How Elite Overproduction Brings Disorder

Posted on November 20, 2013 by

Today published my opinion piece in which I analyze the connection between economic inequality and political instability. It starts:

Complex human societies, including our own, are fragile. They are held together by an invisible web of mutual trust and social cooperation. This web can fray easily, resulting in a wave of political instability, internal conflict and, sometimes, outright social collapse.

Analysis of past societies shows that these destabilizing historical trends develop slowly, last many decades, and are slow to subside. The Roman Empire, Imperial China and medieval and early-modern England and France suffered such cycles, to cite a few examples. In the U.S., the last long period of instability began in the 1850s and lasted through the Gilded Age and the “violent 1910s.”

We now see the same forces in the contemporary U.S. Of about 30 detailed indicators I developed for tracing these historical cycles (reflecting popular well-being, inequality, social cooperation and its inverse, polarization and conflict), almost all have been moving in the wrong direction in the last three decades.

Read the rest of the article on

As usual, when writing for popular outlets, one must sacrifice detail for readability. For those readers who are interested in exploring these issues in more detail I collected together the relevant blogs, under three headings. The first is on the relationship between inequality, elite overproduction, and cooperation (or, rather, failure of cooperation). The second series of blogs asks why inequality started growing during the late 1970s. And the third argues that the recent wave of shooting rampages is actually a surface indicator of deep structural-demographic pressures that have been growing in the last 30-40 years.

As always, comments are welcome. But don’t blame me for the title that slapped on my commentary! As all writers know, we have no control over the titles…

Elite Overproduction, Inequality, and Discord

The Double Helix of Inequality and Well-Being

The Strange Disappearance of Cooperation in America

The Strange Disappearance of Cooperation in America II

The Road to Disunion

Below the Surface: the Structural-Demographic Roots of the Current Political Crisis

Bimodal Lawyers: How Extreme Competition Breeds Extreme Inequality

Why Real Wages Stopped Growing

The End of Prosperity: Why Did Real Wages Stop Growing in the 1970s?

Cutting through the Thicket of Economic Forces (Why Real Wages Stopped Growing II)

A Proxy for Non-Market Forces (Why Real Wages Stopped Growing III)

Putting It All Together (Why Real Wages Stopped Growing IV)

More on Labor Supply (Why Real Wages Stopped Growing V)

Indiscriminate Mass Murder as a Form of Political Violence

Canaries in a Coal Mine

Canaries in a Coal Mine II. “We too are asking why”

Canaries in a Coal Mine III. Is the Trend Real?

Bryan Vila: A Criminologist Comments on ‘Canaries in a Coal Mine’

Canaries in a Coal Mine IV: Alternative Explanations

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