Fall 2023: An Update

Peter Turchin

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The last update on “What I am working on” was posted a year ago,  and it is high time to do another.

Last year was very intense. It started with preparing for the publication of my trade book, End Times, which came out on June 13 in the US and UK. The week before the publication I was in London and Oxford, promoting the book to the UK and European readers. This promotion tour was very intense—I lost count of how many interviews, podcasts, etc I gave. Promotion activities on the US side were similar in “volume”, but thankfully extended over two months, rather than concentrated in a week. Then I went to Africa for a much needed vacation.

Currently I am back in Vienna. As usual, I spend half a year (between mid-September and mid-March) in Austria and the rest of time in Connecticut. I’ve shifted gears from a “book promotion mode” to a “doing research mode.” A lot of work has accumulated while I was busy with the book, and I’ve been trying to get on top of that. As a result, there was little time for writing posts for my blog (alas). On the positive side, my research group, mostly based in Vienna, but with colleagues in UK, Canada, and US, has been making tremendous progress. There are truly awesome developments with Seshat Databank, and the associated CrisisDB. Expect a major update before the end of the year.

Largely thanks to my research assistant, Jakob, we are trying to keep my website updated with various developments. In particular, check the Events tab, which currently lists two upcoming events (and more will be added as their dates solidify).

Jakob has also helpfully collected the links to publications, press articles, etc, appearing over the past two months, which you can find at the end of this post. I’ll try to continue posting such monthly (or, more realistically, bimonthly) updates in the future.

Meanwhile the world is seemingly intent on rolling towards some kind of catastrophic “end times.” There is a lot to say about recent events from a cliodynamic point of view, and I hope to blog more regularly in the future. But catching up with research projects leaves little time or energy for that…

September-October Updates

Publications:

Press articles: 

Scholarly reviews:

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Leslie Dow

Sadly, all the events are on the wrong side of the Atlantic for me. However, I am looking forward to seeing your take on recent world events. I can’t say I loved End Times, but I appreciate that you are doing this work.

Steven Moffitt

“End Times” and its predecessor “Ages of Discord”, are two of the most important works in today’s social science, since they set a precedent for analytic analysis of human societies. They explain the natural evolution of societies from socially cohesive beginnings toward socially unstable mid-lives to societal “reshaping” crises. The sad finding is that most previous societal life cycles had crises that included wars, intra societal violence, economic hardships, and unacceptable loss of life. All in all, these works have a good chance of becoming classics.

Aatif Ahmad

Having read The End Times, it can explain the outbreak of insurgency in Kashmir in 1990. It wasn’t really an insurgency but rather a civil war between local pro-India elites and Pakistan-sponsored counter-elites. Elite overproduction resulted from massive expansion of education (especially higher education) in the 1950s-1980s, despite the economy remaining stagnant (including the Indian economy, which had to go to the IMF in 1990). Popular immiseration happened due to extensive corruption (the wealth pump) and this sharply increased income inequality.

The result was constant polarisation and battles between pro-India elites (the mainstream Kashmiri politicians/bureaucrats benefiting from the wealth pump) and Pakistan-sponsored counterelites (Islamic/pro-independence revolutionaries), which then resulted in the outbreak of insurgency in 1990 supported by Pakistan.

The End Times also explains why the insurgency died down. It died down because India experienced rapid economic growth in the 1990s-2000s, after the 1990 IMF-backed reform ended licence raj. This transformed Kashmiri agriculture from subsistence paddy farming to apple horticulture, as well as making Kashmir a centre for tourism. The Indian government was able to pour in billions of dollars for development. All of this relieved popular immiseration and reduced income inequality.

The Kashmiri surplus elites / elite aspirants were able to find jobs/business opportunities in a booming India (as well as in the booming GCC) (to the extent they weren’t able to enjoy the same within Kashmir itself).

Aatif Ahmad

You’re welcome, Peter. Alastair Lamb’s book ‘Kashmir – a disputed legacy’ talks about overproduction of university graduates in the 1980s as being a cause of the rise of forces alternative to the mainstream National Conference party of Kashmir, which had monopolised power. The rest is based on personal observation (I’m from Kashmir). I don’t think anyone has done a cliodynamic study of the insurgency, but the data should all be readily available, e.g. economic statistics, university enrollment, number of civil service jobs, job vacancies and applicants, etc.

Aatif Ahmad

Excerpt from Alastair Lamb’s book:

The State of Jammu and Kashmir in 1975 was indeed very different from that to which Sheikh Abdullah had returned from Aligarh some four and a half decades ago. In 1931, when Sheikh Abdullah’s Muslim Conference first saw the light of day, the State possessed a handful of university graduates whose potential prestige was, accordingly, very great indeed. Men like Sheikh Abdullah, G.M. Sadiq, Chaudhuri Ghulam Abbas and Mirza Afzal Beg were members of a very small elite. Leadership came naturally to such men. By 1975 university graduates in Jammu and Kashmir had long ceased to be rare phenomena. What was becoming relatively scarce, however, was the suitably employed (and adequately remunerated) graduate. Advances in education, as has happened in many another developing country, had not been accompanied by a corresponding expansion of opportunity. There had been considerable economic progress: the Indian Government, indeed, had at times gone out of its way to push money towards the State for obvious political reasons (in the first decade of Indian control, for example, it had spent over $100,000,000 in the State). However, as usual, the rich got richer and the not so rich became ever more disgruntled. Discontented qualified youth had become increasingly a feature of the State’s political activity. One obvious consequence was the increasing ease with which public disturbances arose, often from trifling causes.

Last edited 2 months ago by Aatif Ahmad
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