Friday, November 22, 2013

Turchin on the Consequences of “Elite Overproduction”

Peter Turchin recently posted an interesting piece on Bloomberg entitled, “Blame Rich, Overeducated Elites as Our Society Frays.”  Here is an excerpt:

The “great divergence” between the fortunes of the top 1 percent and the other 99 percent is much discussed, yet its implications for long-term political disorder are underappreciated…. Increasing inequality leads not only to the growth of top fortunes; it also results in greater numbers of wealth-holders…. There are many more millionaires, multimillionaires and billionaires today compared with 30 years ago, as a proportion of the population…. Rich Americans tend to be more politically active than the rest of the population. They support candidates who share their views and values; they sometimes run for office themselves. Yet the supply of political offices has stayed flat …. In technical terms, such a situation is known as “elite overproduction.” … [Another example:] Economic Modeling Specialists Intl. recently estimated that twice as many law graduates pass the bar exam as there are job openings for them…. Past waves of political instability, such as the civil wars of the late Roman Republic, the French Wars of Religion and the American Civil War, had many interlinking causes and circumstances unique to their age. But a common thread in the eras we studied was elite overproduction. The other two important elements were stagnating and declining living standards of the general population and increasing indebtedness of the state…. Elite overproduction generally leads to more intra-elite competition that gradually undermines the spirit of cooperation, which is followed by ideological polarization and fragmentation of the political class. This happens because the more contenders there are, the more of them end up on the losing side. A large class of disgruntled elite-wannabes, often well-educated and highly capable, has been denied access to elite positions…. History shows a real indeterminacy about the routes societies follow out of [such] instability waves. Some end with social revolutions, in which the rich and powerful are overthrown…. In other cases, recurrent civil wars result in a permanent fragmentation of the state and society…. In some cases, however, societies come through relatively unscathed, by adopting a series of judicious reforms, initiated by elites who understand that we are all in this boat together. This is precisely what happened in the U.S. in the early 20th century. Several legislative initiatives, which created the framework for cooperative relations among labor, employers and the government, were introduced during the Progressive Era and cemented in the New Deal. By introducing the Great Compression, these policies benefited society as a whole.

Current Affairs, Stefan J. Padfield | Permalink


Post a comment