On one level, that of macrosocial dynamics, what happened yesterday, January 6, 2021, is not surprising. After all, my own model indicates that structural pressures for instability in the United States continue to build up. On a more immediate micro-level, watching hundreds of demonstrators break into the Capitol building and rampage through its hallowed halls was shocking. At one point, as I was watching the ABC coverage, George Stephanopoulos exclaimed, “This is not Ukraine!” True, over the past years we have become accustomed to the sight of revolutionary crowds breaking into government buildings in such countries as Ukraine, Armenia, Tajikistan… But something similar happening in Washington D.C., that citadel of democracy and the rule of law? Stunning, indeed.
What’s next? The dynamics of political violence at the micro-level and in the short run are difficult to predict. More important is what will happen at the level of deep, structural-demographic trends. Popular immiseration has been increasing for decades. I have written before how shocking it was for me to see such Malthusian indicators of stress as declining life expectancy, which turned down before Covid-19. The epidemic has now delivered a body blow to the well-being of the great majority of the Americans, with life expectancy, employment and incomes, as well as subjective measures of well-being all trending down.
Elite overproduction, and especially overproduction of the youth with advanced degrees, continues unabated. Our institutions of higher education have been churning out law, MBA, and PhD degrees, many more than could be absorbed by the economy. In a Bloomberg View article published just a few days ago Noah Smith provides the numbers for the overproduction of PhDs (America Is Pumping Out Too Many Ph.D.s).
The third structural-demographic force pushing up instability is the state indebtedness. It seems less relevant than the first two, as the U.S., due to its control of the world’s reserve currency, can seemingly print the greenbacks at will (although can this really continue indefinitely?). But the more important level is not the federal one, but that of the states, many of which are getting so cash-strapped that they are forced to reduce their police forces, or unable to hire additional medical personnel that are needed to administer Covid-19 vaccine.
Perhaps the shock of the Storming of the Capitol will spur our political leaders to action that would address these structural pressures. The most important one is reversing the trend of increasing popular immiseration. Now that the US Senate runoffs in Georgia are over, the Democrats control the White House and both chambers of the Congress. The Biden administration has two years to turn the Titanic of the American State around. Will they succeed? The future will show.