The Science behind My Forecast for 2020

Peter Turchin

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Quite a number of people, here and on Twitter, asked me about how I came up with my forecast for 2020. Here’s the story.

By the early 2000s I had already delved into structural-demographic theory and its implications for historical societies. These results went into Historical Dynamics (2003) and in much greater detail into Secular Cycles (2009). But every time I gave a talk about this research, someone in the audience was sure to ask, where are we now in the cycle? So around 2006-2007 I started gathering data on the USA. I remember giving a talk about this research to Santa Fe Institute colleagues in 2008, when I was there for a sabbatical year.

In early 2010 Nature asked a number of scientists about their forecasts for the next decade. By that point I already had a fully developed computational model for forecasting structural-demographic pressures for instability. Frankly, the results for the USA scared me. So I sent them my rather pessimistic forecast, which, somewhat surprisingly, they published. The Nature article had to be very short, so I later published the details of the approach, model, and data in a much longer article, Modeling Social Pressures Toward Political Instability. I’ve been publishing such scientific predictions (see my blog post on how this differs from “prophecy”) from the beginning of my scientific career, because this is the main way we can really test our theories.

In the years since 2010 a number of journalists interviewed me about this prediction, but the quality of resulting pieces were quite variable, from very good to rather bad. If you want to get the story right, better read what I wrote. In particular, here are two popular articles that I published in 2013:

Return of the Oppressed. From the Roman Empire to our own Gilded Age, inequality moves in cycles. The future looks like a rough ride. Aeon Magazine

Blame Rich, Overeducated Elites as Our Society Frays. Bloomberg View Op-Eds

Then, in January of this year I teamed up with another structural-demographic theorist, Andrey Korotayev, to revisit the forecast made in 2010. So far, this article has gone through one round of review at a scientific journal, and we have just resubmitted a revised version. Yesterday I posted the revised version on a preprint server; it also has supplementary materials with the data file and an R script that implements the model. If you want to delve into the details, here’s the link:

Turchin, Peter and Andrey Korotayev. 2020. “The 2010 Structural-Demographic Forecast for the 2010–2020 Decade: A Retrospective Assessment.” SocArXiv Preprint. 

Abstract

This article revisits the prediction, made in 2010, that the 2010–2020 decade would likely be a period of growing instability in the United States and Western Europe [1]. This prediction was based on a computational model that quantified in the USA such structural-demographic forces for instability as popular immiseration, intraelite competition, and state weakness prior to 2010. Using these trends as inputs, the model calculated and projected forward in time the Political Stress Indicator, which in the past was strongly correlated with socio-political instability. Ortmans et al. [2] conducted a similar structural-demographic study for the United Kingdom. Here we use the Cross-National Time-Series Data Archive for the US, UK, and several major Western European countries to assess these structural-demographic predictions. We find that such measures of socio-political instability as anti-government demonstrations and riots increased dramatically during the 2010–2020 decade in all of these countries.

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Good article, good summary of your work to date. I have read many of your articles & books and have recommended to colleagues, especial those in the financial community.

I found one error: line 352 – mulitple -> multiple. A spell check is advised.

Best,
Steven Moffitt

Rich Howard

The Fathers and Sons cycle could be related to theories of economic capture. Capture may be a progressive process where successive winners must be more ruthless to vanquish current leaders. The process cpntinues until leaders with no leadership desires and only dominance desires result.
The 50 years this process takes may be a dynamic of how long a leader can keep confidence of the led, the time scales of choosing leaders and how resistive to change the governing structure is.
I can see human lifetimes and psychology being a driver of timelines in a Fathers and Son model. Similar to Kahneman showing how psychology undermines rational self interest in economic models.

John Taylor

Dominant elites also promote diversity and conflict because they believe they can use the energy created against their perceived enemies. America is in the process of moving from a Republic to an full oligarchy or kingship. The process will probably be complete by 2040as the whites become a minority and have major political strife for dominance.

Dieter Kief

Thanks – I especially glad, that you name the lawyers as an indicator of societal conflict. I’ve been following this thought for years – and writing about it too, here and there (at Steve Sailer’s blog, for example). It’s a point where I differ from Jürgen Habermas and the juridical side of his philosophy and sociology.

The other big indicator you name is on my radar as well – the disentangling of worker-wages and productivity gains in the seventies.

I might add: This did not happen in Switzerland and Austria – and it did happen to a lesser degree in Germany.

I’ve just managed to make a copy of your Bloomberg op-ed (it works, if one copies quick). I’m glad I’ve read it.

I could translate it into German and try to get it published at the libertarian site Achgut.com or Tichy’s Einblick – Tichy’s translates articles and books of Douglas Murray.

Dieter Kief

Thanks Peter –

– I’ll let you know when I’ve found a paper(online publication) willing to publish your quite astounding Bloomberg article.

What the swiss labor-market is concerned, I have a few notes. Productivity gains do not differ much between Germany and Switzerland since the Seventies, so I’ll focus on the results in the actual labor-market:

The following quote is from a reliable Swiss source, just to give you an impression of the dimensions.
This is from the site Gehaltsreporter (salary report Switzerland). I’ve put it through google translate. For Austria, the situation is a bit different, the wages are lower, but: Pensions are considerably higher than in Germany for working regulars and: Housing is more affordable in big cities due to housing-coops – especially in Vienna, and in rural areas the housing situation is better in Austria due to the fact, that people (workers and crafts-people and farmers too) own their houses or apartments on a much higher scale than in Germany.

https://gehaltsreporter.de/gehaelter-im-ausland/    

I live right at the German-Swiss border and know lots of people working on both sides of the border in person, and can say, these numbers are correct. By and large – a Swiss worker, a bricklayer, or a gardener or a plumber or a mechanic in a factory, or a nurse is doing economically remarkably better than his or her German counterpart. I know a Swiss railway-ticket-seller, and old punk-fan now and heavily left-leaning Social Democrat who just retired, and he had – in his whole life, never any financial problems (his wife was a nurse and decided with fifty to become a speech-therapist (Logopädin). – such moves btw,, the swiss system supports, btw. and enables for almost any profession.

Here is the quote from Swiss Salary report linked above via a bit corrected google translate:

  Switzerland – just under CHF 78,000 average income According to a study by UBS

 Zurich and Geneva are among the cities with the highest income levels worldwide. Swiss salaries are about three to four times higher than in most other European countries. At CHF 78,000 gross per year, the average income is around 70% higher than in Germany. No wonder that Switzerland has been one of the most popular emigration destinations for Germans in the past decade. In addition to impressive landscapes and a lack of a language barrier, 79% of Germans willing to emigrate are attracted to the higher wage level, according to Focus Online. Nevertheless, Switzerland has become less attractive in recent years and immigration from EU countries has decreased significantly.
 Compared to the record year 2013, when the migration balance (immigrants minus emigrants) compared to the EU area was 53,950 people, the number in 2019 should have been halved. Two groups of immigrants are particularly important for the labor market in Switzerland: Specialists with high professional qualifications and auxiliary or seasonal workers such as in the hotel/catering industry or care sector. Nominal wage increases of 2.0% and real growth of 0.7% are forecast for 2020. This puts Switzerland in the last place in a Western European comparison (Germany nominal: 2.9% / real: 1.4%). How high is the CH wage level compared to Germany? Estimating salary claims in Switzerland is not an easy task. Talking to Swiss people about their income is considered a faux pas. As a rough conversion formula for salaries up to around € 70,000, it has proven useful to simply multiply the € amount for a comparable position in Germany by a factor of 1.8 and to replace the € symbol with CHF (example: a gross salary of € 50,000 in Germany should be just under CHF 90,000 in Switzerland). This 1: 1.8 calculation can of course vary significantly depending on the industry, position, and qualification. In the salary regions over € 70,000, the conversion formula tends towards a factor of 1: 1.5 or in other words: Whoever earns € 100,000 gross in Germany should get around CHF 150,000 in Switzerland. 66 CH job offers with a wage benchmark. 

U.Walisser

I think the number of lawyers indicator is more about a negociation problem than a pure conflict one. When you can reach an agreement, it means you don’t need a lawyer, but if the very idea of negociating becomes impossible, that’s when he comes in. Agreements means concessions, usually on both sides, and willingness to cooperate which is absent during the “ages of discord”. I would think of conflict as being more of a constant phenomenon, and the ability for resolution to be the moving part. The use of political obstuctions means in parliaments (as the filibustiers mentionned on this blog) points to the lack of resolution being the problem. Too much stubbornes borne our of repeated previous success maybe.

Doug Hanlon

I don’t know if this counts as cultural data, but you are probably aware that a growing number of ordinary (non-academic) people in America have, for many years, had a growing feeling that a period of deep instability and insecurity is coming. (I’m speaking of the ‘survivalists’ and ‘preppers’ and the reborn militia movement.)

I was not familiar with your theory, and put this down to the decline of American world-dominance, paralled by the rise of China, with additional factors being the free-trade-driven slow disintegration of the American working class, as documented by Charles Murray in COMING APART.

It will be interesting to see how the most conscious and aware section of this community of anticipators — perhaps subconsciously integrating the tremors that have preceded the current upheaval — react to your theory, a report on which, published eight years ago, I have just posted in the national website of many militia supporters, MyMilita.com, where I am a moderator. (How I wish I had been familiar with your theory a year ago! I would have invested heavily in shares of gun manufacturers!) Their share prices are up, and so is our membership, dramatically. If you have any short-term predictions, please publish them!

Ross Hartshorn

So, I have had a bad feeling about the year 2020 since at least 2012, when Dr. Turchin put a rough draft of what eventually became “Age of Discord” on his website. Occasionally, I would think “I really should move somewhere else”, but it was never apparent where I could move to that wasn’t moving along a similar path (probably because globalized trade and the internet have synchronized the economies and elites of different countries).

However, I am curious if Dr. Turchin has anything to say regarding where Russia is in the secular cycle? Besides his own background, I believe he has done work with other researchers who are Russian, and I assume someone among them has come to some at least tentative conclusions?

Graeme Bushell

Thanks Peter, especially for the excellent and concise summary of SDT (this one will go straight to the required reading list for my undergraduate sustainability students).
If you can still edit this, I’d suggest to delete the word “sufficient” on line 64. At the moment it reads a bit like an incomplete sentence (sufficient for what?).
I see plenty of evidence of responding to referees comments, take heart! This is real science, you’re getting pushback because it’s a big deal, and represents a change in thinking for many. You’re asking people to change their minds in the face of the evidence.

Cheers,
Graeme

Karl

What is an elite position? Who counts as a member of the elite?

I could not find a definition in the article. Maybe it is obvious for someone working in this field, but for a layman it is not.

Can you please give a definition or point to a publication where a definition can be found?

Carlos

I was curious if you talk about the one lack of a “violence peak” in the USA (obviously during 1820), and I was wondering if you cover the lack of a spike during that period?

My first thought was that due to the effectively-unlimited amount of expansionism and the availability of native americans and slaves to take out aggression on, people might have been able to effectively avoid corruption and bad governance issues from those in “elite positions,” simply because poor and middle class and bourgeoise people could could go out west, while there was still much more than enough unclaimed land and resources to go around for the elites.

Mateus Dantas

Great summary. Are the definitions of the current elites and counter-elites in the US clear, and if so could anyone point them out to me?

Isaac

This is tangential, but could you comment on whether and how Joseph Tainter’s work has influenced your own?

uuid

Dr Turchin: great to see you still working on this and your continued dialogue with readers. Thanks!

Heinz Dieterich

Peter,
you have developed an impressive methodological approach. I think you could enrich it enormously if you integrate the concept “historic project” of social classes and social subjects. It is the particular concrete Weltanschauung of collective subjects and decisors which determine the social action of people. Marx didn´t use the concept, but of course, it was the underlying driving force of his analysis and efforts to transfrom society. I configured it a little bit in my work on “21st Century Socialism”.
Congratulations again.

[…] Peter Turchin The Science behind My Forecast for 2020 – Peter Turchin […]

Claudio Villegas

Dr Turchin, i’m a social anthropologist from Chile. Are you and Dr Korotayev interested in a spanish translation of this paper? It would be an honor.

Loren Petrich

Would political turmoil count? I’m only familiar with what goes on in the US, but I’ve seen some in other industrialized nations, like Scottish and Catalan separatism and the rise of anti-immigrant parties in Europe.

The US has had two major parties for nearly all of its existence, but its major parties are essentially coalitions, and sometimes awkward coalitions. First the Republican Party, and now the Democratic Party have been having major strife.

A decade ago, the “Tea Party” faction of Republicans challenged the party leadership as stodgy and too moderate. They turned “primary” into a verb, by Tea Partiers challenging long-time Republicans in primaries, and they even had a big success: Dave Brat defeating long-time Representative Eric Cantor. But despite being an economics professor, Rep. Brat was a non-entity while in office, and he was defeated by a Democrat 4 years later.

In 2016, Donald Trump defeated several other Republicans, despite being an almost complete newcomer to politics, and despite several of his opponents having had long political careers. Many Republicans found him to be very repulsive — bigoted and uncouth. But these “Never Trumpers” soon joined his supporters.

The Republican Party has solidly stood by Trump, despite him pushing policies that many Republicans oppose, like trade warring, and primary challengers for him have had little success.

Loren Petrich

Over the last few years, the Democrats have had a Tea-Party-like insurgency. “Herbal Tea Party”?

The first bit of it was Bernie Sanders running for President in 2016. He did a lot of online fundraising with large numbers of small contributions, thus making himself financially independent of big-money interests. He was not very successful, but some of his campaigners founded a Political Action Committee: Brand New Congress. It was to act like a European-style political party, with unified messaging, and with a candidate for every available seat in Congress. However, it was to work inside the two existing parties, because of the lack of success of third parties in US politics. BNC was not very successful. It recruited only 30 candidates, all Democrats except for one Republican and one Independent. Nine of them, all Democrats, won primaries, and one won the 2018 general election: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, another former Bernie Sanders campaigner. She primaried long-time incumbent and Democratic power broker Joe Crowley, arguing that he had neglected his district and that he was too fond of big money.

Progressives, as they like to call themselves, had very limited success in primarying incumbents that year, mostly AOC and Ayanna Pressley, who primaried long-time incumbent Mike Capuano. Two years earlier, Ro Khanna had primaried long-time incumbent Mike Honda.

This year, they continue to have a mixed record. Henry Cuellar survived a challenge by Jessica Cisneros in Texas, but Dan Lipinski fell to Marie Newman. Most recently, progressive Charles Booker is now a little ahead of party favorite Amy McGrath in the Kentucky Senate Democratic Primary.

New York City is interesting. The official vote count will come next week, but the likely outcomes are evident. Several long-time incumbents have survived progressive challengers, though one of them is too close to call at this time. One of them, Eliot Engel, has been defeated, after what seemed like him neglecting his district. AOC herself survived a primary challenge from Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, a former CNBC journalist who ran as a centrist, to the extent that she had any positions on issues. MCC was also heavily funded by Wall Streeters and Trump donors.

Loren Petrich

An interesting twist is that Andrew Yang and his followers have gotten involved in Congressional races, with their “Forward Humanity” PAC. They have endorsed several candidates, but their candidates have very little overlap with other progressive organizations’ candidates, like BNC’s ones.

In NYC, most of their candidates lost, placing behind other progressive candidates. The only winner was incumbent Grace Meng, someone who beat a BNC-supported candidate.

So might the left become divided into a Bernie Sanders faction and an Andrew Yang faction?

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