedly underlies and dominates the genuine cycles for which we have actual data. Even though, as we shall see, this cycle is strictly a figment of its fevered adherents' imagination, there does seem to be some sort of cycle in the periods when the "Kondratieff" captures the interest of financial and economic analysts...
To summarize our analysis so far: for the nineteenth century – the "first two Kondratieffs" – there was never any depression as we know it: not in production, nor in employment or living standards. The "Kondratieff depression" is based on (a) statistical fallacies bordering on chicanery; and (b) the mistaken view that a price fall must mean depression. To the contrary, prices naturally tend to fall in a capitalist society. Furthermore, the "Kondratieff booms" were not long booms at all, but short inflationary spurts brought on by the creation of a great deal of money to finance major wars.
But the big difference between the  Kondratieff long wave cycle and the Strauss-Howe generational theory is that, faulty as the data is to justify calling it a regular cyclical long wave, at least there is a data to point to with the Long Wave. There is no such empirical evidence in Strauss-Howe other than the normal history of events.

Bannon's documentary supporting the Strauss-Howe theory is nothing but a tacky collage of video clips of history with no evidence that there is any cyclical nature to the events. A friend wrote to me:
I really wanted to like the Bannon film and approached it with an open mind, but even with ultimate patience after about 15 minutes I realized it was a total neocon shell-game.
Virtually everyone in the film is a neocon. Bolton, Señor, Gingrich, Frum, Bartlett, AEI, Manhattan Institute, etc??? These are not our people by a long shot. There was absolutely NOTHING Austrian in the film. In fact it was pure Leninism -- if you want to control the opposition, be the opposition.

Also it was totally psychobabble crap and totally collectivist -- entire generations are to blame because they are "post-war" or "boomer" or whatever? Hippies were evil because they opposed war? Total neocon collectivist insanity! People are to blame, not some kind of amorphous "generations."

Plus what was that crap about "turnings"? I hate that kind of over-arching bullshit to try and explain things. Samuel Huntington or Fukyama crap. Not at all intellectual. Pop-sociology.

This film confirmed that the lunatics are running the asylum. We are in for a storm of feces...
But some corners of the libertarian community have cheered the film. My good friend and editor of the very important, Justin Raimoindo, has recently written:
Steve Bannon’s movie, “Generation Zero,” summarizes Trumpism, and it turns out it’s Austrian economics – the economics of how “bubbles” are created — applied to both the economy *and* the culture. It’s a real eye-opener, more than worth your time if you want to understand who’s in charge now and what motivates them. Bannonism is libertarianism.
But there is nothing about the documentary that could be interpreted as Austrian economics or libertarianism.

The film is about supposed regularly recurring cycles--not bubbles. Rothbard, an Austrian business cycle theorist,  rejected the idea of such regularly  recurring cycles:
One of the worst things about the "business cycle" is its name. For somehow the name "cycle" caught on, with its implication that the wave-like movement of business is strictly periodic, like the cycles of astronomy or biology. An enormous amount of error would have been avoided if economists had simply used the term "business fluctuations." For man is all too prone to leap to the belief that economic fluctuations are strictly periodic and can therefore be predicted with pinpoint accuracy. The fact is, however, that these waves are in no sense periodic; they last for few years, and the "'few" can stretch or contract from one wave to the next. 
Rothbard recognized that it was specific human action that drove trends, not regular cyclical predetermined destiny. As he put it, "The cause of the boom-bust cycle is not some mystical periodic Force to which man must bend his will; the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves, that we are underlings."

If anything, the Bannon documentary is anti-Austrian school. "Ground Zero" may summarize Trumpisim but that is not a positive, it is a horror!

It must be understood that Bannon believes that we are at the point in the Strauss-Howe cycle (the Fourth Turning) where a great dark period must occur. Indeed, at the end of the documentary, Howe talks about the "dark period that is about to come...the winter." That's how the damn documentary ends!

You see, it is programmed in! But it is worse than that, Bannon the top adviser to the president has an even darker view.

From Time:
He [Professor David Kaiser] was taken aback when Bannon began to argue that the current phase of history foreshadows a massive new war. 
"I remember him saying, 'Well, look, you have the American revolution, and then you have the Civil War, which was bigger than the revolution. And you have the Second World War, which was bigger than the Civil War,' Kaiser said. 'He even wanted me to say that on camera, and I was not willing.'

"Howe, too, was struck by what he calls Bannon's 'rather severe outlook on what our nation is going through.' Bannon noted repeatedly on his radio show that 'we're at war' with radical jihadis in places around the world. This is 'a global existential war' that likely will become 'a major shooting war in the Middle East again.' War with China may also be looming, he has said. 
This view is not libertarianism. This is the view of a madman who sees a new great war as the destiny for America.  In reality, there is no war that must occur. It may occur, however, because the man who believes that it is predestined to occur is sitting in a position to bring such a horrific violent event to the planet.

A man such as Bannon should never be identified as libertarian, NEVER.

Robert Wenzel is Editor & Publisher of and Target Liberty. He also writes EPJ Daily Alert and is author of The Fed Flunks: My Speech at the New York Federal Reserve Bank. Follow him on twitter:@wenzeleconomics and on LinkedIn.


  1. Indeed, Bannon explicitly rejects libertarian economics:

    But there’s a strand of capitalism today — two strands of it, that are very disturbing.


    The second form of capitalism that I feel is almost as disturbing, is what I call the Ayn Rand or the Objectivist School of libertarian capitalism. And, look, I’m a big believer in a lot of libertarianism. I have many many friends that’s a very big part of the conservative movement — whether it’s the UKIP movement in England, it’s many of the underpinnings of the populist movement in Europe, and particularly in the United States.
    However, that form of capitalism is quite different when you really look at it to what I call the “enlightened capitalism” of the Judeo-Christian West. It is a capitalism that really looks to make people commodities, and to objectify people, and to use them almost — as many of the precepts of Marx — and that is a form of capitalism, particularly to a younger generation [that] they’re really finding quite attractive. And if they don’t see another alternative, it’s going to be an alternative that they gravitate to under this kind of rubric of “personal freedom.”

    This "moral capitalism" is just mercantilism wrapped in the flag or the cross, depending on the audience.

  2. Yeah, Bannonism is definitely not libertarianism. Real libertarianism and peace and an understanding of human nature is found in Ron Paul's liberty report, especially his past excellent pieces on the 'War of Civilizations' and why it is totally unnecessary. There is zero reason we need to go to war with the whole Middle East.

  3. I watched this entire film based on Raimondo's suggestion that "Bannonism is libertarianism." It clearly isn't. Why would Justin desire to couple himself with this maker of second-rate propaganda documentaries- in particular this film- which reinforce the view that the United States government must create and maintain a military that is impenetrable, lest we be overrun by others who will make us "un-American". I just cannot believe Justin, of, actually watched this video and supports it!

  4. Oh, and the worst part- somewhere in the early part of the movie there is a statement to the effect of, "if the turning isn't occurring, a leader will cause it to happen."


  5. Agree with RW's assessment of Bannon and the H&S books (I read them when published). Particularly enjoyed the quotes from Rothbard.

  6. Rainmondo has lost all his credibility with me, I fully expect within a year or two (providing he's not doing so already) to be a fully on badgelicker. Some piece of his will come out saying that the right's new favorite thug and drug warrior Daivd Clarke is a libertarian. He also said that Radley Balko's criticism of Rand's vote for Session is wrong and that said vote would help guide Trump into non-intervention. It's complete joke and sadly Rainmondo's kool-aid drinking is going to get's name dragged through the mud.

  7. I find it sickening that former libertarian stalwarts like Justin Raimoindo, and a host of others are being subsumed into the Trump matrix of apologists.

  8. Haven't seen the movie, but pretty sure I heard about the book from LRC. Loved it.

  9. Von Mises recognized generational patterns, this is just common sense and what Neill and how observe. There is a certain way that a child of a revolutionary is reared, which is different from how a grandson is. These differences then work hand in glove to bring about a third generation of decadence which results in financial bubbly, and then a cataclysm. These are not laws of natures, but patterns. Patterns are just that - things that tend to repeat themselves - similar circumstances yield similar results on average and in general.

  10. Raimondo does great work, but sometimes allows wishful thinking to cloud his analysis. When I saw this doc, I couldn't help thinking "Where is the interview with Ron Paul?"