“So This is How and Why the US Revolution Will Unfold”
by Dan Glazebook
“In late 2012, Peter Turchin, a professor at the University of Connecticut made a startling claim. Based on an analysis of revolutionary upheavals across history, he found that there were 3 social conditions in place shortly before all major outbreaks of social violence: an increase in the elite population; a decrease in the living standards of the masses; and huge levels of government indebtedness. The statistical model his team developed suggested that, on this basis, a major wave of social upheaval and revolutionary violence is set to take place in the US by 2020. His model had no way to predict who would lead the charge; but last week’s election gives an indication of how it is likely to unfold.
Let’s take the first condition, which Turchin calls “elite overproduction”, defined as “an increased number of aspirants for the limited supply of elite positions”. The US has clearly been heading in this direction for some time, with the number of billionairres increasing more than tenfold from 1987 (41 billionairres) to 2012 (425 billionairres). But the ruling class split between, for example, industrialists and financiers, has apparently reached fever pitch with Trump vs Clinton. As Turchin explains, “increased intra-elite competition leads to the formation of rival patronage networks vying for state rewards. As a result, elites become riven by increasing rivalry and factionalism.” Indeed, based on analysis of thousands of incidents of civil violence across world history, Turchin concluded that “the most reliable predictor of state collapse and high political instability was elite overproduction”.
The second condition, popular immiseration, is also well advanced. 46 million US citizens live in poverty (defined as receiving an income less than is required to cover their basic needs), whilst over 12 million US households are now considered food insecure. Whilst this figure has been coming down consistently since 2011 (when it reached over 15 million), it remains above its pre-recession (per-2007) levels. Trump’s policies are likely to sharply reverse this decrease. Trump’s second promise in his ‘contract with voters’ is a “hiring freeze on all federal employees”, amounting to a new onslaught on public sector jobs. This is in addition to what seems to be a promise to end the direct funding of state education (to, in his words, “redirect education dollars to…parents”), and to end all federal funding to so-called ‘sanctuary cities’, that is cities which do not order the state harassment of immigrants or force employers to reveal the nationalities of their workers. These cities are some of the most populated in the country, including NYC, LA, Dallas, Minneapolis and over two dozen others.
In concert with his avowed intention to lower taxes on the wealthy, including slashing business tax from 35 to 15%; to smash hard fought workers’ rights (under the mantra of ‘deregulation’); and to scrap what little access to healthcare was made available to the poor throgh Obamacare – not to mention his threat to start a trade war with China – poverty looks set to skyrocket. It is not hard to see how social unrest will follow.
As for the third condition– government indebtedness– it is hard to see how the massive tax breaks Trump has proposed can lead to anything else.
Turchin writes that “As all these trends intensify, the end result is state fiscal crisis and bankruptcy and consequent loss of the military control; elite movements of regional and national rebellion; and a combination of elite-mobilized and popular uprisings that manifest the breakdown of central authority.”
But Trump is also preparing for that. Exempt from his public spending cuts, of course, are police and military budgets, both of which he promises to increase. And when questioned on the issue of police brutality last year, Trump said he wanted to see the police be given more powers. In other words, the tacit impunity which currently exists for police violence looks set to be legalized. And history shows that there is nothing like police impunity to spark a riot.
Meanwhile, as his policies fail to deliver the land of milk and honey he has promised, the demonisation of scapegoats will continue. Having already vowed to round up and deport two million immigrants, and to ban Muslims from entering the US, it is already clear who these scapegoats will be. However, as well as migrants, popular anger will also be directed towards whatever namby-pamby liberals have blocked him from waging his promised war against them: be it Congressmen, judges, trade unions, pressure groups, or whoever. A combination of increased executive powers plus the use of his newly mobilised mass constituency will be directed towards purging these ‘enemies within’.
“My model suggests that the next [peak in violence] will be worse than the one in 1970” says Turhcin, “because demographic variables such as wages, standards of living and a number of measures of intra-elite confrontation are all much worse this time.” All that remains to be seen is– who will win.”
"Now Is the Winter of our Discontent: Our Era of Rising Discord"
by Charles Hugh Smith
"Mao Zedong supposedly said, “There is great disorder under the Heavens and the situation is excellent.” For those seeking to replace the existing social and economic order, chaos is a good first step. Those with a stake in the system decaying into disorder feel differently: for them, disorder is threatening and frightening. Do we control the slide into disorder and the emergence of a new order? The short answer is no: the forces at work are systemic and structural, and not controllable with the usual political/economic tools.
Historian Peter Turchin explores historical cycles of social disintegration and integration in his new book "Ages of Discord." Turchin proposes a model of rising discord that eventually leads to a new cycle of cooperation and compares the expected result with historical data. He finds 25-year cycles that combine into roughly 50-year cycles, comparable (though not identical with) Kondratieff’s proposed economic cycles (see chart below).
These 50-year cycles are part of longer 150 to 200-year cycles that move from cooperation through an age of discord and disintegration to a new era of cooperation.
This work draws upon his previous books, including "War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires," which I referenced in "Following in Ancient Rome’s Footsteps: Moral Decay, Rising Wealth Inequality" (September 30, 2015) and "The Lesson of Empires: Once Privilege Limits Social Mobility, Collapse Is Inevitable" (April 18, 2016).
These long cycles parallel the cyclical analysis of David Hackett Fischer, whose masterwork "The Great Wave: Price Revolutions and the Rhythm of History" I’ve referenced many times over the years, most recently in "We’ve Entered an Era of Rising Instability and Uncertainty" (July 18, 2016).
Turchin’s model identifies three primary forces in these cycles:
1. An over-supply of labor that suppresses real (inflation-adjusted) wages.
2. An overproduction of essentially parasitic Elites.
3. A deterioration in central state finances (over-indebtedness, decline in tax revenues, increase in state dependents, fiscal burdens of war, etc.)
These combine to influence the broader social mood, which is characterized in eras of discord by fragmented loyalty to self-serving special interests (disintegration) and in eras of cooperation by a desire and willingness to cooperate and compromise for the good of the entire society (integration).
Rising discord can be quantified in a Political Stress Index. Do we find evidence of Turchin’s disintegrative forces in the present era?
1. Stagnating real wages due to oversupply of labor: check.
2. Overproduction of parasitic Elites: check.
3. Deterioration in central state finances: check.
Is it any wonder that political stress, however you want to measure it, is rising?
Cycles are the result of the interaction of complex, non-linear dynamics, and so they are not entirely predictable in terms of pinpointing the exact moment of crisis or the outcome of a systemic crisis. If we study Turchin’s model and Fischer’s work on Price Revolutions and the Rhythm of History, it becomes increasingly difficult to believe central planning policy tweaks can ensure a permanent extension of cooperation and prosperity.”