Sometimes history repeats itself like an echo resounding through the spiral of time. We are living in the midst of such an echo right now. Since key points and particulars in U.S. history follow predictable patterns, these repetitions in history can be measured. You just need to find the right ruler. We’ll use the old, traditional way of tracking time, the night sky, but instead of the familiar rhythms of sun and moon we’ll look to a planet spinning in the far reaches of the galaxy. Uranus makes an unwieldy clock, taking just over 84 of our years to come full circle, but it does closely track the arc of U.S historical cycles.
Take the U.S. wealth inequality gap for instance. In 2011, the year that Uranus spun out of the astrological sign of Pisces and into Aries, we hit the highest recorded peak in the U.S. wealth inequality gap, surpassing the previous high reached in 1928. The new record came right on schedule because 1928 was the last time that Uranus crossed over from Pisces to Aries.
1928 was also the year before the Stock Market Crash. Uranus was at 8 degrees of Aries during the Wall Street Crash of 1929. In 2012 and 2013 Uranus makes several exact or near exact passes over this very degree. For the next year we are poised at a point in the cycle that is perilously close to the crash that gave us the Great Depression but we don’t need astrology to tell us that. We hear its echoes everywhere we turn.
If transits of Uranus from Pisces to Aries coincided with peaks in the U.S. wealth inequality gap in this cycle and the last, halfway between these extremes came the midpoint year of 1969, often reported as the year with the lowest recorded gap in wealth inequality. ‘69 was also the year that Uranus crossed from Virgo into Libra, the signs diametrically opposed to Pisces and Aries in the zodiac. This 180 degree division of the circle is called an opposition and the preceding neatly illustrates that principle.
As Occupy protestors tried to tell the world, wealth inequality is not a meaningless statistic. There are many studies which suggest that workers in egalitarian societies live healthier, longer and more rewarding lives. Between 1969 and June of 2012, for instance, the median home price to household income ratio rose from 2 to 3.67. Back when the price of a house was twice the yearly household income only one third of women worked outside the home so you could say that it usually takes two incomes to finance a home that the worker in 1969 could often afford on a single salary. Imagine making $41,000 a year (the approximate median personal income in the U.S.) and being able to purchase a median priced home for about $82k.
The 40 year period running from the Wall Street Crash to 1969 or so has been called “The Great Convergence” and was a time when wealth inequality was diminishing. Since then we have entered “The Great Divergence”, a time of increasing wealth inequality. While the data is thin for previous eras, studies do suggest that this pattern extends into the past. For instance, in the period running from the beginning of the Revolution to the start of the Civil War there were indications of “a near tripling in the ratios of the average wealth of the top one to ten percent of wealth holders to the average wealth of all other groups.” In this case the study suggested that “most of the antebellum shift to wealth concentration occurred from the 1820s to the late 1840s”, a finding that could not be explained by shifts in age distribution, immigration or increased urbanization.
Between the 1820s and the late 1840s then, when “…most of the shift to wealth concentration occurred…”, Uranus covered from 25 degrees of Sagittarius (measured from 1/1/1820) through 22 degrees of Aries (on 12/31/1849). To compare with the current cycle, the greatest escalation of wealth inequality would run from 1987 through 2016. This is suggestive, as the Great Divergence was at least partially fueled by Reagan’s Supply Side or “trickle down” theory of economics which increased the percentage of wealth for the higher tiers of society with the expectation that an increased prosperity would cascade down to the rest of us.
We already know that we’ve come full circle, finding ourselves living in times reminiscent of the Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression, but what was life like during that pre-Civil War period of wealth escalation? Do we find memes and themes in common with the Great Depression and the current economic crisis? I should note that the planet Neptune maintains a approximate 2:1 ratio with Uranus, traveling roughly halfway through the zodiac in the time it takes for Uranus to come full circle. So due to the placement of Neptune we should in some ways share more in common with the antebellum period of wealth escalation than we do with the time of the Wall Street Crash. Does their history resonate with what we’ve seen in our lifetimes?
As a lead in to what happened in this time period that should parallel our own, even though they were caught in a cycle of wealth escalation, in the 1830s the future never looked brighter. Flush with the proceeds of land sales and a booming economy, in 1835 President Andrew Jackson was able to pay off what was then a massive legacy of federal debt, about 70 million dollars (though the government returned to deficits in the next year). At the same time state debt was escalating. Prosperity fueled a demand for expanded roads, canals and railways which states financed by borrowing heavily from foreign, mainly English, lenders. The British central bank overextended itself to the point of running low cash reserves and then slammed the brakes of finance, raising interest rates in 1837 and again in 1839 with immediate effects on the U.S. economy. In addition, Andrew Jackson’s refusal to renew the charter of the U.S. national bank and his removal of public funds from its custody led to a weakening and later collapse of this institution. Without its stabilizing influence, “Wildcat banks” began printing their own “rag money”, fueling easy home grown loans and manic speculation. A speculative bubble was succeeded by a land bubble, which reached its fevered pitch in 1835 and 1836. At the height of the bubble it seemed everyone was flipping properties and investing in land schemes. Fortunes were being made, especially since the government continued to sell Midwestern land at a guaranteed low rate and plots changed hands many times over, greatly inflating in price each time. Since rag money was often not worth the paper it was printed on, in 1836 Jackson issued his Specie Circular mandating the sale of public lands for gold or silver. The land bubble then collapsed, precipitating the Panic of 1837. The United States had entered its first major depression. We had a sense of that bone chilling freeze of the system in 2008 but what they experienced was more like the Great Depression and it lasted for seven years. The economy was a shadow of what it had been. Ships sat idle in once bustling ports. Elaborately planned communities out west became half finished ghost towns when the investors fled. As some states began defaulting on debt payments, the country as a whole and even those states that met their obligations found themselves with the reputation of deadbeats in the overseas markets. Increased taxation was so unpopular in the U.S. of their day that it was an option few elected officials were willing to exercise. By January of 1843, nine states had defaulted on or flatly repudiated their debt payments and no one would buy our bonds. This was not a north-south issue. The states that defaulted were Michigan, Indiana, Maryland, Arkansas, Illinois, Florida, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Louisiana. Other states were in straits no less desperate but persisted in making payments to foreign lenders. As 1845 dawned, the London Literary Gazette set new words to the tune of Yankee Doodle:
Yankee Doodle borrows cash,
And Yankee Doodle spends it,
And then he snaps his fingers at
The jolly flat who lends it.
Ask him when he means to pay,
He shews no hesitation,
But says he’ll take the shortest way,
And that’s repudiation!
To compare then and now, bubbles of speculation were succeeded by land and/or housing bubbles.
The speculative bubble in the 1830s and the dotcom bubble in the 1990s occurred while Uranus was in Aquarius.
In the flush times of 1835, with Uranus between 24 and 26 degrees of Aquarius, Jackson paid off the national debt. Clinton decreased the deficit relative to the measure of the GDP, with the greatest improvement running 1997 to 2001 while Uranus was between 3 and 21 degrees of Aquarius.
Both periods share a land or real estate bubble that begins with Uranus in Aquarius and collapses sometime after Uranus moves into Pisces. The antebellum land bubble reached its height in 1835 and 1836, with Uranus running from 24 degrees of Aquarius to 0 degrees of Pisces. In our era, investment in real estate began its steepest climb after the Dotcom Crash with Uranus around 18 degrees of Aquarius. That housing bubble peaked around 14 degrees of Pisces in March 2006.
Both were followed by a major economic crisis within 1 to 2 years. The initial Panic of 1837 extended from approximately 4 to 8 degrees of Pisces and though they seemed to be recovering a second stage of crisis hit in October 1839 when Uranus was around 12 degrees of Pisces. The Flash Crash that sparked off our economic crisis happened when Uranus was at 20.45 Pisces (9/11/2008).
In looking for our Pisces into Aries marker, Uranus traveled into Aries in 1843 and again in 1844. Economist Reginald McGrane found that “the worst of the… crisis was over by 1843-1844” and that “after 1844 economic conditions stabilized”. Uranus was approximately 2/3rds of the way into Aries by the close of 1844. Wealth escalation is estimated to have slowed by the end of the 1840s though it would not reverse for another decade. Today, the economic crisis brought on by the Flash Crash is still ongoing with Uranus in the first 1/3rd of Aries. Expect a treacherous passage as Uranus travels from the 1st 3rd through 2/3rds of Aries, since our first depression and the Great Depression overlapped through the entire length of those degrees.
Some themes in common between our time and the antebellum period include large government deficits (whether state or federal) affecting the country’s credit; paying off or attempting to pay down deficits at a time when the economy is booming; the rise and fall of stock, land and or housing bubbles. Both periods experienced inflation of the currency, bank closures, housing foreclosures, companies going under, states going bankrupt or verging on bankruptcy, foreign investor concerns that the country will default on its debt, the idea of “repudiation” of debt (a concept that keeps popping up in the alternative press today). These are the signs of the times you might say.
Wealth accumulation, as reported, slowed in the late 1840s but the highest peak came in 1860 when Uranus entered Gemini, right before the country split apart amidst the thunder and lightning of the Civil War. If our depression followed the same pattern as the antebellum period the economic trials would be over by 2016, we would see a slowing in the concentration of upper class wealth around 2020 and an overall improvement in the ratio when Uranus moves into Gemini in 2026.
What about before the Revolution? Colonial circumstances while generally egalitarian were dependent on local conditions. Boston, for instance, experienced persistent issues with poverty a half generation before Philadelphia and New York. Yet we can summarize that in “…the third quarter of the century poverty struck even harder at Boston’s population and then blighted the lives of the New York and Philadelphia lower classes to a degree entirely unparalleled in the first half of the century.” This while “a major aggrandizement of wealth occurred at the top of society, especially within the uppermost 5 percent.” By the eve of the Revolution, the proportion of wealth controlled by the top 5 percent had grown to 49 percent in Boston and 55 percent in Philadelphia, while the lower half in these cities made do with 5.1 and 3.3 percent of the wealth respectively.
From this we can see that there was greater inequality in the run up to the Revolution, similar to the increase in wealth concentration leading up to the Civil War, but dry statistics don’t explain what the public was experiencing. Benjamin Franklin returned to the states in 1762 to find “Rents of old houses, and value of lands… are trebled in the past six years.” Imagine land and housing rates tripling in six years. This was toward the end of the boom period of the French and Indian War, which ran from 1754 to 1763. Similar to the situation with wild cat money in the antebellum period, colonial money was a patchwork of currencies, in this case consisting of British money and a mishmash of colonial scripts along with the occasional coin from another realm – a silver coin being silver after all. The problem with colonial script from the point of view of the King or a British banker was that the value of the script was greatly inflated for some colonies. The Currency Act of 1764 restricting the use of colonial script made sense from an administrative level but it contributed to an economic downturn after the war. Colonists were already feeling hedged in: The King’s edict in 1763 forbid the colonists’ purchase of Indian lands or settlement west of the Appalachians. This decision was understandable since the crown was trying to avoid further French-Indian wars, but when looking at the causes of the Revolution, the difficult times Americans experienced when their economy and borders constricted were what put the colonies at odds with the crown in the first place. How tough were the times that followed? We’ve already noted the unprecedented poverty that hit the cities in the 3rd quarter of the century. While this information about the bust after the war boom is anecdotal, consider the fact that a sheriff recorded 180 farm repossessions in Chester County, PA between 1766 and 1769. That’s an average of 60 farms repossessed each year for three years running in one county alone. This county is adjacent to Philadelphia County, confirming that it wasn’t just city dwellers who were feeling the pinch.
Where is our “2011” moment in the run up to the American Revolution? Uranus crossed from Pisces into Aries in 1760, in the middle of the French Indian War. The information we have is not as specific as the later periods so we can not say whether wealth escalation slowed at a given point, yet the overall pattern fits quite precisely: the third quarter of the century began with Uranus around two-thirds of the way into Aquarius and ended with Uranus in Gemini. The colonies were then at their highest estimate of wealth inequality and verging on Revolution. To measure it against our own times, this period roughly corresponds to 2001 through 2026.
So the pre-Revolutionary and Antebellum periods saw land and housing booms followed by busts, inflationary periods leading to the restriction or devaluation of the common currency, economic recession or outright depression, all unfolding during periods that saw higher than normal levels of wealth inequality with peaks on the eve of the Revolution in one cycle and the Civil War in the other.
What about the last cycle in the run up to WWII? There was a kind of black hole in the data after 1870 which extends to approximately 1910 but it is clear to experts that there was a peak in wealth inequality by 1913 which was knocked back in WWI and recovered to surpass itself in the “roaring 20s”. It was noted in 1980 that wealth inequality was highest just before upheavals took place which had a leveling affect within society, citing the Civil War, WWI and the Great Depression as levelers following highs of wealth inequality in 1860, 1913 and 1929.
The 20s saw a mania of speculation, an increase in general indebtedness as the popularity of installment plans took off, the rise and fall of a land bubble in Florida as well hyperinflation in Germany. All this was followed by the greatest depression ever experienced in this country, actually a worldwide depression. Uranus was in Aquarius in 1913 and had reached 8 degrees of Aries by the time of the Wall Street Crash. This would correlate to modern dates of wealth accumulation beginning sometime before 1996 (we don’t know how far back it goes) and a reversal after 2012-13. So while wealth accumulation was knocked back with the Revolution and the Civil War, in the 20th century the one-two punch of WWI and the Great Depression produced a new twist in the pattern. The wealth leveling effect kicked in early although the climactic war of the 20th century – WWII — came right on schedule.
Familiar to anyone who’s read The Fourth Turning by Neil Strauss and William Howe (though their astute observations were based on patterns in history and not astrology), our climactic, end of cycle wars seem the most inevitable part of the cycle. In fact though they may have started somewhat sooner or ended relatively later Uranus overlapped between 9 and 17 degrees of Gemini for the Revolution, Civil War and WWII. These were epic wars that advanced the course of liberty a little further and led us into a new era in history. This was is at least partly due to the fact that the economy was reset with or not long before each of these wars, allowing us to become a freer and more egalitarian people. Based on this pattern, we can expect our own end of cycle conflict in the mid to late 2020s as I discussed a few years ago in The American Mandala.
The pattern is clear. All three eras in U.S. history saw increasing economic instabilities and pressures in the run up to our truly Great Wars. Through booms, busts, panics, depressions and money manipulations, financial pressures are a key part of the quarter before an end of cycle war. In the Revolutionary and the Civil War eras, high levels of income inequality persisted right up to the point of the war. In the last cycle the Great War and the Great Depression triggered an earlier round of wealth leveling. In The American Mandala in 2009 I said that it was about two years too soon for the Great Depression. Today I would say that we were then and remain in a depression era, even if the Fed keeps printing money to disguise that fact. We will be edging our way past the precarious point of the crash that gave us the Great Depression until the end of 2013. The Great Depression reached its most desperate point after a downturn in 1932 which is around 2015 in our timeline.
In this quarter of the cycle, Uranus always forms a challenging 90 degree square aspect or a conjunction (+/-0 degrees) with Pluto. In our day, we get to test out a series of 7 exact squares between Uranus in Aries and Pluto in Capricorn between June 24th 2012 and March 17th 2015 which will further intensify pressures on the government and corporations. There was a similar square at play in 1932 though it was flipped backwards, running from Aries to Cancer.
So far the cycle has been right on schedule, splitting the difference between the patterns of the 19th and 20th centuries. Will the Great Leveling effect show itself in 2013, echoing the the last cycle, or will the magicians who run our economy succeed in suspending disbelief, deficits, derivatives and the level of wealth concentration somewhere up there in the stratosphere until 2026? My sense is that it would be best if the economy follows its 20th century pattern and resets early with a reversal in wealth concentration at the same time. Can we be the adults in the room who reform the economy without being forced into it by circumstances? In the best case scenario the government and the public will work together to reset the economy gradually and equitably. This would actually be in the best interests of the powers that be. They are probably aware that the last round of the cycle was the only time in U.S. and colonial American history that the unique pressures of this quarter did not end in the outright revolt of at least part of the public and the overturning of the prevailing order. The early wealth leveling effect of the 20th century may have saved the government from being overthrown a little further down the road when Uranus entered Gemini. If instead we follow the patterns of previous eras and do not successfully reset the economy until the beginning of our own end of cycle conflict, this extremely high level of wealth inequality and the imbalances it imposes on society could continue until the mid-2020s, making the upswing into the era of increased equality more difficult for us.
It has always been the goal of the most powerful to gain increasingly greater shares of what’s available. Yet while the average world citizen views the powers that be as some of the worst financial managers we’ve ever seen, those who exist at the top of the pyramid probably see themselves as the most successful money masters in history. Statistically they are if you’re part of the one percent, though they have been likened to a virus so successful it kills the host. I suspect that Great Levelers happen because the power mad when allowed full rein become too greedy and run the engine of their success into ruin. And when I say ruin, I mean their ruin. So far their loss has always led to a new day of freedom and opportunity for the rest of us. The Great Leveler of the 21st century is hovering on the edge of the horizon like some apocalyptic mirage but beyond it exists the new promised land, an era of increasing equality where we can take the next step in that journey toward liberty. For everyone who is despairing, don’t count us down and out yet.
Recently, I found traffic held up by work trucks at the point where Rte 15 meets I91 near Hartford, CT. Perched in a cherry picker, a worker was applying the first stroke of whitewash to graffitti that was sprayed directly on the cement of the overpass. SILENCE IS TREASON! it said and, a little further away, looking like an afterthought: WTC7. I usually honk when I see the work of a freeway blogger but the worker looked precarious up there. I wondered how the worker felt about the message he was covering up, if he felt as guilty as I did, gliding silently past. The way it was laid out what you saw, what struck you to heart was the first part of the message. SILENCE IS TREASON! Taken out of context, the message would seem startling and out of place to most people. For me it seemed anachronistic, like an echo from another time becase we are not yet at the point where silence is seen as treason but one day not so long from now it will be if past cycles are anything to go by. More and more of us will come to echo our predecessors. In a kind of call and response across time, FDR and JFK, Lincoln and the founding fathers – especially the founding fathers – speak to us today. What they had to say will only become more relevant as time passes.
You see, Pluto maintains a rough 1:2:3 relationship with Neptune and Uranus in this part of the cycle. In the mid 2020s when Uranus once again travels into Gemini as it did in all of our end of cycle wars, Neptune will hit positions it held during the Civil War and Pluto will for the first time return to the degrees of Capricorn and Aquarius that it travelled in the midst of the American Revolution. This means in some ways, theoretically at least, the mid twenties will share some commonalities with the Civil War and the Revolution. The time isn’t here yet, but we already hear their echoes, telling us to educate ourselves, to be aware and be prepared for that time when we will need to right ourselves in a world turned upside down once more.
Most of the facts regarding wealth inequality are available on the web. For information regarding over all trends in wealth inequality and the reference to the greatest increase in antebellum wealth concentration see “Modeling the Distribution and Intergenerational Transmission of Wealth, Chapter One: Long Term Trends in American Wealth Inequality, Chapter authors Jeffrey G. Williamson, Peter H. Lindert, 1980, National Bureau of Economic Research.
For an excellent book that gives further information on this time period read America’s First Great Depression: Economic Crisis and Political Disorder After the Panic of 1837, Alasdair Roberts, 2012, Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London.
I read the print version but much of the book can be accessed at Amazon.
The facts about wealth inequality before the Revolution were found in Urban Wealth and Poverty in Pre-Revolutionary America, Gary B Nash, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 6, No. 4, Spring 1976.
I used the Swiss Emphemeris at Astrodienst.