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Is society collapse and inequality linked?

Written By: - Date published: 7:34 am, October 27th, 2013 - 61 comments
Categories: capitalism, class war, wages - Tags:

United Kingdom riot inequality

Joe90 in open mike this week posted a reference to an interesting article in New Scientist.  The article was written by a mathematician called Peter Turchin.

The essence of his article is that he considers that mathematics can predict events such as the recent constitutional crisis in America that saw the Government being shut down and the world’s economy put on the brink of a disaster as the most powerful nation on earth threatened to default on its debt.

Turchin has constructed a model based on social and economic data that he believes predicts periods of instability and disaster for nations.  He has based this model on analysing historical events and he believes that the model is valid.  He considers that there have been historical cycles of instability two to three centuries long and that the basic cause of this instability is inequality.

According to the model the basic problem is that from time to time too much power concentrates in the hands of the few and the instability is caused by small elites already with considerable power fighting for more with no thought of the repercussions for society as a whole.  Sound familiar?

From the article:

Workers or employees make up the bulk of any society, with a minority of employers constituting the top few per cent of earners. By mathematically modelling historical data, Turchin finds that as population grows, workers start to outnumber available jobs, driving down wages. The wealthy elite then end up with an even greater share of the economic pie, and inequality soars. This is borne out in the US, for example, where average wages have stagnated since the 1970s although gross domestic product has steadily climbed.

This process also creates new avenues – such as increased access to higher education – that allow a few workers to join the elite, swelling their ranks. Eventually this results in what Turchin calls “elite overproduction” – there being more people in the elite than there are top jobs. “Then competition starts to get ugly,” he says.

The richest continue to become richer: as in many complex systems, whether in nature or in society, existing advantage feeds back positively to create yet more. The rest of the elite fight it out, with rival patronage networks battling ever more fiercely. “There are always ideological differences, but elite overproduction explains why competition becomes so bitter, with no one willing to compromise,” Turchin says. This means the squabbling in Congress that precipitated the current shutdown is a symptom of societal forces at work, rather than the primary problem.

In Turchin’s theory, such political acrimony is paralleled by rising discontent among workers left with less and less, and increasing state bankruptcy as spending by the elite who control the government coffers spirals. Ultimately, the situation gets so bad that order cannot be maintained and the state collapses. A new cycle begins.

The next part of the article is really interesting:

Turchin finds that a simple mathematical model, combining economic output per person, the balance of labour demand and supply, and changes in attitudes towards redistributing wealth – the minimum wage level is one proxy for this – generates a curve that exactly matches the change in real wages since 1930, including complex rises and falls since 1980. Such close agreement between model and reality is exceptional in social sciences, says Turchin, and shows that all three factors control the rise of inequality, as predicted.

This theory neatly compliments the work of Richard Wilkinson and Kate Picketton in the book the Spirit Level.  If society’s resources are distributed more equitably then Turchin’s calculations suggest that dissent amongst the elites will reduce and periods of instability will lessen.

Now all we need to do is persuade the elites that it is better for everyone, themselves included, if the wealth is shared around a bit more …

61 comments on “Is society collapse and inequality linked? ”

  1. David 1

    Cheers Greg: this kind of large scale analogous thinking is always interesting, especially where it’s joined to plausible models explaining the institutionalisation of power, and the ways it can run to crisis without checks and balances cutting in. It’s fundamentally at odds, of course, with liberal economics assumption of long term returns to equilibrium. I get the sense reading it that there’s something here akin to the demise of Easter Island or ancient Khmer societies, where the elites ended up devoting so much of their power and wealth building monuments to themselves and their cult that basic elements of their society (in their cases, environmental management issues) were undermined, leading, as Jared Diamon describes in his book of that title, to Collapse.

  2. just saying 2

    Thanks Mickey and Joe 90.

  3. Sable 3

    First off I’d disagree with the notion the US is the most powerful nation on earth or that this problem is all about the USA.

    Weiwen is Chinese for stability, a word used a lot by the elites of that country is in social decline in spite of its economic success. It has multiple agencies tasked with silencing dissenters. The level of brutality in China is extreme with more executions than any of its counterparts.

    Russia is having problems too. Putin is bolstered by security agencies and by Nationalistic groups such as Nashi (take a look at a documentary called Putin’s Kiss). I personally believe Russia is the most stable of the three big powers. The difference with Putin is he actually has reduced the tax burden on the average Russian and enhanced their standard of living (I’m not saying this is sustainable however).

    It doesn’t take mathematical calculations to predict what could happen. Just look to the past. The reality is people are driven, first and foremost, by family. If enough people see that structure threatened by loss of accepted levels of revenue, food, water, shelter that’s when trouble starts.

    Meantime the elites will try to shore up their position through oppression and propaganda which never works over the long term as the problems become more acute. When the tipping point is reached the elites cease to matter as their authority is no longer seen as legitimate.

    Its happening globally now and its only a matter of time before it happens here. Add in global warming and this state of instability could be more or less permanent. End of the world, anyone?

    • mickysavage 3.1

      I agree Sable that this is not only about the US, just that it provides the best recent example of the phenomenon. New Zealand is also aflicted, and nations who have a much greater level of equality, for instance Vietnam, are performing really well.

      Turchin refers to Russia/the USSR in his work.

      If instability can be presented as being utterly predictable as inequality increases then there is even less reason to accept it. That is why I think Turchin’s work should be publicised as much as possible.

      • Sable 3.1.1

        I think the problem with these kinds of theories is that they are inaccessible to most people. Moreover, I’m not convinced Turchin is offering anything that is really a revelation, just a novel take on common knowledge.

        Of course as any academic will tell you, its “publish or perish” so my comments are not mean’t unkindly. Turchin could have gone over to the dark side and joined the Chicago school shit bags. Indeed, more money in selling inequality to the likes of the National party ah la paid visits by the dreary Richard Epstein. Anyone read his twaddle, its a great cure for insomnia.

        • Fisiani

          I cannot believe anyone is still quoting the Spirit Level for goodness sake.
          If you have a spare 45 minutes to stop being deluded then here is the link


          • Tat Loo (CV)

            The Spirit Level is only 95% correct, that is true. Research continues.

          • One Anonymous Knucklehead

            I cannot believe that anyone thinks Saunders’ critique carries weight. The Spirit Level makes an easy target for lazy wingnuts, but its conclusions are hardly original, since it contains no new research.

            What does Saunders have to say about Baker et al (The Lancet) 2012, for example?

            That’s a rhetorical question, Fisi, spare us your ideological bullshit.

    • Tat Loo (CV) 3.2

      I personally believe Russia is the most stable of the three big powers. The difference with Putin is he actually has reduced the tax burden on the average Russian and enhanced their standard of living (I’m not saying this is sustainable however).

      That’s what having massive reserves of oil and gas allows you to do.

      Add in global warming and this state of instability could be more or less permanent. End of the world, anyone?

      For some people. For the rest of us it’s just going to be a slightly different day than usual, requiring the setting of slightly different expectations.

  4. karol 5

    Very good post, micky.

    So much good evidence there. How can it be brought into the mainstream so more people are aware of it?

    Need more democratic and accessible communications for all across diverse platforms – and in ways that are engaging and open up democratic debate rather than close it down.

  5. Draco T Bastard 6

    Now all we need to do is persuade the elites that it is better for everyone, themselves included, if the wealth is shared around a bit more …

    What we need is to get rid of the “elite” because we simply can’t afford them (societal collapse is, by definition, unaffordable).

    • karol 6.1

      It’s a ground swell from “below” that’s needed, to nullify the power of the elites. As the saying goes:

      “Power to the people”.

  6. richard 7

    Turchin calls his field Cliodynamics (Wikipedia)History as a Science (Turchin’s site).

    It’s well worth reading this article in Nature for some criticism of field.

    From my reading, cliodynamics looks like the same sort of tosh that economists come up with to explain things:
    1. think of an idea how things might work
    2. find some data which correlates with the idea
    3. assert that the correlation is proof of causation and so the theory must be true and universal.

    • mickysavage 7.1

      Are you saying Richard that there is no causal link between the concentration of power in the hands of the few and instability? I suggest that the link is pretty strong which is why the Spirit Level studies and research are so important.

      • One Anonymous Knucklehead 7.1.1

        The Spirit Level is somewhat more robust than Cliodynamics.

      • Bill 7.1.2

        mickysavage, there is a very big difference between making that rather banal and uncontroversial observation (inequality and instability go hand in hand) and saying that the results of such a situation are fucking well mathematically determinable!

        • richard

          +1 Bill.

          My impression is that this is yet another example of the pseudo-science of economics over-reaching itself.

    • Murray Olsen 7.2

      I suspect Turchin has read Asimov. My view is that any attempts to model society mathematically will only ever be of limited success, and at the mean-field level for short times. I could probably write a computer program that would tell me how many kgs of food would be eaten in Aotearoa tomorrow, but it wouldn’t tell me what you’ll be having for lunch. I think this is essentially what these models do. They allow us to predict with very broad strokes, for limited times, and even then only if events which are assumed to be of low probability don’t happen.

      At the basic level, they seem to be based on the idea that the systems they represent follow Gaussian statistics, which means that everything fits somewhere on the famous Bell Curve. The beauty of Gaussian statistics is that once we know the mean and standard deviation, we know everything.
      Unfortunately for them, nonlinear systems with feedback do not follow Gaussian statistics. Mathematically, knowledge of the mean and standard deviation doesn’t give us access to any other information. Worse, the standard deviation, as for example in a Lorentzian distribution, can be infinite. The maths so far developed for non-Gaussian systems is not very useful, but it doesn’t even seem to get used very much at all.

  7. Bill 8

    Can’t believe people are lending this tosh any credence! A predictive mathematical model for the dynamics of society? Really? Fuck off!

    So everything is in its natural and its proper place. Everything is inevitable and you, me, us…we’re powerless.

    Can we get real for a sec? He states that as populations grow, resource issues may arise. That’s true. And hardly a fucking earth shattering insight. But taking his own example as a resource being job availability in the US. They just naturally disappeared in the face of a growing population, did they? Did they fuck. They were automated, off-shored and instead of people enjoying a rounder less exploited life, new bollox jobs got created…petty management, human resource etc…and the neo-lib 5% unemployment for labour flexibility ‘normalised’. And there was a lot of other stuff. A lot. Oh, but that’s his other non-earth shattering – utterly banal – ‘insight’. Power demands power. I mean, fuck – that happened in Buddhist society where there were absolutely no population pressures – or happened independently of population pressures. Those without power (other less powerful cliques) wanted the power and privileges enjoyed by the more powerful clique.

    Now, is all of what might happen in a complex social situation (Buddhist, Capitalist or whatever) nothing beyond a mathematically determined outcome?

    Guess it would give a new slant to the idea that we’re all just numbers – a pile of zeros that someone painted, eh?

    edit: Oh look! What a fucking surprise, the big fucking window measuring ‘attitude’ that allows for any fucking number you like to be entered so that the theory retrospectively matches reality – “…changes in attitudes towards redistributing wealth – the minimum wage level is one proxy for this”

    • Tat Loo (CV) 8.1

      I like the perspective of statistical physics in this regard Bill. For instance, this Institute for New Economic Thinking grantee describing how he used concepts from statistical physics (which are not used in standard statistics) to describe income distribution. Basically he took rules around the movement of gas molecules and applied them to income distribution.

      This kind of approach is not taught in any standard economics school or economics postgrad course.

      Now this guy uses a phrase like “stable inequality”. It is where the income distribution is exponential – at the top end it starts curving up very fast.

      He has identified however what he calls “unstable inequality”. Where the income distribution at the top ends changes from being ‘merely’ exponential, to a full on power law.

      The other way I look at it is this – the mathematics can help determine when the water is going to start boiling…but it can’t determine when exactly the boil over from the pot is going to hit the floor, and how big the resulting mess will be.

      Also, Ronald Wright’s idea of a “Progress Trap” is very apt. IMO most every civilisation (and everyone which has arisen to date has failed) undergoes very typical cyclical behaviours.


      • Bill 8.1.1

        Tat. Retrospective determinism is a crock. Marx was just one person who was guilty of seeing a pattern in the past and projecting it to the future on the basis that what happened in the past was inevitable.

        That mathematical models can be somewhat useful in providing generalities for narrowly defined situations (maybe the example you gave above is one such instance) is one thing. But to hold, as Turchin does, that mathematics holds some kind of universal key is childish and fucked.

        Take something quite simple – a wine glass. Drop it and it shatters. Let’s take that as a read – that it shatters and doesn’t just bounce. Now, if you threw a pile of computers on to the outcome of the event, you could theoretically show in mathematical terms how it came to be that each piece of shattered glass came to rest where it did and even track back its trajectory. I mean, it would take a huge amount of computational power and involve a plethora of inputs to do with various environmental conditions and gawd knows what else. But it could be done. Theoretically.

        And it would tell you absolutely nothing useful or beyond what we already commonly know about what might happen when you drop a wine glass.

        And this joker Turchin? He’s wanking on about the supposed predictability of incomparably more complex sets of interacting situations involving living things, not single inert objects.

        I mean, does he have a neat wee equation weighing the investments in wheat prices and whatever else against the numbers of Tunisian stall holders who would need to immolate themselves before people hit the streets?

        He’s a fucking poison.

        • Tat Loo (CV)

          Tat. Retrospective determinism is a crock. Marx was just one person who was guilty of seeing a pattern in the past and projecting it to the future on the basis that what happened in the past was inevitable.

          The daily and yearly event froth of specific events and exact ups and downs doesn’t negate what many traditional cultures have long understood: that both natural and societal constructs follow generally predictable arcs and cycles.

          After all, on a long enough timeline, the survival rate is zero, guaranteed. That applies to people, companies, cities, governments, countries and civilisations. Actuaries make a profession of calculating such things and drawing the graphs.

          Whether or not you think such “common sense” understandings can be (or should be) correctly mathematised is valid. But certain fields of mathematics can describe nature very well, e.g. fractals, chaos theory etc. and makes me think that useful results can sometimes be obtained.

          None of this negates the power of human volition and intention, but it can inform whether you are probably swimming with the tide, or against the tide.

          • Bill

            Noting similar patterns across phenomena is one thing…mildly interesting or even surprising – but ultimately of no real import (There are caveats). Using the observation of similarities in disparate phenomena politically, to explain away or excuse is quite another.

      • Bill 8.1.2

        I take back what I said of your example. It’s another crock of banal observations dressed up and used to suggest that Capitalist or market distribution is somehow natural and, by extension, that inequality and exploitation is acceptable. It’s not. It’s a system that was contrived by us and that doesn’t work. That it happens to mimic aspects of gas molecule energy distribution (under what initial conditions?) is coincidental and largely banal. That the observation is then used to excuse or explain away our economic mal-distribution isn’t science and isn’t objective – it’s dishonest and highly political bullshit (the motivations of the individual physicist may be simply nativity or whatever though).

        edit. The second point about the process regarding ‘crystalisation’ (increasing inertia or growing conservatism) and subsequent breaking up or re-energising of social groupings/structures (revolution?) is, again, common sense, and got nothing to do with maths or whatever.

        • Tat Loo (CV)

          Financial systems are highly mathematised Bill. Algorithimic market trading systems have been designed by MIT physics PhDs hired by Wall St.

          What you are doing here is mixing up someone using maths to describe the behaviour of WHAT has resulted with the political economic and sociological WHY and HOW it has resulted.

          It’s another crock of banal observations dressed up and used to suggest that Capitalist or market distribution is somehow natural and, by extension, that inequality and exploitation is acceptable.

          Of course, that’s a total BS conclusion, one that you have projected yourself on to.

          Just because the destructive energy released from a nuclear warhead can be described mathematically and modelled on a computer doesn’t justify that “by extension” the use of nuclear warheads is acceptable. Get serious.

          If you are trying to find an inherent morality to a mathematical equation, then of course you are going to be disappointed. But why the hell would you expect that to be the case in the first place?

          • Bill

            The algorithms have no predictive capabilities and are just another piece of discord thrown at chaos…that may well have helped the GFC along a bit. 😉

            Meanwhile, attempting to use observations from the natural or physical environment to excuse the social effects of humanly generated political/economic systems is highly political and fundamentally dishonest.

            And just to be clear, the (im)morality rests with the human actors who seek to use the equations or observations for political ends – not the equations or observations.

            • Tat Loo (CV)

              Yes it certainly would be 🙂

              • Bill

                Would be or is? Do you not think that the reductionism of Turchin and his attempted application of it is precisely a case of somebody seeking to ‘normalise’ and legitimise what is, while undermining the legitimacy of any thought or action focused on righting some obvious wrongs with our society and/or economy? To me it screams ‘Everything in it’s right place!’ and by extension offers covert justification for any actions taken to preserve this ‘natural’ state of affairs.

            • mickysavage

              Bill I am not saying that Turchin’s algorithms are right or wrong BUT if there is a logical predictability about a social phenomenon then there is the possibility that it can be represented mathematically.

              I have not seen Turchin’s algorithms and I do not know how robust his analysis is. But his claims are very interesting and should be the subject of some analysis.

              With a large enough population I believe that statistics and maths can be a good indicator of results if things are changed.

              • Bill

                I can say right now that they are wrong. It’s utterly fucking farcical to presume that the dynamics of society and culture and economics can be reduced to a fucking numbers game!

                Think about it micky! If it was possible to reduce human interactions in all of their complexity to a set of numbers, then ‘God is in the house’. And if that’s the case, then we might as well shove on our trainers, drink a draught of evil shit and fuck off back home.

                edit. Oh – things (be it single living entities or entire fucking planetary systems) prosper and decay. That’s life. And life is most certainly not the result of a god or gods running some secret fucking pattern, plan or numbers.

                edit 2. You know what would be a good indicator of the results of change? The dynamics and associations that are preserved or dumped by the process of change. WE control that. Utterly.

      • Phil 8.1.3

        used concepts from statistical physics (which are not used in standard statistics) to describe income distribution. Basically he took rules around the movement of gas molecules and applied them to income distribution.

        This kind of approach is not taught in any standard economics school or economics postgrad course.

        That’s not true. Economists (and especially the ‘dark-art’ subset of them known as econometricians) have spent more than a decade applying electrical engineering models to financial markets to help understand how they work. The crossover of anthropology and economics, mathematics and economics, physics and economics is continuing at pace. It’s generally only studied at post-grad level, because it’s research work that takes a lot longer to fully understand than the time available in teaching under-grad.

  8. Tat Loo (CV) 9

    MS – that’s the awesome TIME magazine photo of a rioter decked out in ADIDAS gear.


  9. joe90 10

    Related – in Democracy’s Arc John Michael Greer refers to Greek historian Polybius’ concept of anacyclosis.

    Polybius’ sequence of anacyclosis proceeds in the following order: 1. Monarchy, 2. Kingship, 3. Tyranny, 4. Aristocracy, 5. Oligarchy, 6. Democracy, and 7. Ochlocracy

    • Tat Loo (CV) 10.1


      Yep. Every civilisation which has arisen previously has fallen. The issue we have now is that we have constructed a global civilisation where individual regions are highly interdependent for even basic goods and services. If one critical link in the chain fails it will have worldwide ramifications.

    • Rogue Trooper 10.2

      Ochlocracy (the vulgar going mobile)

  10. tc 11

    Put aside the pontificating around mathematical models it’s basic common sense IMO.

    Inequality, being ripped off whilst saying they are going to build you a brighter future, deteriorating working pay/conditions whilst the top 2% get richer and fatter, long term industrial and environmental decline.

    Creating a massive class divide and treating the bulk of society as fodder is an ingredient for anarchy, revolution and riotous behaviour as the reality sinks in.

    • Olwyn 11.1

      “Creating a massive class divide and treating the bulk of society as fodder is an ingredient for anarchy, revolution and riotous behaviour as the reality sinks in.”

      More than that. It gradually breaks down the systems and institutions that you yourself, if you are rich, depend on. Like cutting off the branch you are sitting on because that wretched tree, which is incidentally propping you up, is absorbing too many nutrients.

    • mickysavage 11.2

      Put aside the pontificating around mathematical models it’s basic common sense IMO.

      Agreed TC and that is why I think that a mathematical model is something that can be of assistance, even if all that it does is reinforce gut feelings about things.

      • Bill 11.2.1

        Of assistance? Even if the model is false…as this one obviously is? Even when they are used to explain away deficiencies as somehow ‘natural’ (and therefore not up for challenge)…as this one does? Way I see it, there’s absolutely nothing useful in jiggery-pockered, pre-determined chicken entrial readings…

        You want to understand the fucked up nature of our society and economy? Then observe it! Want to better articulate the conclusions you will reach? Then do some political reading.

        It ain’t that hard to get a grip on shit. And it doesn’t require any ‘hard to get your head around’ theorising – neither Marx or other dense bastards nor deceitful mathematical ‘witch doctors’ or soothsayers. You know what they all do? They muddy the fucking waters.

  11. Wow, baby steps, baby steps toward an awakening taken here.

    Now all you need to decide on is: Are our leaders, the most powerful, rich and insiders in the system stupid or dumb. If you think they are dumb you have nothing to worry about cause the system will spit them out eventually and they will go the way of the dodo. BUT… if you think they are smart you have a very serious problem because what the fuck are they up to?

    Hint… there are only 2000 billionaires and 200.000 millionaires with US$ 30 million or more (making our PM part of a very small elite group) and they hold all the keys to all the important industries, land and resources.

    AND they think there are way to many of us useless eaters!

    • KJT 12.1

      I tend to the theory of general incompetence, rather than conspiracy.

      In other words a bunch of unthinking incompetents in charge trying to maximize their own income and wealth without thought of the ultimate consequences.

      The way the system naturally works the most incompetent person, with millions, will make more millions.

      Would anyone with a brain seriously think Ayn Rand had a blueprint for a functioning society?
      All Chiefs and no Indians.

      They may be very good at ensuring the system is set up to maximise their own immediate advantage, but eventually they are in just the same situation as someone sawing off a tree branch while sitting on the end. Unfortunately they all think they are clever enough to jump to the tree side, as the branch with falls off with those they see as expendable.

      You see it all the time when you see an accountant/MBA, paid beyound his competence level, put in charge of a business, or a country!

  12. Saarbo 13

    Interesting article GP. I have commented previously on the area we shifted to last christmas, which is a small farming district in the Waikato. Over the last 10 to 15 years, 3 families have purchased 22 dairy farms locally (and growing at an exponential rate). They have not amalgamated the farms, but have employed families to contract milk (Lower order or fixed amount per KG) on each farm. Now imagine how things have changed in the last 1 or 2 generations at the local 65 pupil primary school, I have never seen something that resembles feudalism in NZ before, but this is close.
    A couple of generations ago, farmers had a better sense of fairness and when they were ready to give up on milking cows, would allow their farm to be Share Milked, which provided non land owning farm workers enough money to start saving for a farm, but the new structures that these workers are working under (Lower order and fixed amount per kg) dont give workers a chance, workers make enough to get by on and thats all.

    So these farm workers are working extraordinary hours for a very small return, but the other incredibly damaging thing is what it does to the local community, we have been amazed to see that the local farm owners don’t actually mix or talk to the farm workers, something unheard of in the past more egalitarians times.

    New Zealand seems to be quickly moving to a system of feudalism which is consistent with this post.

    • Murray Olsen 13.1

      Sounds like decades of voting Tory have finally turned some of them into Tory landowners instead of the working farmers that they used to be. It’d be interesting to know what proportion of them own their farms freehand and what proportion are going under as they shovel money across the Tasman to the Aussie banks. This will undoubtedly lead to greater concentration of land and wealth, with the result being the opposite of the land reforms that MacArthur imposed on Japan after WW2. He realised the feudal estates had to be broken up for Japan to build a modern capitalist society, yet we are rabidly going the other way. These days, the neoliberals would probably see MacArthur as a filthy communist.

      • Saarbo 13.1.1

        I think Rod Oram hits it on the head in todays SST. I suspect that they are not paying any debt off, just servicing interest…one day they will sell for a tax free capital gain. Thats why farm debt is up to $51 billion.

    • Rogue Trooper 13.2

      revealing differentiation Saarbo

  13. clifford wright 14

    I’m afraid its just a reiteration of Malthus all over again.
    Too many people, lot’s of problems!
    The best thing that the poor can do is to limit the number of children they have. Hasn’t anyone heard of “supply and demand”.
    However it really does prove just how stupid all these monetarist, conservative/liberal types are they really seem to enjoy sitting on the safety valve until it blows up.
    Strangely enough they not only don’t give a damn about others children they doom their own as well.
    An ALMOST unbelievable case of perhaps the ultimate selfishness.
    How ironical that Fascism was once described as selfishness dignified as a political philosophy.
    The New Right make it look downright moderate.

  14. Populuxe1 15

    I would have thought that the historical existance of some fairly durable aristocratic dynasties, and very long lasting societies like Rome, Maya, Egypt and Imperial China would suggest that there are some gaping flaws in and around the commonsensical observations. Essentially all civilisations are finite, and the reasons for their fall are various and also include disease, environmental degredation and invasion.

  15. Saarbo I wouldnt call this type of farming a new feudalism.

    It’s capitalist farming. An evolution from petty bourgeois family farming (which allows addons like sharemilking without turning the sharemilker into a farm labourer).

    Amalgamations, or large-scale contract milking or farm managing, all the way to the debt laden dairy company, is a trend toward the concentration of capitalist ownership in agriculture.

    The inequality that results reflects a deeper process of class relations where one class owns the means of production and the other (now in various forms of wage labour) produce the value.

    Rod Oram in today SST writes about how this concentration of assets is highly debt-laden as amalgamations, new technology and economies of scale require big outlays usually bank financed. Oram shows how this is leading to the growing involvement of foreign investors. http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/farming/opinion/9327260/Dance-of-dairy-debt

    The word ‘foreign’ here is misleading as most of NZ business is already owned by firms that operate globally. Agriculture is no exception. Fonterra NZ’s biggest dairy corporation now operates globally, and its only a matter of time before it will offer shares that are not linked to producers and be owned globally as well.

    The inequalities that result are thus global, as the owners are now international firms, banks or hedge funds etc., while NZ agricultural workers become part of a global working class.

    This is the class structure that underlies the increasing inequality globally. It is certainly inherently unstable as it requires one class to exploit the other and pretend its doing it in the common interest. Once the 1% is exposed as a class of parasites living off the 99% then this instability will become real.

    Capitalism will not collapse however so much as be revolutionised by the vast millions who already constitute the global productive apparatus. Those millions are also part of capitalism. It is their power over the productive apparatus that will render the political power of the tiny parasitic class impotent.

    The only question is whether this revolution will happen before global warming kicks off enough feedback loops to make as all equally extinct.

  16. Martin Hanson 17

    In saying:

    “This theory neatly compliments the work of Richard Wilkinson and Kate Picketton in the book the Spirit Level.”

    I think the author meant to say ‘complements’ rather than ‘compliments’.

    [Thanks Martin. You learn something every day, I always thought the word was spelt with an “i” – MS]

  17. Tracey 18

    Doesnt mathematics lie under everything in the universe such that everything can be reduced to numbers or mathematics? If yes, then why not people and their patterns of behavior.

    I recall reading something about everything being able to be reduced to maths including music etc.

    Getting old so memory may be playing tricks.

    moving back into my repaired leaky home tomorrow. Having worked hard to have no mortgage I now have one again so thanks govt council developer builder and plasterer… thanks a bunch.

    • Phil 18.1

      Doesnt mathematics lie under everything in the universe such that everything can be reduced to numbers or mathematics?

      Math is the language of the universe. So the more equations you know, the more you can converse with the cosmos. – Neil deGrasse Tyson

  18. Phil 19

    Turchin finds that a simple mathematical model, combining economic output per person, the balance of labour demand and supply, and changes in attitudes towards redistributing wealth – the minimum wage level is one proxy for this – generates a curve that exactly matches the change in real wages since 1930, including complex rises and falls since 1980.

    The interaction of supply and demand determines the price. Turchin has done economics here, and come up with the same answer we’ve known for decades. Well done.

    More generally though, after reading the article, I think there’s a fundamental problem with ‘overfitting’ the data he has available. That is to say; Turchin has identified a crisis at a point in time and then found data to fit a model that correlates with it.

    Put it this way; France in the 1780’s was a shitty place to live if you were a peasant. Turchin’s model would, you might think reasonably, predict that violent social upheaval was possible or imminent. However, the model would ALSO predict that other, equally shitty places to live would be subject to the same upheaval. Yet they were not.

    You could also point to Russia vs the rest of continental europe in 1917 and see the same false positive result for Germany, France, Austria-Hungary, and so on.

  19. Rogue Trooper 20

    Food for Thought mickeysavage

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