Scary math

America is falling apart, because math

Peter Turchin is a scientist at the University of Connecticut who uses mathematical modeling to analyze historical patterns and predict the future. Here he explains how a combination of tectonic social forces is ripping America apart:

Cliodynamics is a new “transdisciplinary discipline” that treats history as just another science. Ten years ago I started applying its tools to the society I live in: the United States. What I discovered alarmed me.

My research showed that about 40 seemingly disparate (but, according to cliodynamics, related) social indicators experienced turning points during the 1970s. Historically, such developments have served as leading indicators of political turmoil. My model indicated that social instability and political violence would peak in the 2020s.

According to Turchin, there are three main drivers of social and political instability:

  1. “Elite overproduction” – literally, too many elites, with not enough positions of power to go around, leading to intra-elite conflict (by far the most important driver);
  2. “Popular immiseration (the stagnation and decline of living standards)”; and
  3. “Declining fiscal health of the state (resulting from falling state revenues and rising expenses)”

I fear Turchin may be right. Cliodynamics may offer our best hope of understanding the problem and figuring out some way to head off, or at least mitigate, the more ugly scenarios:

So what’s to be done? I find myself in the shoes of Hari Seldon, a fictional character in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, whose science of history (which he called psychohistory) predicted the decline and fall of his own society. Should we follow Seldon’s lead and establish a Cliodynamic Foundation somewhere in the remote deserts of Australia?

This would be precisely the wrong thing to do. …

No, the only way forward is through an open discussion of problems and potential solutions, and broad-based collective action to implement them. It’s messy and slow, but that’s how lasting positive change usually comes about.

Can we change the future if we can see what’s coming? I have no idea, but it seems worth trying.

I see social instability in your future

(Here is a more in-depth treatment by Turchin.)

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