Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

How bad can it get?

I have a confession: I somewhat self-censor myself because I don't want to be Debby Downer. That may seem a bit terrifying because I probably don't come off here as a cockeyed optimist.

So, here's the straight dope. I am not entirely sure that our American polity, our Republic, our civil society, is going to hold together. And I don't just mean a time of turmoil like the '60s or the '30s. I'm not in favor of riots but a good dose of civic unrest wouldn't do us any harm right now. No, I'm talking about the country being governable, about what's left of broad based political participation in a political regime granted consensus legitimacy evaporating. To be replaced by . . .

Dunno. Fascism, secession, or just plain chaos are all possible. Here Peter Turchin sees things falling apart consistent with a historical cycle in which concentration of wealth reaches a destabilizing maximum. The mechanism he focuses on is only a small part of the story, in my view, although there is probably something to it. Basically, there aren't enough high status social resources and formal offices to go around among the elites, so the ruling class fractures and its factions exploit popular unrest in their competition with each other. Or, a governing faction gets wise and makes needed reforms to save capitalism and the state, as in the 1930s. If that doesn't happen, you get Naziism, Communism, civil war, or a failed state.

While we do have to pay attention to the ruling class, the loss of legitimacy among the common people, increasingly left out of the fruits of economic growth and economic advance is just as important in the story. And in this particular instance, we're up against some real physical limits that haven't previously existed for modern civilization, although such limits have destroyed earlier empires. Then as now elites aren't confronting them because they are trapped in their short-term view of their own self-interest.

Anyway, projections of the solvency of the Social Security Trust Fund in 2050 don't mean shit right now. That's my point. If nothing focuses the mind like a hanging, we should probably be focused by now. But we aren't.

1 comment:

robin andrea said...

I tend to self-censor as well. It's hard to be optimistic about anything right now. I did read an article today, while not optimistic, actually closely mirrors pretty much how I see the world in which we live. It's more about the planet, environment, and population than about the elites, but it captures the dire state of affairs in which we find ourselves.