“I believe Peter Turchin is deeply mistaken about elite competition in modern societies” writes Pseudoerasmus in a comment on my previous post. So let’s strip the argument down to its most basic form. In my post I explicitly use the political (administrative) elites in the United States. So let’s not shift concepts, as Pseudoerasmus does, who talks about elite wealth which is an interesting but separate issue. Let’s talk about the politicians and bureaucrats.
- The supply of such political positions is relatively inelastic. In fact, the number of elected federal officials has not changed in the last four-five decades. The size of the federal bureaucracy actually decreased. According to the OPM, the total Federal workforce declined from 6.1 million in 1970 to 4.4 million in 2011. I don’t have numbers handy for state and local levels, but I’d expect that their numbers would at most grow with the population size, if that.
- The supply of aspirants for such positions during the same period has grown several fold. In my blog I specifically mention law-degree holders and wealth-holders, who are two principal sources of politically ambitious individuals. The number of lawyers tripled, while the numbers of top wealth holders quadrupled or more, depending on the cut-off point one uses.
- Thus, the competition for elite positions in politics and bureaucracy has intensified dramatically.
I don’t see how you can argue against this logic. How could the competition not intensify? Have you abolished the law of supply an demand?
But let’s also look at the empirical measures. Pseudoerasmus dismisses the wealth of data I bring to bear on this question, which is covered in Ages of Discord, as follows: “The evidence Turchin marshalls for elite fragmentation is basically the bimodal distribution of lawyers’ incomes, and the degree of legislative polarisation.” This only scratches the surface. Consider:
- In addition to the overproduction of lawyers, we see the same trends in the MBAs and in medical internships
- Tuition at top universities, such as Yale
- Tuition at law schools
- Judicial confirmations
- Cost of elections
- Numbers of millionaires running for political office
- Unraveling of social norms governing political discourse and process
- Delegitimization of the state institutions
How can anybody who have observed the 2016 elections can talk about “cooperative elites”? You could see a lot of evidence of cooperation in the Clinton-Trump debates, for sure. And it’s not just the Democratic/Republican divide; both parties are tearing themselves apart. There are deep divisions in the American political class on such issues as immigration, minimal wage, health system, environment/global change, and so on.
The degree of vitriol is unprecedented (at least, in the last century; back in the nineteenth century the politicians actually shot each other, others were brutally beaten with the stick).
Now, Pseudoerasmus, if you have social indicators that buttress your story of elite “cooperation and unity”, I’d like to see them.