Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Cycles go up, and down

Peter Turchin, who I have sited in the past, has a nice piece discussing some of the elements with within his study of cyclical patterns within human society.
Peter Turchin, Bloomberg, 20 November 2013 (hat tip: NC)
Complex human societies, including our own, are fragile. They are held together by an invisible web of mutual trust and social cooperation. This web can fray easily, resulting in a wave of political instability, internal conflict and, sometimes, outright social collapse.
Analysis of past societies shows that these destabilizing historical trends develop slowly, last many decades, and are slow to subside. The Roman Empire, Imperial China and medieval and early-modern England and France suffered such cycles, to cite a few examples. In the U.S., the last long period of instability began in the 1850s and lasted through the Gilded Age and the “violent 1910s.”
We now see the same forces in the contemporary U.S. Of about 30 detailed indicators I developed for tracing these historical cycles (reflecting popular well-being, inequality, social cooperation and its inverse, polarization and conflict), almost all have been moving in the wrong direction in the last three decades.
I find some of his work to be to "modern" in its politics, with too much emphasis on the foibles of modern politics within these long term trends. In that sense, I am probably more "cyclical" than he is, because I am dubious as to most societies abilities to weather the vagarious of demographics, geo-politics, or unlucky "Black Swans" through anything other than lucky happenstance.  It is similar to the randomness of "Texas Holdout" or coaching in the NBA.  You can always ruin a good hand, but once you get to a certain threshold of competence, fate trumps skill.
And since I can see the argument coming, I don't see Obamacare as self-sabotage.  It is the expected overreach of an already overextended society. 


James M Dakin said...

Anymore, what isn't stupid ideas to kick the can down the road a bit more? Rigging the financial markets, disregarding rule of law, inflation, food to fuel, etc. The funny part is, no one could have seen this coming, it is so surreal. Cheers, enjoying the folly of the rapid decline.

russell1200 said...

James: What they really mean is that nobody saw it coming who they think is important. We are living the slow least until it speeds up.