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I reported previously on the books, "Secular Cycles" and "Ages of Discord," by Peter Turchin, before completing "Ages of Discord."

Since I have finished "Ages of Discord," I'd like to wrap it up with a METAR slant.

Turchin has used mathematics to analyze the Structural-Demographic Theory (DGT). DGT analyzes the effects of demographic processes (population size compared with resources) on political instability which is chanelled through social structures.

Turchin splits the population into workers (the vast majority), the elite (a small but relatively wealthy and powerful segment) and the state (the government, which becomes destabilized as debt grows and the currency is debased). The contrasting interests of each group cycle but are not synchronized.

Turchin multiplies the imbalances of each group (adds the logarithm) to calculate a Political Stress Index (PSI, symbolized by the Greek letter psi). As the PSI rises, the risk of political instability grows. PSI was a reliable lead indicator of catastrophic political violence, including revolutions and civil wars.

The Secular Cycles are multi-decades long and swing from an "Integrative" (Growth) phase to a "Disintegrative" (stagflation - crisis - depression) phase.

The working class is harmed (by falling wages) when the labor supply grows faster than the supply of jobs. The working class becomes especially restive when there is a "youth bulge" -- an increase in population from age 20-29 who are most likely to become politically radicalized. (Peaked in the U.S. in 2017-18.) The working class in the U.S. has been harmed by the loss of well-paid manufacturing jobs due to automation, outsourcing and a rise in immigration. Though Turchin doesn't reference it, this loss has led to "deaths of despair" and lower life expectancy of the white male working class.

The elite class benefits from the fall in workers' wages. In late 20th century America, many "elite aspirants" borrowed heavily to get higher education and boost them into the elite class. However, the actual demand for the elite jobs are lower than the supply. This leads to an oversupply of educated people with elite hopes that will be disappointed. (Which Turchin calls a "counter-elite.")

This is why METAR comments that "everyone should have a college education" won't help the situation. It might be nice to know art history, sociology, etc. but if a person feels entitled to prosper (in addition to paying off their college loans) in a job market that doesn't value their education they will feel embittered. The data shows that many young lawyers and doctors can't find well-paid jobs because there are so many that the market simply won't pay for their skills.

History shows that insurrections by the working class almost never succeed. They aren't well-organized and are usually put down. Almost all revolutions and civil wars (some of which went on for decades) have been led by the "counter-elite" which activate the disaffected workers (either voluntarily or by conscription) to fight the elites in power. (These counter-elites don't seem to realize that many revolutionaries turn on their elite leaders and kill them later.)

The bigger the income disparity between the working class and the elite class, the larger the anger of the working class. The two "Ages of Good Feeling" in U.S. history (around 1820 and after WW2) had relatively low income inequality. Currently, income inequality in the U.S. is at a record high. The wealth gap among upper-income families and middle- and lower-income families is sharper than the income gap and is growing more rapidly. As of 2016, the latest year for which data are available, the typical American family had a net worth of $101,800, still less than what it held in 1998. Young people are less well-off than their parents. The price of a home is rising much faster than incomes.

The three main factors driving the Secular Cycles and the PSI are:

1. Labor oversupply leading to "popular immiseration" as wages fall.

2. Elite overproduction which leads to growing wealth inequality, increased competition between elite factions and political fragmentation. Factionalism in the U.S. is at a post-Civil War high with extremely low cooperation between factions.

3. Fiscal crisis of the state. The U.S. currently has a debt over 100% of GDP and growing. Entitlement spending is projected to grow to 200% of GDP -- and that is not including possible massive infrastructure and other spending programs. The debt is "monetized" by the purchase of Treasury bonds by the Federal Reserve, using electronic dollars created by the push of a computer key. If the world loses confidence in the payment of interest, the interest rates on government debt will spike and eat up much of the budget.

Currency debasement and unsupportable government debt have happened many times in history, leading to hyperinflation and government collapse.

The last chart in the book shows the "Well-being Index" of the U.S. with peaks in 1820 and 1960. The chart also shows the Political Stress Index which peaked in 1860, just before the Civil War. The PSI is rising very fast now. The book was published in 2017 so it doesn't include Covid-19 or the massive street protests of 2020 or the January 6, 2021 insurrection. Turchin actually predicted "Turbulent 2020s" based on his data.

Bottom line: The Secular Cycles are based on mass population, economic and social phenomena which build over time and are not easily reversed. They can result in sudden crises. The pressure is already high and is building.

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