In the previous post I talked about how elite overproduction contributes to political instability. Too many elite aspirants vying for a fixed number of power positions means that an increasingly large number of them are frustrated in their quest for status and power. Some percentage of them radicalizes and turns into “counter-elites” who work actively to bring down the established elites, and overturn the social order.
However, counter-elites are few in numbers. They are dangerous because they are good organizers, but their efforts to overturn the social order require the second ingredient in the structural-demographic (SD) theory—high mass mobilization potential, or MMP. MMP depends on the dynamics of well-being enjoyed (or otherwise) by the non-elites, the proverbial 99 percent. As the work by the American economist Richard Easterlin and his students showed, what’s important is not the absolute level of well-being, but how it changes from one generation to the next. Let’s consider the most dangerous age-group of people (as a source of political violence): those in their twenties. They compare the standard of living they have achieved, or are likely to achieve, to that of their parents. If their quality of life is lower, the MMP increases, and vice versa.
Well, over the last 30-40 years the well-being of the median Americans has been declining. I have a slew of proxies—economic, biological, and social—to prove this point. In the last decade the decline of non-elite well-being has been so dramatic that no serious person can argue against it.
There are statistics and there are people. I’ve had some interesting discussions with a friend’s son, who is a member of, not to put too fine a point on it, the gun-toting redneck segment of American population. He is white, has no college education, and a veteran. He is not ambitious, but a good worker. Nevertheless, he is constantly in and out of jobs. For example, last year he had a job in a factory that was a supplier to the Electric Boat Company, but he quit. Why? Because the job paid $12/hour. That’s less than what used to be the minimum wage (in inflation-adjusted dollars) back in the 1970s.
After he and his buddies are done shooting a variety of assault weapons on the firing range, they drink beer and talk politics, among other things. Naturally enough, they are all Trump supporters. Not because they particularly like the guy, but because he is the only one who courts them, rather than the donors.
They are not stupid, just uneducated. They perfectly well realize that Trump is unlikely to win elections. If Trump loses to Clinton, they would understand (in fact, expect it). But if another Republican candidate—Ted Cruz, for example—steals the nomination, they would be very upset.
I am not saying that I expect the Donald to turn to organizing a revolution, should he be frustrated in his quest for the Republican nomination. Rather, his “unexpected” success in the 2016 election cycle is a good indicator of some deep structural shifts in the American society. In particular, the twin problems of elite overproduction and popular immiseration are getting worse every year. Trump is a symptom, not the cause.
Trump is the product of elite overproduction. Should Sanders be considred the product of mass impoverishment?
The success of Bernie Sander’s campaign is, without a doubt, due to the popular immiseration trend. Donald Trump is a more interesting case study, because his success is due to both popular immiseration and elite overproduction.
I think it’s biased to say Trump is a case of elite overproduction and Sanders is not. Sanders is an equally ambitious outsider who feels locked out from power. Let’s be fair here.
Are u cozying up to this guy in case in the future he and his mob drop by your office?
Indeed…I too know people like this, some of them torn between Trump and Sanders. The biggest problem is that the Democrats, specifically the educated urban ones, have written off the “redneck vote” and do not concern themselves much about the welfare of rural, small-town, or less educated Americans. The Republicans entered the void by courting them via hatred: hate of minorities, gays, the government, anything. So we have a society defined by hate.
Not all Republicans — most of them also neglect the “redneck vote”, and Donald Trump exploits this neglect.
Let’s talk about the concept of The Big Short. I remember reading the comments of some historian about the Crash of 1929. He pointed out that after the end of WWI when farm prices fell American agriculture started crashing in flyover country and it took years before the crash to ultimately hit Wall Street. So someone seeing this trend could have shorted the market before October of 1929 and make millions. Is a political Big Short situation coming in the U.S.A.? If so, what to do?
//Is a political Big Short situation coming in the U.S.A.? If so, what to do?//
Emigrate perhaps? 😀
… Don’t come to Britain though. The situation cannot be much better!
What will happen if the UK votes to leave the European Union in the Referendum this summer? The EU provides a lot of high status, well-paid but often pointless jobs (see: Euro MPs, but also civil servants although, unfortunately for democracy, their role is usually less pointless) for status-hungry British elites. What is this class of official going to do instead? Try to create another institution is my guess, or else DS theory would predict they would try to take power at Westminister away from the Etonian/Monarchy clique.
Yes, Europe has a lot of the same problems…
Sanford, I wouldn’t want to short the outbreak of political violence — we will all suffer if it really gets out of hand.
“Well, over the last 30-40 years the well-being of the median Americans has been declining. I have a slew of proxies—economic, biological, and social—to prove this point. In the last decade the decline of non-elite well-being has been so dramatic that no serious person can argue against it.”
Economically, incomes have not declined, they are actually up substantially (median income up 44-62% depending upon group)
Lifespans are up across the board, medical care for serious diseases are simply incomprehensible better. Air quality and water quality are much better. Education levels are significantly higher. Inventories of material possessions housing, appliances, AC, computers, cars, etc) are up, and the poor today are better than the middle class of forty years ago. Inflation rates are lower, unemployment rates similar or lower (to the stagflation rates of Carter era). Better entertainment options. Should I go on?
What has changed are the compositions of households. Smaller households, more single family, more single earner, more students, more immigrants and more retired. If this is what you mean by “social” decline, then I suppose your statement is correct on this dimension, but it somewhat presumptuous of us to judge how others choose to live their lives.
I will agree that the emergence of a billion previously excluded communist people into the global markets has slowed the rate of growth from prior eras in developed nations. But slower progress is not in any way synonymous with regress.
Sorry, but not only can I argue against this alleged decline, I can convincingly argue that Americans have never had it better. Not even close.
Lifespans are NOT up across the board:
Thanks, Richard. The second map is pretty amazing — I just tweeted it. Are you on Twitter?
I already have too many online avenues on which to waste time. Trying to keep that to a minimum (heh).
But glad to pass on a link.
Again 100% wrong. It is easy to google lifespan in US 30-40 years ago and today for whites and it is better. Even the link you provided clearly reveals it improved over the time in question, as it reveals it dropped two percent a year for the first twenty years and then started going up a half a percent per year for last part of the era in question.
You are simply switching years on the fact to try to make it conform.
What the heck are you talking about?
If you’re talking about the first link I posted, you need to learn how to read a chart.
It lists deaths, not lifespan.
You are just being argumentative. I mentioned median US lifespans were up over 30-40 years. You linked to an article On WHITE mortality as a counter to my fact. I am pointing out that even according to your article “Between 1978 to 1998, the mortality rate for U.S. whites aged 45 to 54 fell by 2 percent per year on average,…After 1998… U.S. white non-Hispanic mortality rose by half a percent a year.”
Thus you attempted to change the debate from median lifespan over 40 years to white middle age mortality over the last 15. But even with the “switcheroo,” your data source supports my statement. Do the math.
You said “lifespans are up across the board”.
A decrease in lifespan in a big portion of the populace over 15 years does not count as “across the board” to me.
Roger, It is very curious, then, that they do not seem to notice it. Perhaps the lower half of the income spectrum is currently all suffering from mass hysteria?
As discussed in Dr. Turchin’s article above, it is not the absolute amount of wealth that matters most, it is that wealth compared to what? The relative position in society is more important than the absolute. This is one (of many) points where neo-classical economic theory makes assumptions about human behavior with regard to money, that don’t stand up to empirical testing. It’s an individual’s wealth relative to the standards of their society that matter.
As Dr. Turchin points out, the evidence is voluminous, and anyone who comes from a region which once relied on manufacturing jobs to keep the lower middle class on the road to prosperity, can see clearly that things have deteriorated in recent decades. But if you want to see some data on increasing inequality: http://www.cbpp.org/research/poverty-and-inequality/a-guide-to-statistics-on-historical-trends-in-income-inequality The change in income concentration has returned to levels not seen since the 1920’s.
Absolutely not. Please reread his quote which I supplied. He did not write that inequality is up, he wrote the median well being has been declining. I supplied the argument that it clearly has been improving, in some cases, substantially.
I disagree entirely with the view that absolute well being is more important than relative well being. I am not denying that relative well being is important (especially so for more shallow or vindictive people), just that when it comes to health care, environmental quality, lifespan, medical care and standards of living that absolute well being is extremely important and almost certainly the more important of the two.
Switching gears slightly, I have already pointed out to the Dr. In other posts that he should try to be more careful with his use of the term inequality and our issues with unfairness. He routinely elevates the status of egual outcomes over other forms of equality and fairness (fair according to rules, fair according to effort, fair according to need, fair according to contribution added, fair according to hierarchical position). People are bothered by unfairness, but they are bothered in different ways by each of these types of unfairness, and equality based on outcomes often contradicts the others, sometimes to the extreme.
Back to your comments. I am not going to offer an argument at this time on why you and the Dr. And most people are unaware of how much progress has occurred in the US and globally. Perhaps you should answer. Why is an intelligent well read person so unaware of such marvelous improvements?
Again, I am not arguing that there were no geographic sub areas within the median which saw decay, such as old rust belt areas. But that is already reflected in the median and is a separate discussion (primarily related to enhanced competition from third world workers who were previously and unfairly prevented from entering markets).
I will address your comments on income inequality under separate note. Can we just agree that the well being of the median person has improved over the past 30-40 years?
I agree with the points Richard and Ross make. There are a lot of data, and they seemingly paint a contradictory picture — except when viewed through the lens of SD theory. But I will have to address it in a future post.
$12/hour is probably something like $2/hour in the 70s. That was the starting wage of a “helper” in electrical construction in Raleigh NC in the 1970s if they had a vehicle and good drive someone else to work ($1.75/hr. otherwise). So that he doesn’t want to go back to the scrape by wages, that were the norm in this neck of the woods, isn’t real surprising. But $12/hr for factory work is considered the going rate around here today.
According to Officer and Williamson, the pay for production workers went from $6 to $10/hour between 1975 and 1981. So not really $2/h.
Lawrence H. Officer and Samuel H. Williamson, “Annual Wages in the United States, 1774-Present,” MeasuringWorth.
USA suicide rate has sadly hit a 30 year high. Must correlate well with popular immiseration. Have historical suicide rates been reviewed, Peter?
I already saw it, and will post on it tonight. Suicide rate is one of the indicators for popular immiseration.
My theory is that they are committing suicide because they are so happy at the improvement in their lives.