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.