“Elites” (and “elite overproduction”) are key concepts in the structural-demographic theory (SDT). In this blog post I’d like to explain the meaning of this term. This is especially important because the popular usage (see Liberal Elite) has very little in common with the sociological definition (which is how it’s used in SDT). Thus, we have “Trump vs. the Elites” which is, sociologically speaking, nonsense.
As a term in sociology, elites are simply a small segment of the society who concentrate social power in their hands. They are the power-holders (and I increasingly use this term in my lectures, to avoid confusing them with those “latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading” folks that the right-wingers love to hate).
Next question, what is social power? Answer: ability to influence other people’s behavior. Sociologists such as Michael Mann distinguish four sources of social power: military (coercion), economic, administrative or political, and ideological.
Put simply, there are many ways to influence people behavior. I can make you to do something by force, or a threat of force; I can pay you to do it; I can order you; or I can persuade you. The last is one of the most important, if often underappreciated, forms of social power.
In most situations, different kinds of power are combined in various proportions. For example, military officers primarily influence the behavior of soldiers by giving them direct orders (political power), but this is buttressed by the threat of court martial (coercion). Most effective power involves all four components. Thus, a charismatic military chief (think Alexander the Great) gives direct orders through the chain of command, rewards followers with loot, hangs the deserters, and inspires his followers to fight for an idea.
Although the elites governing a country use a combination of all four kinds of power, there is a lot of variation in how ruling elites are recruited and from whom. Interestingly enough, an elite deriving its power from a particular source tends to dominate others. For example, in Egypt it’s the military elites. Modern Egypt has been ruled by generals from Nasser to Sadat to Mubarak, and now (after a brief intermission) by Sisi.
China, France, and Russia have traditionally been ruled by administrative elites. In Russia during the last Time of Troubles of the 1990s, a clique of wealthy billionaires, known as “oligarchs,” attempted to install themselves as the ruling elite. But they were easily defeated by the bureaucrats, led by Putin. Some oligarchs were exiled, another ended up in prison and then was exiled, and the rest accepted subordinate positions in the political order.
In the United States coercive power is thoroughly controlled by the political leaders. Political (and ideological) bases of power, in turn, are subordinated to the economic elites. I won’t go into details here, just note that power is exercised indirectly and in subtle ways. Those interested in understanding how this works should read William Domhoff’s Who Rules America (see also his web site) or Chapter 4 of Ages of Discord. The conclusion that we reach is that, to a first approximation, American power holders are wealth holders.
Thus, a pretty good answer to the question, who are the elites in America? is “those whose personal worth exceeds X million dollars.” What is X? It’s somewhat arbitrary, but it’s around 5-10 million as the following graph suggests:
You can see from the chart, that if you want to be in the proverbial 1 percent, you need to amass at least $7.8 million.
An alternative way to define the elites would be to start enumerating the most important political offices and bureaucratic positions, from the US president down; the officers of Fortune 500 companies; the owners and editors-in-chief of major media companies; major donors to politicians, and so on. But you would end up pretty much with the same group of people, because the great majority of these people would also be significant wealth holders. In America, wealth (economic power) is very closely correlated with overall social power.
I think that one thing that often trips people up is the idea of the “elite” as being a binary, all or nothing label. There are some people, such as Donald Trump, Janet Yellen, Paul Ryan, or George Soros, who clearly are members of the ruling elite class. There are others, such as the homeless people who I encounter on the street, who clearly are not. But if you were to talk about someone like an alt-right radio talk show host with 50,000 listeners, or a neo-socialist blogger who 100,000 people read the blog posts of, it is a little more ambiguous. They clearly have more influence than I do, but it’s not clear that they are able to influence actual government policy or economic outcomes any more than I do.
I don’t think this is a fundamental problem for SDT, since any theory has to make some simplifying assumptions, and this seems to be a reasonable one to make. But since we don’t have anything analogous to knighthood, that officially states “this person is part of the elite now”, it means that there will be ambiguous cases. If a person gets too bogged down in “but who do we mean by the word ‘elite’?”, then it could be an obstacle to appreciating the rest of SDT. Just an observation.
I wonder if this is harder
[interruption from 11-year old daughter causes me to leave one thought unfinished]
I wonder if this is harder in a country like Russia where membership in an elite is not necessarily reflected in money? Or is it easier because you will have an administrative position that makes it clear you are a decision maker?
Good point, Ross. Note that there is no break in the distribution of wealth (and, therefore, power) in the US. So any boundary that we draw is arbitrary. It can be 1-percenters, 2-percenters, or whatever. If you read Secular Cycles, you will see that we generally deal with this problem by subdividing the overall elites into magnates, mid-rank elites, and lower-rank elites. This subdivision still introduces arbitrary break points, but is often a better approximation for who has how much power, better than the binary distinction.
It would be interesting to see if there was a cross-cultural way to establish those break points. For example, based on health outcomes, relative to the median? Not that we wouldn’t still use income for the case of the U.S., but it might make it possible to make those breakpoints reflect approximately the same degree of power in different cultures.
But then, I don’t know if data on health outcomes by class is any easier to come by than income. Something for Seshat to have, perhaps?
Generally speaking I don’t expect any real discontinuities. Power distribution grades smoothly from those with a lot to those with none. Even in societies with fixed social orders, like Ancien Regime France, there was no discontinuity between the nobility and the Third Estate; instead, extensive overlap.
I can’t say that I’m comfortable with the idea that money controls bureaucrats/ideological folks controls the military and police. The ability to form and control ideas itself generates money/power (see: Facebook or Google, both of whom are likely to be slowly merging into the national security state).
Causalities are a scary thing to wander into, although the four-headed hydra of power makes sense to at least break into those groups. You do, after all, have to virtualize and build models in order to begin to get a handle on something.
So, where does the educational system, especially post secondary, fit into this? Colleges appear to be powerful in shaping power and relationships, are obliquely related to money (although Soros can gin up a protest or two, no doubt), and appear to be running open loop so far as much of the rest of the US is concerned.
One could make an argument that, in the U.S., if you have power of any form, you will use it to get money somehow. For example, an elected official who becomes wealthy afterwards, like Al Gore or HRC, or like GWB or Mitt Romney they encounter a more forgiving economic climate when in business because people know they’re going to be in politics eventually (due to their fathers). So, in this case, money wouldn’t be the only source of power, but it would be a good marker for it.
The college question is an interesting one. I think that powerful colleges (e.g. Harvard) get a lot of $$ in donations compared to less powerful ones, and powerful academics get bigger grants of $$ than less powerful ones. But, it might be harder to track that $$, since it doesn’t show up as income, per se (I don’t think).
In order to influence minds, somebody has to publish you. If you are fired from WaPo or NYT as columnist, your ability to influence minds (and, therefore, power) is greatly diminished. This was particularly true before the age of blogs, Facebook, and Twitter.
As an aside, where would the US security apparatus fit into this model? They increasingly don’t appear to be strictly under the control of either the military or standard bureaucracy.
Perhaps we’ll see a push towards a Soviet style three-legged stool of KGB/party/army where the KGB analog is a merger between intelligence agencies and a highly controlled media and internet.
i wonder, if everyone who supported sanders throughout his campaign had instead emailed the the dnc once a week, saying “i will support the democrat candidates when the party puts citizen initiative at the head of the platform.’
they would have been in sufficient numbers to start a national conversation. and democracy is the cure for most political problems. that’s why it doesn’t appear in the constitution, since madison wanted the rich to rule, in perpetuum.
in the meantime, let’s not use the word ‘democracy’ in discussions about the american polity, madison was clear that he was building a plutocracy, as here we see.
In compliance with the French tradition the elite is a social group with top capabilities, who ENSURE PROGRESS within society (M. Allais, “ Classes Sociales et Civilisations“, In Économies et sociétés, série 43, No17, Trans n/a, 1974: 285-377).
Departing from this definition, current elites can be identified as counter-elites or rather «negative elites” as they ensure regress and degeneration within society globally. They are counterproductive, which is especially evident in the realm of education the quality whereof declines cross the world. This global trend stems from the rise of labour-saving technologies which make the core of the world population excessive. Hence there is no sense to educate it, unlike in the industrial era which required educated workers. In these conditions the intellectual level of members of elites also declines and “top capabilities” vanish. It comes at no surprise then that elites start to generate regress. AT
@Al Toi: thank you for the reference to Allais, who uses ‘elite’ as I do. Nice to have support! I use ‘greedy’ for the SDT-defined group.
Well, you and Al Toi are free to use this term as you wish; it’s a free country. But my post was about how this term is used in the SDT.
“it’s a free country” – and a free world (somewhere more, somewhere less)
🙂 🙂 🙂
OK, I see that all members of the Elite are rich. But are all rich persons members of the Elite? I daubt it. What else, if anything is necessary, to make someone powerful in the US?
You made a point about Russia and Egypt that their Elites are administrative and military, repectively. Well, I bet these guys are also rich. Maybe not at the beginning of their careers, but certainly after a few years in power.
So it seems that the powerful are always rich. Nothing special about US elites, unless all rich are powerful. Do you have any data on that?
Karl, in some societies there is a high correlation between power and wealth (and don’t forget that wealth is power), but in others not. As an example, think Adolf Hitler. He was an extremely powerful individual, but not rich at all. His only sources of income were sales of Mein Kampf and salary:
I’m still struggling through this definition of elites as “simply a small segment of the society who concentrate social power in their hands”. Is power factor sufficient for the definition of elites? Say, global criminal networks generate a group of superrich who due to their incomes have access to decision-making. Yet, is it appropriate to identify them as elites?
Of course. They are power-holders.
An currently reading Secular cycles. Naturally the downside of secular cycles is obvious, but miserable situations would certainly be intolerable with no cycles at all. The most interesting insight you make about secular cycles to me is this idea of over production of elites. No doubt increases in elite production that followed economic reforms in the Soviet Union were key. And this brings to mind why the situation in North Korea is so seemingly stubborn. Numbers of elites are not increasing enough because any economic reform is kept in check. I worry they have read your books and are doing their best to frustrate secular cycles. China which has greatly opened economic activity certainly is riding an active secular cycle. Cuba may now begin to open enough to engage a secular cycle. The US should have been trying much harder over the years to support them economically rather than embargo. Maybe the west should do all it can to help rather than hinder North Korea to ensure a healthy crop of elites can spur on a secular cycle. As for the US I hope we get through this with less violence than the civil war.
Elite overproduction can develop in a variety ways. No wealth accumulation needs to be involved. In polities governed by administrative elites elite overproduction typically develops because too many children of bureaucrats desire to occupy bureaucratic posts.
“One could make an argument that, in the U.S., if you have power of any form, you will use it to get money somehow. ”
A lot of the time I suppose that’s true. The Clinton Foundation would be the textbook example of that. Truly large scale influence peddling with the notion of getting a word in with the future President makes for a good business model.
I can think of powerful non-rich people though. One pure play here is high level flag officers in the military. They have real influence on the system and can make a lot happen with the odd snapping of the fingers. Some flavors of academics and artists perhaps, although we aren’t talking national leaders here. Really, just how wealthy did Nixon, Carter, Truman, even Reagan become?
My gut tells me that money is used to acquire power and not so much the reverse.
Jimmy Carter’s net worth is 5 million, so he is a 1-percenter. Of course, his influence derives not from his wealth, but there is correlation.
And Carter is old school. Nancy Pelosi’s net worth is $26 million
Clinton Foundation money went to good causes, not the Clintons’ own pockets.
If you want to look at an example of a foundation that lined the pockets of the guy who set it up, look at the Trump Foundation.
Global criminal networks (outcasts that is) as planetary elites and power holders – sounds like a verdict. Yet, traditionally (even if to forget the definition of elites by the French sociological tradition) the concept of elites did of course imply the modality of ‘the best’, that is, a selected group of those who are better than others in some domain, say, in their profession. “Academic elites” or “military elites” do not sound odd, these expressions exist in language, but they literally signify “the best in their profession”, but not the most powerful. Peter, please do not take It personally, It’s just for provoke a discussion. Cheers, Al Tol
No worries, as long as you use civilized language you are allowed to disagree with me as much as you want!
“Jimmy Carter’s net worth is 5 million, so he is a 1-percenter. Of course, his influence derives not from his wealth, but there is correlation.”
I really can’t consider someone worth 5 or 10 million dollars as being powerful, although a more general concept of the ‘elite’ might sweep them in. Heck, my small (really small) town easily has a handful of people in that wealth range…and they don’t seem to have a bit of local influence outside of their own employees, if they have any. A world where a successful dental surgeon equates to a former President sounds surprisingly egalitarian.
In any case, it seems pretty obvious that money is not the sole cause of power or visa versa. The two are somewhat fungible and the causalities work both ways.
A really interesting study would be that of Al Gore. $1.7M -> around $300M in 13 years. Remarkable. Business acumen? Gifts from rich backers? Insider trading? A bit of influence peddling? What was the web of power and money that produced the final result?
Modern days are odd in that they’ve produced fortunes based on pure money manipulation (the so-called FIRE industries) and pushing pixels to screens. Real productive assets like resource extraction, agriculture, manufacturing appear to have been pushed aside by some sort of virtual economy. Wealth produced by coastal keyboard wranglers doesn’t sound sustainable to me, but perhaps the Emperor is fully clothed after all.
It seems to me that an elite implies the ability and willingness to apply power, but I’m not sure how that would be quantified.
Jimmy Carter came to power in the 1970’s. If you haven’t noticed, inequality in the US (and thus the influence of those with money) has exploded since then.
And the productivity of resource extraction depends on the resource. If externalities were all paid for, a lot of resources would not be worth extracting.
Increases in standard of living have been due to advances in technology, science, medicine, and social standards and the ideas for them mostly originated in metropolitan areas or research universities.
Yes, counting those with >5 mln wealth is a proxy, an indirect indicator. Of course, it would be better to trace all influential people in the government, the corporations, public intellectuals, generals and the police (FBI!). It’s worth doing, but it doesn’t preclude following the fortunes of the elites grosso modo.
The elites in any state are always the best networked families; those who are extremely wealthy, whose immediate family relatives, cousins, in-laws and second and third cousins are all extremely powerful people. These people can pull strings because they are able to use informal channels of influence. They are often known as the “royal family” but they can also be wealthy merchant families. When elites compete there are always competing families, and families usually have alliances with other families. This is what it’s like at the very top. Trump vs Clinton is an obvious case in point here. These are not elites by themselves; on their own they are just humans. They are elites through their elite families. So when defining elites I would always think in terms of families and their networks rather than individuals randomly popping in and out of history like some sub-atomic particle.
Individuals who do not have the network of an elite family will always be servants of the elite families. Hitler was an elite in this superficial sense in that he had power but he was a servant who did the bidding of his paymasters and would have gotten nowhere without them.
Edward, this is a good point. In fact, Michael Mann really focuses on the networks of power. But there is a value on crude proxies. See my response to Richard above.
you can quantify networks so they become a statistical measure.
assign values to immediate relatives / inlaws that represent the power of their social network.
for example value of 1 if relative was janitor 2-4 for middle management jobs 5 school headmistress 6-8 college professor 9-10 for CEO of big business. also include the figure for the individual in question, average all the numbers, you get a figure that represents their elite status, which represents their social power.
powerful people are powerful because they know people who are powerful. families are the oldest and most simple form of network. secret societies evolved as a substitute form of family power network to compete with the power of family networks.
same principle of knowing someone, using informal networks of influence to get the result you want.
Off topic but I’ve seen you talk before about how immigration is part of the expansion of the labor force that drives down the value of labor. Interestingly, this chart seems to coincide very well with the current US secular cycle: http://www.pewhispanic.org/chart/first-and-second-generation-share-of-the-population-1900-2015/
Immigration is an important driver of labor oversupply, but not the only one. In Ages of Discord I show the whole course from 1780 (whereas the graph you kinked to only shows the period from 1900).
Ah awesome! I really need should order the book.
Clinton Foundation money went to good causes, not the Clintons’ own pockets.”
lol. I’m not even sure how to respond to that, just spend 20 seconds on the web:
The Clinton Foundation is a canonical example of semi-legal political bribery.
In any case, my guess is that cliodynamics doesn’t much care about modern day Tammany Halls. Group behavior, data, predictability, are grist for the mill, not sleazes like the Clinton Family ambitions.
So, numerically, how do you define an elite? My guess is that they show up in a scatter chart and that they are observably different than the non-elite. The tricky part is assigning numerical values to power that don’t involve money.
Great discussion! Thanks for the post, and thanks to all the participants raising all these excellent points.
Indeed, an excellent discussion — thank you all for contributing to it!
Networks of power are a lot more influential, but most importantly, they are durable, and exist over generation after generation, usually getting more powerful and more influential. Then again, you can have single individuals that start without any wealth nor power, and that one their own, become extremely wealthy and extremely powerful, without having a network of support around them. They can even use all of this power and influence to do a lot of good. Best example I can think of here is Elon Musk. Also, as we all know, there are extremely rich people who live outside the realm of power and politics completely. But, yes, we do have to use some kind of proxy if we want to build a theory, make predictions, and test the theory. It might be worth it to consider a Bayesian modelling approach in which we use full distributions instead of single-valued statistics. It’s much more complicated, but much more representative, and therefore much more realistic as well as informative, in the end.
I don’t know much about Elon Musk, but how did he get all those initial contracts without connections? Not being cynical here, just curious how he managed his early rise.
Prof. Turchin, I want to raise and discuss what seems to be a conceptual problem with your definition of elites. You said above “Note that there is no break in the distribution of wealth (and, therefore, power) in the US. So any boundary that we draw is arbitrary. It can be 1-percenters, 2-percenters, or whatever.” The problem is that if elites are defined as the top x percent in any metric (here wealth), then there can never be an overage (or underage) of elites because the elites will always number exactly x percent of the population by definition. As a matter of logic, such elites cannot be either overproduced or underproduced.
Nevertheless your insight that “elite overproduction” is a key driver of political instability seems compelling. But since the overproduction in question cannot be of elites per se, it must be of a distinct class of people: of elite aspirants of a particular kind. I say “particular kind” because most people probably aspire (or wish) to be elite, whether they have any hope of being so or not. But the point of elite overproduction is that it leads to political instability, so the particular elite aspirants whose overproduction is relevant are those people who have a reasonable likelihood of becoming elites if there were open “slots” in the elite group, and of destabilizing politics as they try. They would be those who are not automatically precluded by not having the skills, ambition and social/class characteristics required to be an elite. The would also have to be those with the wherewithal to produce political instability in their efforts to become elite.
In earlier times a good proxy of this group might be the children of a hereditary ruling class. But the difficulty is that in the contemporary world, this is kind of elite aspirant is much harder to define and enumerate. Yes, counting those graduating from law school (and perhaps business school) would be a start. Yet in the contemporary world it seems that people with different skill sets can rise to positions of power and influence, and that previous barriers like gender and race are either no longer or much less in effect. Further, the social imperative seems to be to expand educational opportunity in the US in order to allow US workers to better compete in a global market, but doing so will increase the number with the skills to compete for elite slots.
So my two points (beyond the definitional point in the first paragraph) are 1) that elite overproduction is becoming ever harder to define and quantify, and 2) elite overproduction in the contemporary US seems almost impossible to control unless unthinkably reactionary social or class-related policies are put in place.
“I don’t know much about Elon Musk, but how did he get all those initial contracts without connections?”
He bootstrapped his way through several internet startups and then went into the space business. Tesla is a thing he joined via it’s BOD. A pretty remarkable guy, he really wasn’t all that rich from Paypal (150 million?) and has really left a mark. One thing noteworthy, I think, is that both of the businesses he is involved in are relatively old school and darned near impossible to be successful in. Maybe people are just bored hearing about entrepreneurs who are known for putting pixels on screens with business models based on internet advertising (or Steve Jobs and his modern version of Sony). Contacts, of course, are built through the startup financing biz.
Given the way that the aerospace business works, it’s amazing he has done as well as he has. Maybe timing has something to do with it as the fedgov has pushed NASA into becoming more oriented towards earth sciences and so funding for rocketry and exploration has fallen by the wayside. We (in the US) have become a nation that uses Russia for access to space and China for access to shoes.
If Trump follows through with his pivot of NASA away from taking NOAAs job and returns it to it’s roots, SpaceX may have been a super smart move…or they might get brushed aside by Lockheed Martin,etc.
It seems to me that Musk (or Trump) present a problem for cliodynamics as models based on mass behavior can be heavily nudged by individuals.
Elon Musk needed contacts for his first startup, Global Link (later Zip2) to get business clients and venture funding. I think he got these contacts on his own merit though, having gotten into U Penn and earned an Economics degree at Wharton there, and then very very briefly attending Stanford.
In this way he’s really the archetypical elite aspirant – using higher education as a vehicle into the elite class. Of course, the existing elites have a leg up here in American higher education thanks to legacy admits.
I don’t think that there’s any argument that Musk is a member of the ‘elite’. By definition, someone who can make something happen gets to join, there’s almost a tautology at work. Elite = someone who does elite things.
Do you need elite contacts acquired elsewhere to be a successful businessman? It can’t hurt, but in the (more than I’d like to count) decades I’ve spent in various startups, the owner/prime mover in the company vary rarely had a background that set them up for success, so I can’t say that proper introductions in college are a necessity.
In any case, this model of competing elites is all based on a combination of a decreasingly wealthy hoi polloi to feed off of and/or too many people in elite ranks…not unlike dividing a farm in a world with no primogeniture. The Musks of the world, as individuals, are only an aside and merely serve to occasionally light the match to an existing fuel source.
Elon Musk is not a good example; in fact, a ‘red herring’ elite. An amazing individual but one whom has been diverted down a cul-de-sac of disclosed space technology which he is allowed to play with so long as he does not disrupt the established order who already have access to working space technologies.
Musk’s business, and Branson’s, serves the purpose of assuring the non-elites who want to go into space Progress Is Happening. But as long as these businesses are confined to combustible disclosed technologies this Progress will take forever, or else be a dangerous one for the consumer, and easily sabotaged.
His business really needs the anti-gravity technology that the topmost elites have access to and which is safe. Such undisclosed technologies are the source of thousands of well-documented UFO sightings, majority of which are craft made by undisclosed government research.
Most scholars don’t think through or take seriously the implications of the disclosed and undisclosed. They simplemindly take the disclosed as all that exists and take at face value the theater often presented to them by NASA, which like Musk and Branson’s business, is merely an expectations management agency, that does not represent the frontier of human space research.
My point is that elites are best thought of as family networks and secret societies. If Elon Musk is not a member of a powerful family or powerful secret society then he is not part of the elite.
I’m taking a view from 100 years from now…
“2) elite overproduction in the contemporary US seems almost impossible to control unless unthinkably reactionary social or class-related policies are put in place.”
No problem. You form up sides and have a war.
So blithely says a guy who has no effing clue what living in a war-torn country is like. Once you are in that situation, we’ll see what problems you may have. From what I have gleaned about you, you’re likely among the folks least well-prepared to live through a war zone.
In any case, this is a problem that has been solved before in the US without a civil war (back in the Progressive Era through the New Deal):
1. Breaking up of monopolies.
2. Stronger unions
3. Higher taxes on the rich.
4. Also restriction on immigration. Last time, also racist/bigoted policies like the Ivy’s Jewish quota.
“So blithely says a guy who has no effing clue what living in a war-torn country is like. ”
I’m just not in the habit of busily explaining to people how things ‘oughtta be’. It’s not only boring, but is outside of the scope of examining history with metrics looking for patterns and potential causalities. I don’t doubt that the world has a need for yet more people giving policy recommendations, but it’s probably best left to reddit or screeds in your local newspaper.
Elite overproduction obviously has ended up in wars (civil and other) over time. Has the US done this? Of course it has. Will it? That’s the crux of the matter right there. A likely ever-increasing rate of unemployment, shifts in economic concentration (the metastasized financial business for one), large scale change in demographics, all increases in stress in the system. Guess the outcome and you get a prize. Remember that the New Deal segued nicely into the largest war in history, so I can’t say that legislative solutions really resulted in a long term sea change.
Thanks for your input, though. Some of those things might even add another foot to the dam as the water levels rise. You can ‘glean’ as much as you like about me, but cyberstalking seems a waste of time in a blog about historical cycles.
Hi both of you, you seem to be escalating into an ad hominem exchange; if so, switch to talking about issues, rather than personalities! If I misread the tone, my apologies.
“Remember that the New Deal segued nicely into the largest war in history, so I can’t say that legislative solutions really resulted in a long term sea change.”
A war who’s causes had nothing to do with elite overproduction or immiseration in the US, so my conclusion still holds:
1. Breaking up of monopolies.
2. Stronger unions
3. Higher taxes on the rich.
4. Possibly restriction on immigration as well.
Would solve the problem without a war.
Yes, that was my point: Musk had no money at all to start, no network, no family fortune, and yet is now worth several billion dollars, and has single-handedly transformed both the space industry, the car and motor vehicle industry, as well as the heating, lighting, power-generation industry. Just one guy who has completely transformed all of these extremely large and important sectors of human activities. And he did it to make the world a cleaner and more sustainable place. He has even stated that he will eventually provide free solar-generated electricity to all Tesla car owners through the network of superchargers. Tesla has demonstrated the power of the new tech for powering housing in Samoa that now runs on 100% renewable solar energy: https://twitter.com/TeslaMotors/status/801063758348980225
So, yes, we have to look at statistics, averages, general trends and tendencies, and make inference based on that. However, we cannot ignore, dismiss, or exclude the contributions of single individuals that reshape the way the world works. And this is really not an exaggeration when we look at the example of Musk. BTW, I’m very surprised you don’t know about him… He’s, I would say, one of the most influential individuals in the world right now, and has been for several years.
For what little it’s worth I have one of Musk’s ludicrous-mode Model S electric cars and it’s absolutely fabulous. The best thing I’ve ever driven. Turned me into a fawning fanboy.
“So, yes, we have to look at statistics, averages, general trends and tendencies, and make inference based on that. However, we cannot ignore, dismiss, or exclude the contributions of single individuals that reshape the way the world works.”
I doubt that anyone would argue with that. Business cycles, population density and carrying capacity, borders and tribalism, it’s all going to provide a built-up opportunity for action. Although a well-placed individual might fire off a revolution, I supposes the stresses had to be there already to turn potential into some kind of kinetic energy.
The thing I think is missing in this talk of elite overpopulation is an issue brought up in Turchin’s books, that of the border and forming up of teams based on relatedness. In my mind, the big story of the last decade has been the disruption caused by mass movement of people. Regardless of the perceived benefits (or accrued karma) perceived by Western elite due to inviting in the world, the likely result will be friction and (perhaps) conflict.
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I have raised this issue at other blogs before, regarding the terminology of “elites”. You have used “power-holders”. Other might use “political class” or “1%” or “power elite” or “in group”, etc. However, outside of Ireland, most people do not seem to be aware that there is already a standard English word for exactly the socio-economic collective group you are describing.
The term was most commonly applied to the Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland (though the idea of Catholic and other adjective Ascendancies exist). But even a cursory study of the concept of Ascendancy will show that that it applies the majority of the behaviour you are ascribing to the “power-holders”, in particular in its social aspects.
You will find all of this applies to Ascendancies. However I believe you are missing a vital elemental here. Legal power. Ascendancies in particular have almost total control over the judiciary and legislative processes. In my opinion, this is a key reason why the interests of Ascendancies are so protected, and why it is so difficult to stem abuses of their power. No sane reformer would advocate upheaval in the legal system, but yet upheaving a corrupt Ascendancy is almost inextricably linked to this.
In almost any other area, even sweeping reform is possible without catastrophic consequences. But reform which upends the legal system will give even the most radical of radicals pause.