Social Tipping Points and Trend Reversals – A Historical Approach

Peter Turchin
Vestnik Moskovkogo Universiteta, Series XXVII Globalistika November 2, 2011 PDF


A useful approach to thinking about why outbreaks of political instability occur is to separate the causes into structural conditions and triggering events. Specific triggers of political upheaval, such as self-immolation of a Tunisian fruit vendor, are very hard, perhaps impossible to predict. On the other hand, structural pressures build up slowly and predictably, and are amenable to analysis and forecasting. The question is how do we gain a better understanding and, perhaps, ability to predict such social trend reversals as those leading from political stability to crisis — and then back to stability. Quantitative historical analysis reveals that complex human societies are affected by recurrent — and somewhat predictable — waves of political instability. The structural-demographic theory suggests that such seemingly disparate social indicators as stagnating or declining real wages, a growing gap between rich and poor, overproduction of young graduates with advanced degrees, and exploding public debt, are actually related to each other dynamically. Historically, such developments have served as leading indicators of looming political instability.
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