Could too much of a good thing lead to a second American Civil War?
Biologist and anthropologist Peter Turchin has a fascinating piece up on Bloomberg, making the case that we’re in for a decade or two of major political instability and possibly even violence or outright societal collapse. The reason? It’s not that our elites are rotten, though the professor would probably not deny that they are, but it’s that there are too many of them.
Here’s the core of his argument:
Let’s take households worth $10 million or more (in 1995 dollars). According to the research by economist Edward Wolff, from 1983 to 2010 the number of American households worth at least $10 million grew to 350,000 from 66,000.
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 (there are still 100 senators and 435 representatives — the same numbers as in 1970). In technical terms, such a situation is known as “elite overproduction.”
He goes on to argue that, as the population of the elite class grows, what was once collegiate cooperation among a privileged few gives way to tooth-and-claw competition among a privileged many. Party lines solidify, gridlock sets in, social fissures grow into canyons, and society is eventually torn apart by strife.
Who would have thought that in creating ever more multimillionaires, American capitalism could possibly be sowing the seeds of its own demise? Of course, this piece could also be read as alarmist, anti-capitalist propaganda promoted by an academic who openly calls for a return to the Progressive Era and the New Deal. Whether or not you put any stock in the good professor’s diagnosis of the problem, it’s worth nothing that both the left and the right appear to agree that there’s a bad moon rising.
As for me, regardless of which side history ultimately blames for any collapse of American society, I plan to be prepared. Maybe I’ll pick up a new scout rifle…