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Peter Turchin and the Coming Crisis of the 2020s
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Increasingly, social science is dominated by Leftist ideologues who use the remaining respect that academia still has among the public to inculcate students and public alike with their equalitarian dogmas. But there are honorable exceptions. One of these: Peter Turchin, a Russian who is professor of Evolutionary Biology at the University of Connecticut. Turchin, who did PhD at Duke University, applies his “hard science” training to the Woke world of social science, aiming to make clear and testable predictions about the cycles through which civilizations go. According to Turchin, the West is headed for trouble in the 2020s.

Turchin, who keeps a blog about civilization cycles, recently presented his latest findings to the Centre for Complex Systems Studies in Utrecht, Holland, under the heading “A History of the Near Future: What History Tells Us About the Near Future.” [PDF]His conclusions are startling. Based on his detailed number-crunching about events, civilizations that are in decline—as is the USA is—always enter periods of extreme polarization. For the USA, the 2020s will be that period. It will be marred by years of political violence, and intense conflict. Worryingly, Turchin claims that the U.S. more polarized that it was on the eve of the Civil War [ See his Ages of Discord: A Structural-Demographic Analysis of American History].

Turchin argued in his Utrecht presentation that political instability in the USA and Western Europe in the 2020s will be of unparalleled severity, to the extent that it may well “undermine scientific progress.”

Turchin began his presentation by quoting himself from almost a decade ago already making this prediction, one which—in a world of Trump, Brexit and the rise of European “populism”—now seems extremely prescient. Spain has just become the latest country to give a right-wing populist party a substantial vote: the Vox party took 3rd place in the country’s November 10th general election. [ Eurosceptics rejoice as Vox becomes 3rd most powerful party in Spanish election ,RT, November 11, 2019]

“Qualitative historical analysis reveals that complex human societies are affected by recurrent—and predictable—waves of political instability” he wrote in a letter to the leading science journal, Nature, which he quoted at the beginning of his presentation [Political instability may be a contributor in the coming decade, February 4, 2010].

Turchin’s presentation then moved on to highlighting the key forces that, according to his massive data base on historical cycles of violence, appear to auger political instability in the 2020s. There are four of them, and they were last this intense in the early 1970s, also a period of political instability in the West.

  • Mass Mobilization Potential

This, in essence, is “too many workers.” Turchin noted that when “the supply of labor exceeds its demand, the price of labor decreases, depressing the living standards for the majority of population, thus leading to popular immiseration [impoverishment] and growing mass-mobilization potential, but creating favorable economic conditions for the elites.”

In other words, as gradually occurred in the 1950s and the 1960s in Europe, the rich have grown richer on the back of cheap labor underpinned by mass immigration. This, however, has led to economic polarization and resentment, with the rich getting rich at a much faster rate than the poor. This means a well of angry, resentful people in the working and lower middle class.

  • Intra-Elite Competition.

Turchin argued that “favorable economic conjuncture for the elites results in increasing numbers of elites and elite aspirants, as well as runaway growth of elite consumption levels.” This means that many people who are higher up the hierarchy have to, in effect, become economically poor to maintain the veneer of “elite” status. Turchin added: “Elite overproduction results when elite numbers and appetites exceed the ability of the society to sustain them, leading to spiraling intra-elite competition and conflict.”

If you over-educate the populace, you have too many people who believe that in some way they have a right to rule—because when they were children, for people had a degree, that was kind of the case. So, if we assume that having a degree used to make you part of an “elite,” then we have “over-produced” this “elite”—over half of young people go into higher education in some Western countries. [More than half of young p eople are going to university for the first time, figures reveal, by Camilla Turner, Telegraph, September 26, 2019]

Thus there are far too many people qualified as lawyers, far too many college graduates, and thus very intense competition within and resentment between different sub-groups of “elite” people.

Many of them are not really “elite” other than on paper, but they regard “non-elite” jobs as beneath them. Think of all the baristas with Cultural Anthropology degrees, the wannabe attorneys working as civil servants or for charities; the numerous graduates doing The Office-type tedious jobs. This breeds hatred and conflict among the more educated.

  • State Fragility

This occurs when a “fiscal crisis,” of the kind Turchin claims we have, reduces the power of the government to control the police, the army and other enforcers. The state begins to lack “legitimacy,” meaning that the elites and the populace are less likely to defend its institutions. Thus Trump supporters regard hallowed newspapers as “Fake News.” Brexit supporters label senior judges [ British newspapers react to judges’ Brexit ruling: ‘Enemies of the people’, Guardian, November 4, 2019] and even parliament itself [ Boris Johnson’s attempt to subvert democracy has failed, and he should resign, New Statesman, September 24, 2019] as the “Enemy of the People.”

  • International Environment

The state will be rendered even more fragile if foreign governments support the insurgents within the elite—for example, Trump expressing his support for Brexiteers. And similar insurgencies in other countries spur emulation: Trump supporters could look to the Brexit vote and see that such victories over the Establishment were possible.

Turchin argues that these factors also existed in the 1920s and 1930s, resulting in a crisis and in war. The elites dealt with this by attempting to create a more equal society, by limiting the size of the work force, by regulating the economy, and by limiting imports. The result was that between about 1930 and 1970, real (inflation-adjusted) wages grew.

But once the elites forgot about the 1930s, and became focused on their own enrichment, wages started to plateau and fall, leading to crisis by the 1970s. Policies to, in essence, make everyone much wealthier were then instituted across the 1980s.

But these could only last for so long and, claims Turchin, real wages have effectively been in decline since about the year 2000. And as this has happened, the elites have got richer and larger. For example, the percentage of the USA population worth 1 million dollars (in 1995 dollars) has grown from 2.9% to 6.3% between 1983 and 2007. So there is growing economic polarization.

The “over-production of elites” leads to aspirant elites challenging the “established elites,” if necessary by violent means. The number of elite positions is limited—there are 50 state governors and 100 senators, no matter the population size—so this leads to political instability. In this regard, Turchin charts how the number of candidates for Congress—the number of elite aspirants—has increased over time, meaning more and more resentful people in the elite, who might be attracted to radical action to get their way.

Turchin brings together a variety of “well-being indicators”—employment, real wages, health, family size—and finds that they all follow exactly the same pattern. They are low around 1900, which Turchin argues was a period of conflict and instability. They are very high by about 1960 and then start to rapidly fall. We would thus expect a crisis.

Serious crises seeming to manifest every 50 years or so. Turchin takes us into what he calls the “deep past”—back even to the history of Rome—to show that these cycles occur again and again in almost exactly the same way, for exactly the same reasons, even involving similar lengths of time, such as instability every 50 years [A History of the Near Future]. Fascinatingly, he shows—setting out the data in a graph—that there is a clear negative association between societal well-being and elite over-production between 1780 and 2010 in the USA.

What will happen in the 2020s? Turchin argues that one possibility is mass mobilization leading to war, revolution, state collapse, a lethal pandemic, population collapse—and, eventually, the higher living standards that tend to go with a reduced population.

Turchin, however, is slightly more optimistic for this coming decade. He predicts that the West will undergo something more similar to the collapse of the Soviet Union, and thus avoid pandemics and a mass die-off.

Let’s hope he’s right.

Lance Welton [email him] is the pen name of a freelance journalist living in New York.

(Republished from VDare by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Culture/Society • Tags: Elites, Inequality, Poverty 
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  1. If you over-educate the populace, you have too many people who believe that in some way they have a right to rule

    You just wrote that.

    The people do have a right to rule. It is called popular sovereignty. There is no such thing as overeducation. I think you mean something else.

  2. This is a really interesting theory. It is a work in progress, the author’s clear that there is much-much more data to crunch. It also employs qualitative materials & claims. .
    Cyclical histories are not too uncommon — nor are their problems — locking down the cycles is itself a vast endeavour:
    “complex human societies are affected by recurrent — & predictable waves of political instability” (violence, polarisation etc)
    “predictive” is the 64 K question….
    But — “serious crises seemingly… manifest every 50 years or so”. “seemingly” “or so” are the rub. Data creates theory or theory creates data?
    There are 4 main forces creating these instability cycles.
    “Mass mobilisation potential” roughly refers to social polarisation, over supply of labour & increasing immiseration, this creating a ground for mass violence, revolution etc.
    Not much to argue with here — essentially a Marxian view that class warfare is common to all historical periods. Contradiction inevitably emerges from increasing poloraisation of elites from the 99% — UNLESS other forces intervene (ie an external enemy)
    The next force is often overlooked; “intra elite competition” As polarisation etc increases it becomes ever harder for elite upward mobility. The cake is not getting bigger, so elites need to fight harder over the scraps left.
    (puts the current tragedy/comedy “impeachment” shenanigans into perspective)
    One point can be added — the middle classes are the best bulwark against working class rebellion. While workers & the middle class itself can see paths upward they will tend to settle with the status quo. Elites who feel they need to eat the middle class are already suicidally decadent.
    “state fragility” is the 3rd & least satisfactory force. Fiscal crisis leads government to lose control of police etc & thus lose general legitimacy.
    Perhaps the author means monetary crisis? ie not a lack of money but too much money (ie QE, austerity (for us) & debt-debt-debt).
    It’ll be interesting to see this theory grow as the data does.
    Eventually, the theory will need to explain the “why” of these forces. Clearly class is intrinsic, however I wonder whether the author will need to involve biology & environment at some point to explain how the same cycles can reoccur over thousands of years, within radically different societies. Perhaps there’s a hint here from the PDF —
    “elite numbers (and appetites) grow”. “appetites” is key here: “appetites” ARE human nature — that is, biology interacting with environment.

  3. @murray rothnard

    I guess it is the contempt for manual labor that is increasing, much like financialization in relation to actual production – in either case the eventual setback is inevitable.

    Those who feel ENTITLED to rule are not quite the same …

    But it´s a fascinating line of thought 😛

    – Adopt the German system of university admission (“numerus clausus”, only the top N of every cohort).

    – Kill ALL immigration and revise as much as feasible.

    – Still the US is already far beyond repair; Solshenitsyn (and Turchin, I see) recommended a big-time lost war.

    Much of this dovetails nicely with older stuff; We´ll see … 😀

    • Replies: @UncommonGround
  4. @nokangaroos

    Adopt the German system of university admission (“numerus clausus”, only the top N of every cohort)

    I’m not sure this is right. Theoretically everybody who finishes high school in Germany has the right to study. They even extended this right to some people which finish other kinds of schools (professional schools). On the practical level this means that particular universities restrict the number of students that can study some specific subjects like medicin. You only get a place to study medicin if you have the highest notes (actually the system is a bit more complicated than that but I limit myself to the essential aspects). You can wait until you get a place to study medicin if you don’t have the highest notes and presently you would have to wait 7 years or longer to get a place during which you cannot study something else).

    There are numerus clausus for many subjects but there are some subjects that you can study freely if you want and the numerus clauses counts only for particular universities. So, if you want to study X and don’t get a place in one university because of NC you can still try another university.

  5. Drugs, sex and ESPN will pacify most of the population. The elite will always need servants willing to serve. Epstein and Weinstein created lots of jobs for pretty young girls.

  6. This Peter Turchin sounds like a Strauss & Howe (Generations/Fourth Turning) wannabe, and a 3rd rate one at that. You talk about your too many “educated” elite aspirants, I got one for you: Peter Turchin.

    C’mon guys, Strauss & Howe had some serious prescience predicting this unravelling we are in back in the mid 1990’s. Still, both those authors and this guy predict lots of stuff, and some of their “exact same things” will be borne out, just as with a $10/pop fortune-teller. You can find examples out the wazoo of any social trend you want to.

    Oh, we are in a financial crisis? Who the hell knew?! Yes, that crisis will be at the Peak of Stupidity. When the free stuff and funny money stops, shit gets real, and the stupidity stops* – a no-brainer.

    I just hope Peter Turchin is not traveling around the world with his slides with the circles and arrows doing fortune-telling on MY DAMN MONEY. The guy’s a biologist? Well, Dr. Turchin, come out with a serious paper on the birds and the bees, and then I’ll support your grant.


    * With the caveat of “unless we go to Communism”. Then, there’ll be no end to it in sight.

    • Agree: Haxo Angmark
  7. Turchin brings together a variety of “well-being indicators”—employment, real wages, health, family size—and finds that they all follow exactly the same pattern. They are low around 1900, which Turchin argues was a period of conflict and instability.

    1900 was not a period of conflict and instability, certainly not compared to prior to 1815 or after 1914. Turchin seems to want the facts altered to confirm to the theory, like Marxists and their ilk.
    Also, no mention of what Steve Sailer calls the most import graph in the World, or the Zionist control of US foreign and defence policy. Of course, if he did mention these things, he would likely not have a job in Academia anymore.

    But, there again, Welton describes Turchin’s views as follows:

    Turchin, however, is slightly more optimistic for this coming decade. He predicts that the West will undergo something more similar to the collapse of the Soviet Union, and thus avoid pandemics and a mass die-off.

    So Turchin is actually saying that the West will undergo reduction in living standards, massive alcoholism and pillaging of public and private assets by Jewish oligarchs – criminals to you and me.
    Turchin may or may not realise the consequences of what he is claiming, but I am sure most readers will.

    • Replies: @Achmed E. Newman
  8. Jason Liu says:

    Why do you have to say ‘equalitarian’? Nothing wrong with criticism egalitarianism directly

  9. Verymuchalive, die Wende or die Abwicklung is exactly what the USSA needs (I hope you don’t think you’re going to vote your way out of this kleptocratic police state.) The collapse of the COMECON bloc occurred differently in different countries, and Russia’s experience was marked by CIA agents looting and asset-stripping. They stole everything that wasn’t nailed down. You would remember if you were there. Czechoslovakia and its successor states had a very different experience, and that would be more representative of a USSA collapse because for us there will be no predatory CIA trying to wreck the country. The outside world has standard procedures for failed states – states go off the rails all the time and the world knows what to do. It’s a process of reconstruction and capacity-building. I’ve seen it done in several places and it consistently works well. There’s a strain of statist propaganda coming from CIA that equates change to chaos. Pure FUD aimed at any reform of the CIA regime’s criminality.

    So never fear, let’s get on with it. You’re not destroying the world, you’re just destroying a parasitic criminal enterprise that’s got its hooks in you.

    • Replies: @YetAnotherAnon
  10. @Verymuchalive

    Yeah, I noticed that too about his specifying of the years around 1900 as ones of conflict and instability. Strauss & Howe did a lot better than this guy getting their story to fit.

    He predicts that the West will undergo something more similar to the collapse of the Soviet Union, and thus avoid pandemics and a mass die-off.

    Yea! No die-off! So, should I sell off all my stored .223 ammo and other preps, based on this one Professor of Evolutionary Biology with his slides and graphs with the circles and arrows?

    Look at that bottom right scatter plot of red dots, of political violence as a function of “structural social pressures”. Can those be measured accurately? What are the units, used .223 cartridges (/10,000) vs. psi? What a complete bullshitter- Lance, too, sometimes.

  11. @murray rothnard

    Whether the populace is educated or not, there needs to be enough work to go around for everyone to be able to make a living. Most of these kids are just going to college because it is impossible to make a living off of wage labor anymore. But alas, there aren’t enough professional jobs waiting for them when they graduate, hence the resentment.

  12. @Ceaușescu em

    “Russia’s experience was marked by CIA agents looting and asset-stripping. They stole everything that wasn’t nailed down. You would remember if you were there. “

    A friend travelled via Moscow in that period, he said that even the toilet door handles at the airport had been stolen, and the only functioning passenger amenity was an “Irish bar” with real Guinness.

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