The Ginkgo Model of Societal Crisis

Peter Turchin

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It will soon be two years since the US presidential elections of 2016, which should have made it clear to everybody that our society is in deep crisis. The technical term in the structural-demographic theory (SDT) for it is a revolutionary situation: when the established elites are still holding the levers of power, but the social pressures for crisis have built up to the point where something has to give.

What I found remarkable as we have lived through the past two years (indeed, the past eight years since I made my prediction of the impending crisis), is how precisely we today are following the trajectory into crisis that my colleagues and I saw in the historical societies we have studied. The explanation, probably, is that the three major mechanisms driving up social pressure for crisis in the SDT work in a mutually reinforcing way. The fundamental drive (a kind of a “pump” that drives up social pressure) is the oversupply of labor, which developed after the 1970s as a result of multiple interacting factors, and more recently was made acute by technological change driving automation and robotization. Oversupply of labor is the root cause for both popular immiseration and elite over-production/intra-elite competition. Both of those factors, then, contribute to the fiscal crisis of the state, because immiserated population can’t pay taxes, while the elites work to reduce the taxes on themselves.

We saw all those mechanisms operating in our current crisis. Immiseration of large swaths of the American population was what fueled the successful campaign of a counter-elite presidential candidate, Donald Trump. Intra-elite conflict has reached unprecedented heights (since the First American Civil War), as the established elites are using various means at their disposal to get rid of the counter-elite chief of state. At the same time, a weird coalition of Trump and the established elites (remember, laws must be approved by the Congress) legislates deep cuts into the taxes the elites will pay, bringing the fiscal crisis of the state much sooner. Political violence has also reached new heights, although thankfully mostly demonstrators and counter-demonstrators are beaten up, not killed (a major exception was Charlottesville a year ago).

Until last year I thought that we collectively have a decent chance of avoiding the crisis, but I now have abandoned this hope. A major reason for my pessimism is the resolute refusal by our ruling class (including its both Liberal and Conservative wings) to see the real causes of the crisis. They are internal, not external. As a result, the mid-term elections will be completely free of (largely mythical) Russian influence, but no attempt is made to address the deep structural-demographic causes. All these pressures continue to increase.

The major question on my mind now, instead, is how we could sail through the crisis without a major amount of bloodshed. This is where the “Ginkgo Model” may serve as a useful conceptual device. As I said earlier in this post, the trajectories of entry into structural-demographic crises are fairly narrowly channelized. But once the crisis breaks out, suddenly a much broader fan of possibilities opens up. It’s just like a Ginkgo leaf:

Some post-crisis trajectories go to a really dire territory: a bloody civil war, a revolution bringing an oppressive regime, or disintegration of the state into a number of territorial sections. Other post-crisis trajectories are less dire. In the best scenario, the elites manage to pull together and implement the reforms needed to defuse the pressures for crisis—reversing trends of immiseration and elite overproduction and restoring the fiscal health of the state.

However, unlike in the Ginkgo leaf analogy, the fan of probabilities of emerging from a crisis is heavily lopsided—and unfortunately in favor of really negative outcomes. Over the years I have studied about thirty cases of historical societies going into crisis, and emerging from it, ranging from Rome and China to France, Russia, and the United States. I scored the crisis severity in each by such parameters as the effect on the population (none, mild decline, catastrophic decrease), on the established elites (from mild downward social mobility to dispossession or even extermination), and on the state (territorial fragmentation, external conquest). Adding together these indicators, here’s the result:

As you see, the more positive outcomes (lower severity on the left side) are fairly rare (about 10% of historical cases), while the majority of outcomes cluster in the middle-high severity territory. In fact, this way of presenting outcomes is somewhat misleading, for the following reason. We know that the scale of collective violence in humans, measured by the number of people killed, is not “normally” distributed. Instead, it follows a power law. As an example from my own work, here’s the distribution of the severity of political violence events in the United States between 1780 and 2010:

The frequency distributions of war severity, including both external, inter-state wars and internal, civil wars have the same shape. What it means in non-mathematical terms is that there is no “typical” scale for outcomes of societal crisis. We cannot say that “on average 10,000 people are killed when a civil war breaks out.” The idea of “average” is misleading. A civil war can kill 100, 1000, 10 000, 100 000, 1 000 000 people and even more. The probability of a really severe conflict (e.g., more than 1 mln people killed) is fairly low, but it is much higher than what a naïve person would estimate. This point is admirably discussed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in The Black Swan and other writings.

What it means for us here in the United States is that the severity of the troubles to come in the next few years to a decade is really impossible to predict. It could be as mild as the late 1960s–early 1970s, with the violent urban riots and a fairly ineffectual terrorist campaign by the Weather Underground. Or it could be as bad as the First American Civil War. Once again, a real catastrophic collapse of our society may not be highly probable, but it is much more probable than we think.

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Max Davidson

Is there evidence that the technological and organizational capacity of a state has any ameliorating effect on the severity of these crises? Were crises worse on average by these criteria in the Roman era than than the 20th century for example, or does it seem not to matter?

Allyn71

Not just technological capacity of our society, but also the levels of information at our current disposal, in addition to the forces of globalization. One must also realize that we as a civilization are in unchartered waters, and thus old models, while nice to look at, may not actually be relevant.
Civil war, along with the removal of “established elites”, are probably far-fetched, given that we have had 40+ years of political instability. Besides, the needle, nor the Overton Window, has pushed normies anywhere near taking elites up into helicopters and throwing them overboard.

JessieLydia Henshaw

There are financial indicators that both capture human welfare and also the exponential stress of inequity. Can’t show the graph here, but in addition to the wealth of the wealthy growing faster (since that’s what the wealthy mostly invest in) there was a profound structural change in how businesses are valued and traded on the stock exchange about 1970, that you see clearly in a GDP curve with all the median income levels indexed to GDP at 1970, to show how the whole society split apart at that time. There’s a lot to discuss both scientifically and socially, but it’s another of those very clear hard measures showing we should have been paying attention and have a lot to recover from.

The graph:
http://synapse9.com/issues/GDP-WageHistSMb-fig.jpg
An introductory discussion:
http://synapse9.com/signals/2016/05/26/did-1964-sec-rules-wreck-us-economy/

Edward Turner

Technology could play a decisive role in the outcome. It has been on a strongly decentralizing trend circumventing and doing a better job than central organizations like the mass media, and making luxury products cheaper, giving individuals the ability to do things than previously could only be done on a larger scale – consider the proliferation of high quality micro-breweries and distilleries. The 3D printer will probably be the zenith of this trend.

I’m not sure I’d agree with the Established Elites vs Counter-Elite terminology. Donald Trump is has more elite back-history than most neo-liberals. There are established families on both sides of the divide, and the Counter-Elite consider themselves traditionalist who want to preserve the US constitution from Marxists and Globalists whom they perceive to want to overthrow it. So hardly new elites.

Edward Turner

I would not refer to Donald Trump as a Counter-Elite. I may have thought that once because he’s challenged the neo-liberal agenda but in Elitist terms he couldn’t be more traditional. He might be a populist but he’s not countering anything like the neo-liberals are trying to overturn the concept of the state and the US Constitution.

Why are they doing that? Because there are too many of them and too few status positions with the state.

Likewise, in the UK. Boris Johnson (Eton) and Nigel Farage (another ex-public schoolboy) are populists but not Counter-Elites. In the run up to the referendum on membership of the EU I read a number of times on the front pages of the tabloids the Queen was pro-Brexit.

Whether that was true or not I don’t know but it’s a lot easier to imagine the British Royal family as Established elites and the ex-England footballer-TV Presenter Gary Lineker, author J K Rowling, singers Bob Geldof/Bono etc as Counter-Elites.

Within the last two decades the Statist Elites have begun to produce non-state organizations of their own, like Infowars, Fulcrum (ex-Huff Post David Seaman) or the Youtube channels of important voices like Paul Joseph Watson, Stefan Molyneux, Lauren Southern, ‘Sargon of Akkad’ and ‘Styxhexenhammer666’ etc (they are phenomenons btw much more listened to numerically than ‘cabal’ news). But they are all libertarians. Unlike a lot of the NGOs and Corporations created by the neo-liberal non-statist elites in the 1970-80s they don’t intend to replace the state with a massive global one. They want to keep them (to the bare essentials).

Nathanael

IMO, the deepest problem is the number of people who desire relative status (an inherently limited good) rather than merely desiring high quality of life and something interesting to do (a good we can, potentially, supply to as many people as we need to).

Randi Aamodt

As you perhaps know, there will be election for parliament in Sweden on September 9. I have a suspicion that todays Sweden fits rather well into this model also. There is labour oversupply due to large immigration, the State had problems with handling all its tasks properly: Quality of schools is decreasing, long queues in health care, lack of houses. Perhaps most importantly, crime rates are going up and both the police and the politicians are obviously unable or unwilling to stop it. I think the conflict between commons and elites are sharper on this issue than between elites, who seems to be generally pro immigration. The election looks like becoming an uproar of the commons against the elites, because of their onvolious lack of ability to govern Sweden. I think it has never happened before in Sweden that the elites have lost confidence in such a degree and looked to weak. If managing the country is what elites are for, this will be very exciting and interesting.

Karl

Sweden is not much different from any other Western European Country like France or Germany. The problems Sweden is facing are the some as many other European countries. As for the election, it seems extremely unlikely that it will change anything substantial. Whether the opposition has 10% or 40% of the votes doesn’t matter.

The uproar as well as the crisis is still a few years away, in Sweden as in the USA, France, Germany etc.

Karl Kling

Sweden has a proportional representation system and negative parliamentarianism (that is the Government is in place as long as a majority in parliament don´t vote against it. The prime minister is appointed by the speaker of the house and not by the monarch, which is unique among constitutional monarchies esp. as the speaker is a politically appointed position made by the incoming parliament). Nearly all Swedish governments have been minority governments throughout the last hundred years. The social democrats got by in most cases because there was/is a former communist party (V which was VPK until 1990 with K for Kommunism) that in tacit supported them as “the better option”, in the last 30 years the Greens have also mostly supported them for the same reason. Until last election in 2014 the soc-dems had never governed in coalition since the 1950’s when they governed together with the agrarian party (today Centerpartiet).

What has happened is that a new “populist” party with seats since the Elections of 2010 have upended the “balance” of the old power blocks (center-left and center-right). All the established parties have publicly shunned to cooperate with them on a national level (in some municipalities there is a different story though). Add to this the fact that the center in the center-right (C and L parties) have an old history of cooperating with the soc-dems on several issues. The socio-political system in itself is very corporative which makes many voters disillusioned about voting for the alternative power block as a way to achieve real change, “they sit among the same tables anyway”. The corporativism in normal times makes those on the outside or discontent with the situation to turn into secterianism or artistic expressions but in an era of downturn the expressions become much nastier as the outgroups grow larger. It is also one reason for why the integration is quite bad I would say. There are very little of open hostitily but very marked differences between those on the “inside” and “outside” which are not pronounced. Many experience it as a form of passive-agressiveness. There is also a segregation among economic status and standard of neighbourhood (if it’s desirable or not due to quality of schools, neighbours etc). The riots etc. happen in “those areas” which you never visit anyway.

There are also other issues at stake here. The soc-dems were until last election in 2014 seen among many voters as the most competent option for national government which made many to vote for them even if grudgingly. They barely lost the election of 2006 to the center-right and in 2010 they had a very unpopular party leader who campained on identity politics which made some vote for the “new populist alternative” (I also guess one reason for their breakthrough this year was that the baby boomers of 1988-1992 got to vote for the first time. Most of them had been born just right before a great financial crisis of the early 1990’s and the first large-scale immigration waves. Growing up they had experienced cutbacks on municipal and state levels (most of the welfare services such as schools, health care etc. are done by the municipalities which have a lousy economy in general unlike the national state), many had seen their parents’ standard of living decline as cutbacks and unemployment increased in those years (TFR shrunk throughout the decade to record-low levels in 1999) etc. As they entered adulthood the 2008 crisis struck and many had no other option but to take mostly menial jobs in Norway and Denmark which both countries have a stronger currency, the languages are quite similar, there is freedom of movement and not at least there are jobs for them in Oslo and Copenhagen unlike your average Swedish town).

Jessie P Henshaw

I looked up the distribution of national financial assets per capita, as a general indicator of dependence on compounding profits as a way of making a living, as exposure to financial collapse. I forget where I found it, and never got to writing it up. It’s kind of revealing that the US, Switzerland, Japan, Belgium, Netherlands, Canada the top 6, and Sweden #10. The thought is that the most rich countries are also more exposed and that seeming to be the most stable may be a bit illusory.
http://synapse9.com/issues/NatFinancialAssetsPerCap.jpg

Karl

Could you identify any common features in the rare cases of your sample that did not lead to a severe and very bloody resolution of the crisis?

I can easily imagine how the crisis we are facing will be very bloody. It is difficult to imagine how a very bad outcome can be averted. Maybe that is because as a layman I’m only aware of the bloody resolutions of such structural crisis – an averted crisis simple doesn’t receive the same amount of coverage in an ordinary history book.

Ross Hartshorn

Interesting post as usual, but a few questions:
1) I notice you mention automation specifically, rather than immigration of unskilled labor or globalization leading to more opportunities to use labor in other countries. I don’t notice a shift of manufacturing towards nations like Japan that have the best automation, but rather towards nations like Bangladesh that have very little. Is there a reason you think automation is more important in the current oversupply of labor?
2) The current unemployment rate in the U.S. has finally gotten into actually low territory. Up until this point since 2008 it has still been recovering, and the “low unemployment” was mostly people giving up on getting a job. In the last year or so, though, employment has actually gotten above 60% for the first time since the Great Recession: https://tradingeconomics.com/united-states/employment-rate . What would it need to be in order for this to decrease the pressure boiler? Do we have any data on that? Or is the employment rate not the right metric to look at?

Danny

I think the quality of life for most people isn’t just measured by employment. A ton of people are working multiple jobs or crappy jobs or both

Forecaster

In order to decrease the pressure boiler, what would be needed is a genuinely sustainable economic recovery, which has not taken place. Instead, we have ended up with another debt-fueled asset bubble blown up by artificially low interest rates, assisted by the dollar’s status as the reserve currency and the energy boom in the last several years. As all bubbles do, this one will burst, quite soon in my opinion, just like the 1980s bubble, the dot com bubble, and the housing bubble. The employment gains will be swept away like a paper boat in a hurricane when this happens. Relevant indicators include the stock market price to earnings ratio, and the unprecedented and increasing levels of indebtedness in both the public and private sectors. The stock market crash and depression will then trigger a sovereign debt crisis, the government will no longer be able to meet its minimum expenses (or it will trigger hyperinflation via dollar printing, which amounts to the same thing), and then comes the point Prof. Turchin discusses here.

Danny

Sorry I don’t see how there can be a bursting asset bubble when the debt is held by the government. Stocks aren’t being bought with debt and there isn’t any indication of a housing bubble – the places that have very high housing prices do so for “good” reason. For example, I live in a place where housing prices haven’t even fully recovered to 2016 levels…these are the places that drove the bubble, where there wasn’t strong industry other than housing. Also, there can’t be any real inflation unless money is getting to consumers to spend, which as we know, more and more of the money in the economy is going to corporations/elites. The equilibrium we’re currently in will most likely be maintained until a cataclysm or multiple cataclysms of some kind knock us down into a simpler kind of society.

Forecaster

The Shiller p/e ratio is now higher than it was in 1929, 1987, or 2008. It isn’t yet at the level of the dot com bubble, but if things proceed at the rate they have been, it won’t be long before that level is reached.comment image Again, there has never been a time when the ratio has been this high and there has not been a crash. The debt is spread throughout the entire economy, including both the public and private sectors. https://www.marketwatch.com/story/us-national-debt-exceeds-21-trillion-for-first-time-2018-03-16 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-fed-debt/us-household-debt-rises-to-133-trillion-in-second-quarter-idUSKBN1KZ1QZ Deficits can be expected to soar when the next contraction arrives as revenues drop. Governments have become insolvent in the past and I don’t see a reason to believe this one is immune to the possibility, it just has a lot of inertia behind it. I agree the bursting of the bubble won’t start in real estate, it will be in some other sector, just as the 2008 crash did not originate in the dot coms. To be clear, I don’t think inflation is inevitable, but it is a possibility if the government attempts to extricate itself from bankruptcy by unlimited dollar printing.

Danny

Can’t use one indicator to predict cause and effect, need to look at the whole situation. Why is the P/E ratio is so high? Low interest rates and probably to a lesser degree high corporate profits used for stock buy backs. I think that’s fundamentally different than being in a bubble where there’s a kind of mass hysteria. And since most the stocks are held by rich people, there wouldn’t a huge hit to the rest of the economy if they started to fall significantly, which they is likely. Even if there was a kind of cyclical recession interest rates can be lowered back down and the US can easily borrow a few hundred billion for stimulus.

Forecaster

Hysteria often goes along with a bubble, but the way I understand the term, it is usually used to mean any time the price of something is selling significantly above what it is actually worth, which is taking place here. Anyway, you are correct that most stocks are held by the wealthy, and that the percentage of people who own stocks has fallen since the late 2000s, but even so, 54% of people do still own them one way or another. https://money.cnn.com/2017/10/20/investing/trump-stock-market-americans/index.html
Keeping in mind the scale of household debt, which is already $618 billion higher than the peak in 2008, and that real estate prices are likely to fall in a downturn even if the decline did not originate in real estate, ordinary people and the regular economy are likely to be hit hard in the next contraction. I doubt that lowering interest rates, which are already extremely low by historical standards, or a few hundred billion dollar stimulus would be enough.

April Harding

Agree. Unemployment statistics and trends obfuscate more than they illuminate about the well-being of non-elite working class people. While US employment figures have been increasing since 2009, the large numbers of potential workers who are marginally attached or unattached to the labor market (& thus not included in unemployment statistics), mean that low or declining unemployment rates tell us rather little about people’s well-being levels or trends. Changes in wages are more trustworthy. And, wages have been rising little. What looks like a “tight” labor market on the surface is clearly much looser than the employment stats reveal. Employers don’t have to raise wages to get an additional worker – so they don’t. Here’s a link to the Economic Policy Institute’s page tracking nominal wage trends – confirming they’ve been largely stagnant during this period of increasing employment. http://go.epi.org/pVK

Ross Hartshorn

Great link, April Harding, thanks! I especially liked the “Workers’ share of corporate income”. From those graphs, it looks like we are a little less than halfway “recovered”, making this an exceptionally slow recovery. I wonder if we will get back to pre-Great Recession levels before the next recession? If not, things could get ugly very quickly.

Clonal Antibody

I see an economic collapse happening fairly soon as a result of the Trump tariff wars. Current highly linked global supply chains will be disrupted. US industries that rely upon that supply chain will suffer, and inflation should rise fairly rapidly, as it did with the OPEC oil embargo, and later the Iran oil crisis. In face of inflation, the FED will do absolutely the wrong thing as it did in the late 70’s – raise the interest rates. This will put a further damper on the economy. Then even a small adverse event will set the dominoes crashing as it did in 2008-2009 crash. Except, this time it will be much worse, as the real goods supply will be affected, and not just the Financial sector.

al loomis

interesting times. and without democracy there is no non-violent means of resolving pressures. neither can the environment be saved from looting by the elite, so civil war may be the least of our problems.

J. Daniel

What is a counter-elite? That category was not well defined in the book. What the book did say is that the civil war was driven by northern manufacturers who wanted high tariffs to protect their budding industries vs. southern planters who wanted low tariffs so they could export. I see the current administration favoring what are now the traditional elites: those whose status is based on manufacturing and oil, and religious conservatives. Those are not counter-elites but quite the opposite, established elites under pressure from the new elites produced by the information economy and by growing social norms at odds with conservative religious opinions. I don’t see how manufacturers can win out over the information technology sector, but they’ve got someone in office who is trying.

Edward Turner

It’s fundamentally flawed terminology. A lot of baby-boomers are self-consciously rebellious neo-liberal Counter-Elites against Established Elite institutions – such as the state and religion, which they have attempted to take over and subdue using non-state organizations and corporations. Meanwhile we have late Millennials and Generation Z who are Counter-Eliting the neo-liberal and Marxist Counter-Elites.

The situation we live in is one where there is nobody who can really control who becomes elite – although a lot of effort is expended trying. Alex Jones and Infowars has been opposed all the way up to ~$100 organization. It is free on Internal and syndicated on ~280 radio channels. The legacy media bare admit it exists and through a cartel lead by Apple, Facebook, Youtube are attempting to illegally deplatform them.

Infowars shows how technology exists so that people can make all the networks they like. In certain circumstances literally in a few days an individual can acquire networks the size of countries on Twitter. That is good because it is more egalitarian than the route to influence before. The problem is if the big unwieldy institutions don’t accept the change, which involves a reduction in their power and influence, there will be conflict.

I would totally disagree that ‘conservative religious opinion’ is a faultline in the conflict. Conservative religion is being used on both sides. Neo-liberals have the Catholic Church and Islam and other big churches who are all happy pushing Globalism. There are other churches who oppose this – I would guess the less centralized ones. The conflict is primarily between those who benefit from a decentralised egalitarian system, which to some extent is expressed in the Republican constitution of the US, its division of powers, and its bill of rights, and those who benefit from a centralised mode of organization and, ultimately, global government.

Loren Petrich

The previous post on Infowars: “The legacy media bare admit it exists and through a cartel lead by Apple, Facebook, Youtube are attempting to illegally deplatform them.” Illegally? That’s news to me. BTW, those companies have been joined by Spotify and Twitter.

Also, this business about “globalists” is rather silly. How does one recognize them? How does one distinguish a globalist from a non-globalist?

Edward Turner

Infowars and many conservatives are getting banned from the national/global public forums these companies host. They organized a cartel to do this and worked together illegally to ban Infowars at the same time. To do this they must break their own terms of service because they do not advertise themselves as publishers who provide curated content. They are supposedly hosts of neutral platforms for user-generated content yet they intend to criminally mislead the public on what is the news, popular opinion etc. In America deplatforming on this scale, where there are no reasonable alternative platforms, breaks the First Amendment.

//Also, this business about “globalists” is rather silly. How does one recognize them? How does one distinguish a globalist from a non-globalist?//

No sillier than distinguishing a socialist from a conservative. They don’t walk around with labels stuck to their forehead but it’s obvious what the general differences are going to be. Why does term offend you so much?

Anon

Globalists is code for “Jews” and don’t pretend like it isn’t or feign offense. You know exactly what it means and why people use it.

Loren Petrich

https://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2018/aug/07/why-infowars-alex-jones-was-banned-apple-facebook-/ — these companies were likely provoked into action because Alex Jones is now being sued for defamation by some of his targets.

From the article: “What sparked their removal? The idea is similar throughout: Jones violated the social media platforms’ hate speech policies.” Like two videos attacking Muslims, one attacking transgender people, and one called “How to prevent liberalism” that showed an adult pushing a child to the ground. I checked on the terms of service of Apple, YouTube, Facebook, and Spotify, and all four companies have these policies.

Also, I don’t feel offended by “globalist”. It seems to me like some undefined insult word.

Edward Turner

//Globalists is code for “Jews” and don’t pretend like it isn’t or feign offense. You know exactly what it means and why people use it.//

This says more about the way you think than I do.

Anyone who believed that would have to explain why many Jews aren’t globalist, and they’d have to explain why the state of Israel isn’t globalist. Your idea ‘globalist’ is a code-word for Jews is completely silly. Back to the mind-reading basic first steps exercises you go.

A globalist is someone who pushes for political decisions to be pushed out of the reach of directly-elected political officials, at once removed from the public in the hands of arrogant technocrats.

Remainers who voted against Brexit for the European super-state are globalists. You don’t need qualifications to be a globalist. There are degrees. You can be 51% globalist.

It’s obvious to me at any rate.

Jakob

Counter elites are people belonging to the richest percentile but are not among the ruling class, think the merchant class in the French revolution for example.

Edward Turner

Hollywood is Counter-Elite. As are Google, Apple, Facebook etc. Not the traditional ruling class.

All California as well btw.

Loren Petrich

Prerevolutionary France had three “estates”, #1: the clergy, #2: the nobility, and #3: the commoners. The king belonged to no estate.

Such aspiring elites as businessmen, lawyers, and the like were all stuffed into the third estate. So the French Revolution fits the structural-demographic picture of elites fragmenting and fighting each other.

BTW, in “Secular Cycles”, Turchin and Nefedov discuss the French Capetian and Valois cycles in detail, and also mentions a Bourbon cycle after those two: integrative from 1660 to 1780, and disintegrative from 1780 to 1870 — starting a little before the French Revolution and ending at the death of Napoleon III.

They name their cycles after the integrative-phase ruling dynasty, and Bourbon is appropriate here.

Forecaster

I agree completely with your overall picture of the direction the country is headed, and I suggest age relative to size is another indicator which supports your prediction. None of the large empires I can think of lasted longer than approximately 250-300 years, certainly not as functional organizations (I understand that Rome, when taken as a whole, lasted longer, but not its individual iterations, as in the Republic, Principate etc.). The United States is approaching this limit.

However, as I wrote in my first comment on this blog, I do not see how major civil war is viable in the presence of nuclear weapons. The four Indo-Pakistani wars following the fall of the British Empire occurred before the two sides developed their nuclear arsenals, and there have been none since. The current Russo-Ukrainian conflict broke out only after Ukraine gave up the atomic weapons it inherited from the Soviet period. I see wars between minor breakaways not large enough to inherit a portion of the US nuclear arsenal as possible, and perhaps small skirmishes between the main successors, similar to the Kargil War or the Sino-Soviet border war, but not something like what you call the First American Civil War.

Karl

Did you want to write “will take”? Answering the “could take” seems easy. Members of Team A assasinating members of Team B and vice verca. Both Teams using law enforcement (local and federal) whenever they can to imprison members and supporters of the other Team. After a very short time there suddenly is no middle ground, everyone becomes a member of Team A or Team B. In the absence of neutral judges. the courts stop functioning as both sides use them as a means to harm members of the other Team.

The pre-Spanish civil war, the pre-Russian Revolution, Libanon, and ancient Rome at least provide some guidelines as to what form polical violence could take.

Danny

Yeah I agree with other commenter who doesn’t see how a real civil war can break out given military tech. But the destruction can still be just as great as civil war – for example we only have about ten years to take real significant action on climate change, but if elites in US keep fighting and no action is taken then humans could potentially go extinct. Also limits to growth predicts human population peaking in about 10 years. So whatever the fall out of the “civil war” chances are it means economic hardship in some way or another

KD

I think the likelihood of a successful civil war is increased by the availability of nukes.

Imagine if the Confederate States seized the arsenal in their territory and gave Washington the ultimatum of allowing peaceful separation or they nuke D.C., NYC, LA, etc. Counter-striking against Atlanta wouldn’t do any good, because the US would be blowing up its own territory, and the urban dwellers in the big urban areas would be more concerned for their skin than the integrity of the US.

Political centralization is a function of the superiority of offensive warfare to defensive warfare. Political decentralization is the opposite, we are in a period of political decentralization because the nuclear bomb is the greatest defensive weapon ever developed. Now, they are expensive, require high tech and precious materials, but all those costs will diminish over time.

Forecaster

I don’t disagree with this post, but we are using different definitions of “civil war.” My definition begins at the act of fighting itself, whereas yours includes the breakup which precedes it.

danny

I think this scenario has to be considered more thoroughly. It doesn’t seem like a real possibility. A military coup or something of the US would be impossible to coordinate. A civil uprising would be suicidal. An attempt at a rogue state controlled by a local police force likewise would be suicidal, the military would be sent in and private citizens with guns would fight back. No our version of political violence is much more likely to come in the form of continued mass shooters, epidemics, preventable natural disasters(including climate), and preventable human error. The fighting among the elites causes neglect, distraction, and upsets people, making the things above more likely.

Forecaster

Think the USSR. Even the most formidable regime, if it grows dysfunctional enough and factional in-fighting is completely unrestrained, can be reduced to the point where component units which wish to break away lose all fear of reprisal. Now, as the post explains, it is very hard to estimate the probability of an individual sequence of events when the full-scale crisis point is reached, but I don’t think the possibility of fragmentation should be entirely dismissed.

UserFriendly

Though congress is too stupid to realize it, it is almost impossible for the state to have a fiscal crisis with fiat currency. With no obligation to convert dollars into anything else, like gold, and as the only entity able to create dollars the US government cannot run out of money. Because of that fact there really is no difference between bonds and dollars except bonds pay interest. It’s like a checking account vs a savings account. Banks treat US bonds as tier 1 capital (practically cash), the banks in the primary market for US treasury bonds are required to bid on all bond auctions, and the interest rate is set by the fed. In other words there is no such thing as the national debt.
Primary Market: https://www.newyorkfed.org/markets/primarydealers.html

The only way a financial crisis could happen is if the idiots in charge of the government choose not to increase the debt limit, or they go on such a crazy spending spree that they try to buy things above and beyond the productive capacity available, which would generate inflation. External factors could also trigger an inflation spike, like raw material shortages (e.g Oil, Water, Sand, Cobalt). The only effective way to stop inflation caused by material shortages is with rationing and I seriously doubt the government has any ability on that front.

Here is a great paper from a former Fed chair explaining that since gold convertablity had been suspended for WWII, Taxes for Revenue are Obsolete. Of course the gold standard came back shortly after with bretton woods until Nixon did it in for good.
https://www.garynorth.com/public/17569.cfm

Loren Petrich

There is a big problem: it is too easy to print fiat currency, and when one does a lot of that, one gets galloping inflation. Like what happened to Germany’s Weimar Republic or recently in Zimbabwe. That fear of reckless printing is what attracts some people to the gold standard. It also must be noted that cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin have ways of avoiding making too much of them too fast.

steven johnson

Trump did not actually win the vote. At this point, it seems to me that conveniently revising history to say that he did is a back-handed form of political support. That may be why Trump is dubbed a “counter-elite.” Trump has always claimed the swamp is DC, not Wall Street, so he has never been a counter-elite even in the sense of the Gracchi. He’s not even a counter-elite in the very limited sense of a Jefferson or Jackson, elite planters. Trump is rivalrous with other elites, but that’s not being a counter-elite in my estimation. Trump is supported so strongly by his fellow elites precisely because his real target is old traditions of political democracy. The swamp is not elites, the swamp is politicians who brandish their popular votes to extort vast sums from the true elites. The elites I think see a Clinton as someone robbing them, not as one of them. And they do see Trump as one of them, even if they are jealous and/or contemptuous of Trump. Even if they want Trump to to things the way that profits them most, and they fight him for the policies their greed demands, that doesn’t make them opponents. It’s easier in some ways to compromise of a loaf, than to compromise political principles on fundamental issues.

Additionally, the Texas sharpshooter temptation for your theory seems to be leading you to forget that the fiscal crisis of the state is the fiscal crisis of US world hegemony. The thing is, it’s not at all clear in what sense this fiscal crisis is so insoluble. Any body who is convinced Trump is aiming at a polycentric world, rather than conning Putin the way he did Kim Jong-un needs to make a case.

The ginkgo model here forgets the resort to war against outsiders. Again, the temptation to reserve the analysis to neat discrete units that follow the template can lead you to forget the rest of the world.

As to the possibilities of civil war, the US military is basically a mercenary force led by a corrupt officer caste. What ideology the troops do retain beyond their paychecks and benefits are strongly rooted in extreme religious bigotry and fascism. Thomas Jefferson ensured that the states had a political influence in the US officer corps, via West Point. As a result, there were far more traitors trained there than were ever produced in all the communist parties and factions ever. This has not changed. So, yes, civil war is entirely possible. But it won’t be the outraged masses storming the mansions of the rich. That’s reactionary hate of the “mob.” The mob is not the unflattering truth about the evil people. It’s not a real thing, it’s instead simply an insult. A mob is an event, a group of rioters, not the collective soul. Civil war will be like most wars, when the rich and powerful, the rulers, attack someone else they want to take from (or are afraid they are about to lose to.) And it will break out when they feel it is safe, or they are about to lose and they gamble.

My opinions, of course.

Loren Petrich

I must disagree about the Russian authorities’ involvement in recent US elections. There is a lot of evidence of that, even if rather indirect evidence. Wikipedia has an article that goes into gory detail: “Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections” and a similar article for the 2018 elections. Russian hackers were also involved in getting some American Muslims and their opponents to protest at the same place and time: https://www.texastribune.org/2017/11/01/russian-facebook-page-organized-protest-texas-different-russian-page-l/ — and they have been involved with the #WalkAway campaign against the Democratic Party — https://www.cnn.com/2018/07/17/opinions/russian-bots-2018-midterm-elections-opinion-love/index.html

Then in the recent Trump-Putin summit, Trump seemed curiously subdued and submissive to Putin, something that he seldom is. Is there some quid pro quo somewhere? Like bailout assurance or election assistance. Trump also seemed curiously trusting of Putin, a former KGB officer.

I think that foreign meddling is a sign of weakness, like losing territory. The closest analog that I can think of is England’s Glorious Revolution of 1688, when a faction got the help of the Dutch Republic and overthrew King James II. As a reward for this successful coup, Dutch stadholder William III became King of England.

The writers of the US Constitution were concerned about foreign meddling: I.8.8: “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”

Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist Paper #68, advocated the Electoral College as electing representatives, who would then elect the President. He argued that these electors would have a better idea of who would be a good President than most ordinary people, and that it would reduce vulnerability to demagogues and foreign meddling. But the EC soon became a rubber-stamp body, and it recently failed miserably in keeping an obvious target from being elected: Donald Trump.

Loren Petrich

I meant this as a top-level comment. But I think that Peter Turchin is right that common people alone are not very successful at making revolutions. There is usually some elite faction that has recruited them. The Gracchi of the Roman Republic are the archetypical ones, I think.

A criticism of Communism that I once saw is that contrary to what Marxist theory might predict, many Communist revolutionary leaders have had very bourgeois class origins, being middle-class or upper-middle-class. So these leaders may be interpreted as elite aspirants.

Jason

The elites I think see a Clinton as someone robbing them, not as one of them.
not as one of them.
Clinton… as in Hillary and Bill? Oh wow.

Swami

You have built a questionable definition of immiseration within your immiseration scale. In reality median income, median wealth, health, leisure, equality of opportunity have all trended up dramatically for the past century, and most are at or very near historic (as in the best since the advent of agriculture ten thousand years ago!) territory. Poverty after welfare transfers and taxes is at its lowest level ever in the US. In the past year, even unemployment has hit unprecedented good levels.

So your argument is that immiseration is the cause of social unrest. But immiseration is not up, it is down and has been dropping for two hundred years. I suppose you could try to salvage your theory by changing it to lower rates of decline in immiseration (we are progressing slower?), but as it stands, everything here is empirically suspect. No, actually it is empirically reversed.

Ilya

Incidentally, regarding Charlottesville, Heather Heyer was not struck by the vehicle; she was a spectator who died of a heart attack. So, really, no one was killed due to person-on-person violence.

Loren Petrich

That’s news to everybody who has studied this incident. From Wikipedia’s article “Charlottesville car attack”, “Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old woman, was fatally injured in the attack, and died in the University of Virginia Medical Center.”

Hugh

Ilya – You are proliferating a lie created by apologists for racists. Heather Heyer died as a result of blunt-force injury to the chest, after being struck by the vehicle being driven by James Alex Fields Jr.

Ilya

Is that a conspiratorial take? There are clips on Youtube of Heather Heyer’s mother saying she died of a heart attack.

Mark Allen Lytle

Artificially low interest rates for years have permitted huge Real Estate bubbles, not just in U.S., but Globally. This was encouraged in part to employ otherwise idle labor as traditional manufacturing automated. This ‘pulled demand forward’, and now we have tremendously overbuilt retail sectors and huge numbers of McMansions that are unsuitable to pass on to subsequent generations of barely employed people. The bubbles are just about to burst and the Keynesian artificial stimulus is both ineffective in the face of overbuilding, and it’s revenue sources are about depleted also. I see a perfect storm of alienated populations, corrupt and collapsing governments, too much already acquired ‘stuff’ with little resale value or liquidity associated with it. Civil war in the sense of two ‘sides’ looks ready to devolve in the war of all against all. Political parties are shattering, imploding. Trump has temporarily reconstituted the Republican party, but the bubbles will finish off the recovery he’s fought for as they break. The Republican party will fail then also. I can’t say for sure industrial civilization even survives this.

Richard Illyes

Reading this Politico piece https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/08/17/lock-him-up-donald-trump-zephyr-teachout-219367 brings to mind “Madness Rules the Hour: Charleston, 1860, and the Mania for War”, which is one of the best I have read on the psychological state of the southern elite before they started the Civil War. This time it is not owning slaves but over-compensated government jobs that are at stake. Illinois is the extreme example with Chicago doing things like selling the future revenue from its parking meters to Gulf Arabs, but most other Democrat controlled cities have unsustainable public employment and huge unfunded pension problems. Academia is also receiving huge amounts for government funded studies, adding another elite self-interest. The old mantra that if the Republicans only allowed them to make the rich pay their fair share all would be well is still the default excuse for avoiding responsibility, but even the rich don’t have enough to cover the shortfalls, and the Democrat bastions are still hiring and raising wages and benefits. The bubbles mentioned in the previous comment are there, as well as unsustainable debt in the EU. When it starts to collapse it will be an unpredictable mess for years. The Democrats are in no better position to win this encounter than they were when they began the Civil War, but that won’t stop them from trying.

paul hughes

I wonder if you have considered the degree to which inflationary monetary policy has been at the core of the immiseration you (and I) perceive. In a sense isn’t a “surplus” of labor the same thing as artificially high wage rates, such as may be maintained by various government policies? In short, I wonder if you have considered how the theories of the Austrian school might apply to current circumstances. I realize it is not mainstream, but looking back since coming of age in the era of “stagflation” it seems to me that both the Keynesian and monetarist schools of “stimulation” leave a lot to be desired in terms of both results and fairness (which may actually well be correlated).

Also, many years ago I was taught that revolution aka truly large scale domestic violence was historically usually preceded not by real immiseration. but by perceived distress arising from reality not matching expectations based on substantially improved conditions in the relatively near past. Thus the French Revolution was preceded by the elimination of famine in the early 18th century, and similar points could be made about the Russian and Glorious Revolutions, while the Clearances of the Hghlands for example and labor conditions in the early 19th century, which did adversely affect multitudes, resulted in only limited and well contained violence.

Swami

I’ve lived here my entire life, how about you? The data as below shows that since the 70’s, median incomes is up 40 to 60 percent without even adjusting for thirty million plus immigrants who pull the stats down even as they gained even more. Leisure is way up, life expectancy longer term and wealth are also trending up longer term.

Yes, there was something called a large recession a few years ago which created a short term downward blip, as have all recessions. But to put this into perspective, median incomes went from 30 times higher than the historic human average (of $2-4 per day) to 29.999 times higher than historic average. They have are now recovering, up 7 percent in past three years as is normal after a recession ends. This is “IMMISERATION”? Sounds more like EXAGGERATION.

Yes, there has been a minuscule dip in life expectancy, attributable to a temporary rise in opiate abuse. But the below article which puts it in perspective with longer run trends, which are way up from the 70’s.

Here is the data.

Trend in life expectancy:
http://andrewgelman.com/2016/12/17/calm-american-life-expectancy-isnt-falling/

Trends in median income:
https://www.minneapolisfed.org/publications/the-region/where-has-all-the-income-gone

Trends in wealth:
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wealth_in_the_United_States

Trends in leisure:
http://www.nber.org/papers/w12082

Let me be clear. You are distorting the facts to sell your narrative. In any long term comparison of trends, the US currently has a standard of living which is incomparably better than any society prior to recent times. Even today, we have higher median incomes than any other large diverse state which has welcomed immigrants. To label this as “immiseration” is disingenuous in the extreme. Like I said, if you want to complain of a recession, or of slower rates of progress, then do so proudly. But your characterization as immiseration is simply incorrect.

mike

When you use 2008 data on median income to prove a point, you make it hard to take you seriously, if that is indeed your point in participating in this discussion.

Swami

Try to keep up with the discussion, Mike. Our author stipulated that trends reversed in the 70’s.

Here is the trend in per cap GDP from late 60s to current:

https://tradingeconomics.com/united-states/gdp-per-capita

Here is per cap median income since the recession in 2008:

https://seekingalpha.com/article/4152222-january-2018-median-household-income

As you can see, it shows that since middle of last decade incomes dropped in the recession and have gained and are now rising as before. That is exactly what I said in the above comment. I can link to several hundred different data charts. All show the same thing, the US has extraordinarily high standards of living compared to most of the globe and to all of history, and over the last 40 years it has gone up considerably. That ain’t immiseration, now is it?

SamB

I don’t have the time or the inclination to dig up my own data, so will simply cite the figure from the links you yourself provided:

Trends in Wealth: Median Household Wealth

1989: 85.06
2012: 81.4

To me, that looks like I fall …but I dont’t know … you may have be using a different sort of math.

Notably, if the MEDIAN has fallen by 4.5% over 33 years while the AVERAGE is up by 54% over the same period, we can reasonably conclude that down the wealth scale (the bottom 40% of the population rather than the mid-point person), the figures would show a complete collapse.

Your “Trends in median income” link does show an increase in “income per person”, but it seems more than co-incidental that unlike the “household income” graph which is clearly designated as the “median”, that graph does not state whether what is shown is the median or the MEAN. If the later, it is totally consistent with the “wealth” trend.

And the throwaway line about “…a temporary rise in opiate abuse” is almost laughable. I guess all of those people “temporarily” abusing opiates are doing so because of how great they are having it!

Perhaps if rather than (as you put it) having “…lived here my entire life” (wherever “here” is) you put on your travel shoes and checked out … places like Louisiana, West Virginia, etc and compared them to places like France, Australia, Germany, Singapore … you may be a bit slower to throw around lines like “The US currently has a standard of living which is incomparably better than any society prior to recent time.” That may be true if you are in the top 20% of the population (or even in the top 50%), but it sure isn’t in the bottom 40%.

Swami

Sam,

The data reveals that median net worth increased almost 50% from the early 80s to the start of the recession. The sudden drop in house prices and financial assets did indeed take a huge bite out of net worth. It is now recovering. If the argument is that the recession took a big hit on incomes and wealth then (as I stated above) Turchin is making a pretty pedestrian point.

http://wid.world/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/020-Wolff.pdf

Yes, recessions are bad. Recoveries are good, and we are now recovering quickly. To suggest long term immiseration at the inflection point of a severe recession is just disingenuous. Instead we should be having discussupions on policy ramifications of responding to financial downturns. Not pretend that this is a harbinger of longer term trends toward social unrest.

Please actually read the lines you quote. Note the part about “…prior to recent time.” Over the past ten thousand years, the historic average income per cap was in the neighborhood of $2 to $4 per day. In times of short term efflorescence in places like Athens and Amsterdam, it might have been several times higher than that. The US is thirty times higher than that, even during the depths of the recent recession. Put things in perspective before shouting “immiseration.”

I have travelled and lived throughout the US, and the per capita average standard of living in even our poorest states is incomparably better than most of the world (remember you need to adjust incomes by cost of living, doing so actually promotes living standards in Mississippi commensurate to NY).

https://mises.org/blog/if-sweden-and-germany-became-us-states-they-would-be-among-poorest-states

Let me be real clear. I am not in any way arguing that everything is going great everywhere for every person every day. It isn’t. But I am arguing that the overall trends of the past generation or two have been positive. There is no conceivable way that you could compare the trends of the past 40 years or so and say they can be summed by the word “immiseration”.

As I said in my initial comment, if you want to cry from the highest rooftops that the rate of progress seems to have slowed a bit, or that recessions are yucky, then do so. But to use a term like immiseration to peddle a theory of coming social unrest is totally disingenuous.

Danny Vartan

you have to use a statistic that doesn’t equate to money. money doesn’t equal quality of human life

Swami

Danny,

My initial comment referenced HEALTH, LEISURE and EQUALITY OF OPPORTUNITY.

I then provided links on leisure trends and lifespan. I could have also included links on child mortality, women’s rights, civil rights, years in retirement, percent owning a car, owning a home, having AC, education and so on.

If anybody reading this blog can provide evidence of widescale immiseration in the US, I will gladly recant. But they can’t, because there is no evidence of it whatsoever outside of the obvious temporary trough of the recent recession, which we are now emerging out of.

Jessie Henshaw

In the 70’s I began studying physical system corollaries to general disordering phenomena like you’ve described in the Ginko model, of a system growing as a whole and then breaking apart in many pieces. It’s really a quite common phenomena for complex natural systems of various scales and kinds, once you learn what to look for. The most general way I found to express it is that growth always begins as a whole system working together, the then either ends with the emerging system “taking off” as something new, “blowing up” or “withering”. Only the first option produces the kind of long lived refined systems that nature is so famous for, and all others generally vanish from the record.

As I mentioned in my Tweet, I think the progressive general disordering of society we now see comes from our having designed our way of life around managing rapidly increasing rates of change, driven by compounding investments for “profit,” but quite unaware of how it dangerously pushes the natural limits of what’s manageable. You can find my papers and research notes on that and a variety of related subjects from my research home page.

Since I take the evidence as indicating the economy is tearing itself apart by making itself naturally unmanageable, the main cure would be to stop doing that, — first by recognizing that forcing all our systems and all our people to push up an exponential race up a boundless hill becomes just impossible to manage or maintain, so very dangerously unprofitable.

steven johnson

It is very true that the theory emphasizes elite over-production. But it is a Marxist commonplace that revolutionary conditions are ripe when the ruling class cannot continue ruling in the old way. As near as I can tell, the theory now finds the impossibility condition to be elite overproduction, which is more or less automatic population growth. It’s not clear how the sharp lowering of population growth in highly industrialized countries fits in. Nor is it clear how stagnant or shrinking population fit into the theory. At any rate, another key aspect of the theory, the fiscal crisis appears to also be an automatic consequence of elite overproduction. It is not clear that this is true, at least not to me.

On the prospect of recovery….many previous civilizations that have collapsed have never come back. One of the most dramatic example is the Mayan. And the great central Asian cultures never really recovered from the Mongols, either, I think. The thing is, the apparent exception of Europe coming back after the fall of the Roman Empire is simply the outrageous insularity that forgets the continuity of advanced civilization, in Byzantine, then Islamic civilization. Greek learning did just come to Europe after the fall of Constantinople, it came from Muslim Spain. The High Middle Ages got high on contact with a superior civilization that had kept the intact much of the basic knowledge. It is I think entirely likely a genuinely universal catastrophe would break the continuity. After all, suppose the essence of knowledge was suddenly reduced to the encapsulated version stored in the odd home library that survived conflagrations?

Also, I have no idea what Marxian-influenced sociology pictures revolution as impoverished masses storming the mansions of the rich. First, the idea that Marxists are actually allowed tenure is more libel than reality. Second, actual Marxist revolutionaries would on the face of it be the people to consult about Marxist ideas of revolution, rather than academics who are professionals producing ideas that by and large are (or may be) useful to the rulers. False ideas of revolution are useful indeed. Third, if one were to be Marxist-influenced, the locus classicus is the Paris Commune. The Tale of Two Cities version of the Great French Revolution is vastly more influential than people like to admit, I think. Slaying straw me claimed to be the devils can be a form of virtue signalling

Loren Petrich

First, elite overproduction does not in general require overpopulation. Overproduction is relative to the population as a whole and to the amount of top offices.

As to the French revolution as not really populist, would that mean that it is some elite aspirants overthrowing an existing elite? Complete with slicing off the heads of many of that elite’s members — and also of some of them themselves.

As to the Byzantine Empire, has anyone done a structural-demographic analysis of it over its history? I have put together some estimates of integrative and disintegrative periods for it, using its political history as presented in Wikipedia, and adding the earlier Roman Empire:

350 BCE – I – Rome’s rise from a city-state to a major Mediterranean power
130 BCE – D – civil wars, though conquests continued
30 BCE – I – the Principate: the early Empire, ending with the Five Good Emperors
165 CE – D – some bad and short-lived emperors, the Crisis of the Third Century
285 CE – I – the Dominate: Diocletian and Constantine reorganize the Empire
395 CE – D – terminal decline of the western empire, ending in 476 CE. Status of eastern empire unclear
527 CE – I – Justinian I’s conquests
602 CE – D – decline, 20 years anarchy, iconoclasm fights
867 CE – I – Macedonian Renaissance
1025 CE – D – crisis and fragmentation
1081 CE – I – Komnenian period, another renaissance
1185 CE – D – terminal decline, ending in 1453 CE.

Edward Turner

An outside factor – the Arabs – influenced the main structural change of the Byzantine Empire – decentralization in the 632-866 CE period. Regional armies were created under powerful commander-governors who were able to react much more quickly to their raids. This change insulated the state defence system from elite instability in Constantinople (e.g. central armies refusing to follow commands) – and there was a lot of that – at the cost of there being a whole bunch of rivals to the Emperor only one battle away from taking the crown.

April Harding

Thanks for sharing this comment Loren. I share your curiosity about applying S-D theory to the evolution of the Byzantine Empire. I am a ‘newbie’ to Byzantine history – with growing interest, partly prompted by Robin Pierson’s excellent History of Byzantium podcast. I’m jotting down your timeline to keep in mind as I read/listen and, hopefully, learn more.

Loren Petrich

It was disappointing to me to see the history of Rome not continued, since the Byzantine Empire was a major European power for most of its history, and since it was the eastern Roman empire. Its people even called themselves Romans, even after they started using Greek instead of Latin as their language of administration.

It is rather obvious from its history that this empire had strong periods (Justinian, Macedonian, Komnenian) alternating with weak periods, like anarchy and the iconoclasm fight. It was the iconoclasts (“image breakers”), objecting to pictures of saints as idolatrous, opposed by the iconodules (“image servants”), who liked these pictures.

Just the facts

Your first citation above, http://wid.world/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/020-Wolff.pdf, which you incorrectly claim supports your views, actually refutes yours and supports Turchin’s! It states:
“Inequality again surged from 1988 to 2000, with the share of the top percentile rising by 3.4 percentage points, the share of the top quintile up by 3.0 percentage points, the shares of the other quintiles falling again, and the Gini index advancing from 0.521 to 0.562. All in all, the years from 1989 to 2001 saw almost the same degree of increase in income inequality as the 1983-1989 period. Inequality once again rose from 2001 to 2007”

You should (and doubtless do) know that throwing around a lot of links does not make your case, it only appears to do so to the many who do not have time to fact check. When I checked that one it supported Turchin’s case and contradicted yours!

That’s troll-y. What’s your game here?

Swami

I said absolutely nothing about inequality. The discussion was about immiseration not inequality of outcome.

The reason is of course because there are three distinct and conflicting definitions of inequality. The Gini index reflects the simplest, most childish version — 1) Equality of outcome REGARDLESS OF CONTRIBUTION. It is the equivalent of the way siblings pass out cookies that mom brings home.

The more complex versions of the concept are:
2) Rewards commensurate or proportional to contribution (how markets work), and
3) Equality of treatment within the rules (rule egalitarianism)

As anyone familiar with equality and fairness knows, the trouble with inequality is that the three versions of the topic often conflict. Thus a society fair by 2 and 3 can be less fair according to 1, and vice versa. Complex societies balance all three.

The US is a leader in innovation, science, technology, R&D, world changing startups (Google, Apple, Microsoft, Tesla, Facebook, Uber, etc, etc) because it weights the balance more toward numbers 2 and 3. Europe and other “catchup” economies or countries which have greatly drafted on the last century of American innovation have focused more on number 1.

The US also has more type 1 inequality than many places because it has historically been open to lower skilled immigrants (30-40 M, who come in way below average in income and wealth).

But the discussion is about immiseration, not inequality.

So what was your game again?

Loren Petrich

I hope that I might get to see the data for those 30 crises. Data like how they score in each of the factors — depopulation, plagues, elite demotion and getting killed, rulers getting killed, revolutions, civil wars, and territory getting fragmented and/or lost.

For instance, does rulers getting killed correlate more with elites getting killed than with other factors?

bogwood

This may be just the other side of the elephant. It is the financialized jobs in question, not total jobs. “Non-farm” is more important than realized. Take the employment data back to the 1950s and it was only 50% participation, a golden era. Many activities, childcare, eldercare, lawn care, food production,were done within the family more on a socialism basis. As every activity is brought into the “economy” the resource surplus is distributed more unevenly. Historically less than 10% of the “jobs” were non-farm. Now only the diesel oil workers are producing an energy surplus, easy to focus upon and easy to skim. There is still the same inequity, just another perspective.

[…] From Peter Turchin. […]

seo box

There are a couple of interesting points over time in this posting but I do not know if they all center to heart. There may be some validity but I’ll take hold opinion until I investigate it further. Great write-up , thanks and we want a lot more! Included in FeedBurner also seo box

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