Peter Turchin


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America is burning. Dozens of cities across the United States remain under curfews at a level not seen since riots following the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Most commentary is focusing on the immediate causes of this wave of violence that has already continued for six days. And indeed, it is difficult to watch the video of George Floyd being slowly strangled to death without feeling rage and sorrow. But my job, as it were, is to look beyond the surface of the events to the deep structural causes.

Protesters overtaking and burning the Minneapolis Police’s 3rd Precinct Source

I have written elsewhere that the causes of rebellions and revolutions are in many ways similar to processes that cause earthquakes or forest fires. In both revolutions and earthquakes, it is useful to distinguish “pressures” (structural conditions, which build up slowly) from “triggers” (sudden releasing events, which immediately precede a social or geological eruption). Specific triggers of political upheavals are difficult, perhaps even impossible to predict with any precision. Every year the police kill hundreds of Americans: black and white, men and women, adults and children, criminals and law-abiding citizens. The US cops have already killed 400 people in just the first five months of 2020. Why was it the murder of George Floyd that sparked the wave of protests?

Unlike triggers, structural pressures build up slowly and more predictably, and are amenable to analysis and forecasting. Furthermore, many triggering events themselves are ultimately caused by pent-up social pressures that seek an outlet—in other words, by the structural factors. Readers of this blog are familiar with the chief structural pressures undermining social resilience: popular immiseration, intra-elite conflict, and the loss of confidence in state institutions. More details are available in my Aeon article and in The Double Helix of Inequality and Well-Being (and of course the most comprehensive treatment is in Ages of Discord).

These structural trends, that became obvious to me in the early 2000s, resulted in the forecast, which I published in 2010: “The next decade is likely to be a period of growing instability in the United States and western Europe” (see also A Quantitative Prediction for Political Violence in the 2020s).

This forecast was not simply a projection of the contemporary (in 2010) trend in social instability into the future. Social instability in major Western countries had been, in fact, declining prior to 2010 (see the graphic below). Rather, the basis for this forecast was a quantitative model that took as inputs the major structural drivers for instability (immiseration, intraelite competition, and state (in)capacity) and translated them into the Political Stress Index (PSI), which is strongly correlated with socio-political instability. The rising PSI curve, calculated in 2010, then, suggested growing socio-political instability over the next decade.

Recently, Andrey Korotayev and I revisited my 2010 forecast (in a manuscript in review in a scientific journal). We analyzed the data on a variety of instability indicators and found that, indeed, the trends for almost all of them went up after 2010 (our data series stops in 2018, but the numbers for 2019 should be available soon). Here’s the result for the incidence of riots in six major Western countries:

Focusing on the United States and looking over a longer time period, we see that the current wave of instability has already reached similar levels to the previous one, which peaked in the late 1960s:

Our conclusion is that, unfortunately, my 2010 forecast is correct. Unfortunately, because I would have greatly preferred it to become a “self-defeating prophecy”, but that clearly has not happened.

What does it mean for the current wave of protests and riots? The nature of such dynamical processes is such that it can subside tomorrow, or escalate; either outcome is possible.A spark landing even in abundant fuel can either go out, or grow to a conflagration.

What is much more certain is that the deep structural drivers for instability continue to operate unabated. Worse, the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated several of these instability drivers. This means that even after the current wave of indignation, caused by the killing of George Floyd, subsides, there will be other triggers that will continue to spark more fires—as long as the structural forces, undermining the stability of our society, continue to provide abundant fuel for them.

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Diego Paucar

More than the COVID, dear colleague, I wouldnt understimate the influence of media, specifically, the political messages and increasing polarization demostrated by SNA models used in Facebook and Twitted in hundreds of papers, as well as the Cambridge Analytica-style political marketing being widespread thorugh the same landscapes.

Mike Bartley

I think you have realize it’s not just about what medium is used, it’s more important on what resonates with people. WHY are Facebook and Twitter being used for polarization and confrontation rather than unifying people? Why do certain stories become popular and others don’t? I think the answer lies into what Turchin is talking about. People will like and share stuff that resonates with them. People are confrontational and polarized, so they will use those platforms for confrontation and polarization.

Joe Edward

Ok. Thats right!¡


I’m a bit confused because in the “ http://peterturchin.com/cliodynamica/quantitative-prediction-political-violence-2020s/” you predicted over 100 incidents per 5 years? Do you mean to combine (add) the number of incidents in the 4 surrounding years to 2020 ( 2018 + 2019 + 2020 + 2021 + 2022) or (2016 + 2017 + 2018 + 2019 + 2020)?

José Rubí

Es fundamental que por ley, los políticos tengan prohibido en sus campañas, desarrollar estrategias que polaricen a la sociedad, utilizar frases y estar enviando mensajes que pongan a los ciudadanos a mirarse como enemigos unos a otros. Mientras esto no se haga, los políticos continuarán constituyéndose en promotores del odio y de la exacerbación de la inconformidad social.

J. Daniel

José Rubí wrote (translated):
It is essential that by law, politicians are prohibited from campaigning, developing strategies that polarize society, using phrases and sending messages that make citizens look at each other as enemies. As long as this is not done, politicians will continue to become promoters of hatred and the exacerbation of social nonconformity.

Well stated. However in the US, freedom of speech is a constitutional right. Yes, socially destructive speech is protected. But some countries do in fact prohibit the type of speech that you describe.

Mason Parker

How- if you can hazard a prediction- do you see this playing out? And when will the violence crest?

Kenji Hirai

I think internal structure of weak Nation states are strongly influenced by the stronger Nation states
and I wonder how the situation mesh with this kind of analysis. I’m thinking about the situation where the US created social unrest that lead to coup d’etat in south America, etc.

When Iraq descended into civil war, I felt the US was largely responsible for the bloodshed. Some people were saying when Negroponte arrived in Iraq and people started to show up lined up with bullet wound in the back of their heads, that the US is puling the Salvador Option. Today we don’t need the school of Americas to pull “Salvador Option” because we have Cambridge Analytica-style targeted marketing that predict how many people would act in certain way if one spend x amount of money targeting X amount of people who fit X type of psychographic traits with X kind of fake news.
Can “Deep” structural drivers be manipulated by powerful forces?

Susan Rice is saying Russia is behind the current riot. Nation states doesn’t exist in vacuum but as a part of the global system. That’s the norm isn’t it?

Loren Petrich

I find it interesting that riots started became common at the same time not only in the US, but in those European countries. Could this be a result of economies being much more linked than in the past?

I think that a good test would be to compare long-lived polities in different places, like Rome and China. For Rome, a better continuation would be the Byzantine Empire rather than the Western European states and empires. Has anyone done a structural-demographic analysis of the Byzantine Empire?

That aside, were their cycles as in sync as they seem now? At least more in sync than might be evident from planet-scale natural events like widespread drought.

Carlos Adrianza

hola, grandioso tu estudio… casi es una prediccion matematica, lei un articulo del 2012 en el cual mencionan que habias dicho que para el 2020 habria una guerra debido al comportamiento humano.

aca te dejo el link.


saludos y exitos amigo

Sorry for my Spanish.

Johnny Pranke

Hi Peter,

I understand how it might be politically risky be to include a variable like ethnic heterogeneity in analyzing upheaval, but have you studied it at all? Would you consider adding it to your structural-demographic model?

Gavin Campbell

You’re just trying to shoehorn racism into the mix. An attempt to justify racial nationalism.

The reality is that ethnic identity is too nebulous to be quantified like this. It can only be given it’s parameters according to someone’s prejudice. I’m on to you.

Peter Magdon

I don’t think you understand the difference between race and ethnicity and also the meaning of racism. Cool down, Mr. Politically correct.

The reality is that ethnic identity, race race pretty easy to quatify, those they are a part of FBI stats, economic stats etc etc.

So please, save this stupid rhetoric for twitter or reddit. The door is this way >>>>

Bob Roberts

Great reply Peter. So tired of these people with their private agenda of racism (socially constructed) trying to reframe the evidence to suit their bigotry. Thanks for calling it out.

Rob Boberts

The question: “Is social instability/stability affected by diversity?” is not bigotry. The unwillingness to ask or answer (or allow the asking/answering) is, however, academically and intellectually dishonest.


This thread makes it clear that nobody can include diversity in cliodynamics.

Even asking the question whether the stability of a society might be somehow affected by diversity, triggers ad hominem attacks.

That is a pitty really. Isn’t it obvious that diversity is a strength and thus stabilises any society?

Trevor Glass

Very interesting stuff but be nice to us color blind folks! Trying to read that last chart is brutal for us who have trouble distinguishing red and green.

On a more substantive note, what was your data collection process for counting up demonstrations and riots? The flat line around 2003 is suspicious given huge anti war protests, is that because even though they had lots of participants they were few in frequency compared to smaller Tea Party/Occupy/BLM protests in the past decade?

And for older protests, are you going off what comes up in a LexisNexus search or something similar? I’m afraid that many older ones won’t show up if the records of old newspapers like, say, the Chicago Defender haven’t been fully digitized


What about the possibility or Organizations working together to bring instability over the course of the last decade? Is that also possible that it is occurring in front of our eyes?? In a long term plan it is totally feasible you start with education in the schools and forging social opinion trends like gender equality, racial issues bring illegal immigration ( western Europe is full of African illegal immigrants, Eastern Europe is in the border with Siria in war for years and with massive migration into Europe) you ensure to bring into the mix religion confrontation Muslim vs Christian and control mass media to drive the spot light. All in the context of unbearable national debts eating up the monetary resources and there you go over the course of a decade you can destroy a continent as you know it. I see that scenario totally possible

Aidan Barrett

Here is an excellent summary of the situation by Michael Lind:


tom charles osher

I appreciate your analysis. I am an activist who wishes to aid in making the necessary changes. First a deep understanding is obviously necessary. The protests now could easily be foreseen, not necessarily the racial murder incident, but the pushback when people are deprived of food and money. I believe that the pandemic is a manipulation by the secret forces that control gov’ts. and foment events, i.e. wars, etc. the see eye aye types that are behind the scenes.

Humanity needs to unite because the controllers clearly know how impotent we are as individuals. So, we are in the process of making a network of millions of like-minded individuals and organizations. We have the know how, how to do it. We are contracting a team of IT specialists which will work according to our plan. It is very complex. It will take from 3 to 6 months. Soon, I will have a more precise time schedule. It requires funding, which we will find.

The megalo-protests last year accomplished almost nothing. Why? Because many were spontaneous and they were not organized with a clear demand that would have permanent effects. We hope that this ever-growing network will be a vehicle for organizing world-wide protests and that the demand be horizontal self-governing, no more vertical, top-down governments. We recently completed this 7 minute animation explaining it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wywMhg604W8&fbclid=IwAR0uibJrlaIpykpBpKEGsEXw1MhKKgvCoYRv4tXHhXLKAODc1LAd4HfXpZE.

We have a website that explains our different real strategies for what is going on now in the world: utopiacornucopia.org. We are open to everyone and open to the ideas of others.

Also, I am the founder of a mostly latino, artist, eco-community in Ecuador (chambalabamba.org) which uses horizontal self-organizing (sociocracy), since dec. 2012.

tom charles osher

Horizontal governing is virtually incorruptible. We live in a milieu of corruption. Almost everything is corrupt, the gov’ts., the media, science, pharmacy, healthcare, counter-culture, your neighbors, probably you are corrupt. The rotten apple in the barrel metaphor. Corruption is taking us to extinction or totalitarianism or both. We seem blind or used to the corruption, since it is the medium we live in. This, in my opinion, is the big problem that needs to be confronted. Capitalism is the breeding ground for corruption. The systemic changes necessary to save us must deal with the way we govern and the economic systems, imho.

A C Harper

I don’t wish to seem indifferent or callous but when I read the first sentence of the post “America is burning.” my first question was how do we know that? Secondly, “How bad is it?”

Clearly news reports have a great deal to do with public perceptions but is there a metric for social disruption? There must be many places in the USA that would never know of the violence unless they read/view the news – and news is no longer reliable.

Are there data about the number of emergency calls available? Would this be a good proxy (if only in developed countries)?

J. Daniel

I am reading that big companies are handling the pandemic well, while small businesses are collapsing in droves. If true that will mean COVID-19 is accelerating the DST factor of increasing wealth inequality by immiserating the lower level elite segment of small business owners. Like a government that enacts policies that accelerate growth of wealth inequality (think about the recent years when the Republican party controlled the executive branch, both houses of Congress, and the supreme court (I’m referring to the US here)), this could speed up the DST cycle and hasten the arrival of both the coming low point in the present “age of discord” and the turnaround into the next era of harmony.

Barclay Leib

Stock markets also peaked 1965-1969 with the protests. Ditto 2020?

Peter van den Engel

Large companies have broader reserves than small ones: what they earn has the inmediate purpose to serve their current needs; which at the same time does not mean it serves the big ones, because they are in a different sphere of typical services. They do not correlate.

Nevertheless it emphizes the debt devider under which conditions the whole (financial) system operates. Which applies random logic: not a proven one.
This is the underlying static condition as defined leading to eruptions caused by random incidents.

The exact same thing (a black person being killed by the police) happened in the early nineties in LA, causing riots all over the place in the US, although this does not show up in you statistics. Are they biased?
It shows the psycholigical factor of inequallity has always been around (since slavery) and is not prone to temporary trends which carry their own predictions/ although they keep reflecting on eachother.

The 50 year period I believe correlates with generations; young with an outlook/ and old with a different result than expected – or visa versa: young in an unwanted environment created by their parents, which was the cause of the upheavels in the seventies.
While the current ones belong to the first type: they are inverted.
Without a theory statistics cannot be properly explained.

john m

i think the key driver of the social unrest is because of this-
all central banks around the world print the money like no tomorrow. this inflated the asset bubble, and the wealth inequality much much much worse. the economic crisis becomes social crisis. but no central bank would admit their policy is wrong. so they will keep printing, which means the social crisis this time will get worse and much longer than expected.

i read your research article that said the unrest will start in 2020. you are right.

the government is the problem.


What theory explains why Minneapolis and Chicago – the worst hit cities from the riots – and Seattle, which is the stage for a unique rebellion, and Detroit – an industrial city that has already collapse – are all on the Canadian border?

I know there are dozens of American cities that have problems, like San Fransisco, but this particular flare up is worst along this line (excluding Detroit which I added for context).

Peter van den Engel

It might be a large part of the black community went north in history, as far away as possible from the south which had violated their rights/ landing closer to a more social(ist) country (Canada), which does have national healhcare and better labor protection of income.
Protesting by referring to that.

California might have voted for Bernie Sanders/ but the current left wing organized lockdown (curfew) goes against the grain of liberty.

Aidan Barrett

On the issues of elite overproduction and acting like outsiders through racial ideologies:


Joseph Anderson

I always find it fascinating when brilliant minds are caught in moments where their previous genius is not giving the current situation accurate insights. Peter, my friend…the virus and the race war is not the crisis. My hope is you look back through your own work and then reengage in the conversation. Monopolized media, world health and technology is attacking human consciousness in a way that has never been experienced. Seems like many people in the comments see this as the main crisis. Remember the Reichtag fire of 1933 gave the Nazi party justification to throw all media under one unified voice, suspension of the Democratic German constitution, undid the right to assemble, freedom of speech…The virus is used to accomplish all of these same goals on a much larger scale. Meanwhile suicide hotlines were up 600% in may, deaths sky rocketed and many are illegitimately being listed as COVID 19 in order to get the death count higher and justify the shut down. There’s a huge crime tacking place. I love sharing your work and your books with people but I also expect people of your caliber to stay on top of the real structure of a crisis. Currently I’m having to press charges on my government for requiring schools to implement policies that will create long term psychological damage for kids.

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