Turchin is wrong: There will be no coming collapse of America

From The Atlantic The Next Decade Could Be Even Worse: A historian believes he has discovered iron laws that predict the rise and fall of societies. He has bad news.

Turchin’s core argument ,based on data mining and mathematical modeling, is that an overproduction of elites will lead to societal unrest and collapse in the US, that should unfold soon. This occurs in cycles of 50 or so years.

Certain aspects of this cyclical view require relearning portions of American history, with special attention paid to the numbers of elites. The industrialization of the North, starting in the mid-19th century, Turchin says, made huge numbers of people rich. The elite herd was culled during the Civil War, which killed off or impoverished the southern slaveholding class, and during Reconstruction, when America experienced a wave of assassinations of Republican politicians. (The most famous of these was the assassination of James A. Garfield, the 20th president of the United States, by a lawyer who had demanded but not received a political appointment.) It wasn’t until the Progressive reforms of the 1920s, and later the New Deal, that elite overproduction actually slowed, at least for a time.

This oscillation between violence and peace, with elite over­production as the first horseman of the recurring American apocalypse, inspired Turchin’s 2020 prediction. In 2010, when Nature surveyed scientists about their predictions for the coming decade, most took the survey as an invitation to self-promote and rhapsodize, dreamily, about coming advances in their fields. Turchin retorted with his prophecy of doom and said that nothing short of fundamental change would stop another violent turn.

I don’t agree with his forecasts at all, and I take the opposite position that America is in a prolonged period of prosperity, peace, and dominance (esepcially relative to the rest of the world since 2008) that may last indefinitely. By investing in US stocks, you are making an indirect bet in this trend continuing, but if Turchin is right, the best investment would probably be treasury bonds, which are yielding very little now (so there is very little profit potential). But I can say with 100% certainty that my forecast is way more likely to be accurate than Turchin’s. Shorting the market is not an option , owing to path tendency and possible insolvency from being ‘too early’.

Turchin blames an ‘over-production of elites’ for impending unrest, yet it is not so much that all college grads aspire to elite positions but rather seek the higher wages and nicer lifestyle that a college degree bestows. And as long as the college wage premium keep widening, we should expect more college grads and higher tuition costs. If the premium was to suddenly contract, then college enrolment would fall and there would be fewer production of these elites.

Even if empires cyclically rise and fall within certain fixed or predictable intervals, there are many factors protecting the US from such collapse, and when such factors are combined make the possibly far more remote than quantitative historical analysis would suggest:

1. Considerable ethnic, cultural, religious, and economic diversity , which makes it harder to foment revolution and increases political and economic stability even if such diversity leads to local tensions, such as black-on-white crime.

Vox Day and others argue that increased diversity will lead to unrest and the break-up of America, but I have argued it is a prophylactic against such unrest. Civil wars and revolution are typically engendered by homogenous groups against a second group cut from the same ethnic and racial cloth. The Revolutionary War pitted New England against Britain. The Civil War pitted Anglo Protestants up North against Anglo Protestants from the South. The Iranian revolution pitted anti-Western Iranian religious fundamentalists against pro-Western Iranian rulers.

Also, if diversity is supposed to be destabilizing, why would elites push for it? Why would elites support policy that would lead to their undoing and loss of power and wealth as the US collapses due to war arising from such diversity? That makes no sense. This is an obvious logical contradiction that many dissidents such as Vox and others cannot account for.

Although small, homogenous countries can prosper for a long time (the Nordic countries for example), I believe that homogeneity makes such countries more vulnerable if the right conditions are met (economic downturns, war, indebtedness, inflation, etc.). This was the case during the French and Russian revolutions, in which debts due to war caused high unemployment and basic needs not being met for large swaths of the population.

2. Highly productive and large ‘smart fraction’ (discussed earlier) under optimal economic and social conditions, which is a major contributing factor for America’s economic dominance and strength, especially since 2008.

3. Large geographic size. Similar to #1, this makes it hard for aggrieved, disenfranchised groups to collectively rise up, as everyone is literally all spread out.

4. Unparalleled, unrivaled military and economic dominance relative to the rest of the developed world, even China. The British Empire, during its height in the early 20th century, was in relatively much weaker position than the US is in now, and faced major competitors such as France, Germany, The Ottoman Empire, the Russian Empire, etc. The only major possible competitor or comparable strength is China, which does not have imperial ambitions.

5. Foreign competitors have no imperial ambitions, unlike centuries ago when Spain, France, the Netherlands, England, Germany, Portugal, Ottoman Empire, etc. were all vying for control (especially of India, Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America):

In spite of all the sabre rattling, China has no imperial ambitions. So many people are predicting an imminent ‘clash of the civilizations’ between the US and China. I think nothing of that sort will happen and there will be continued peace, with the occasional tough talk and posturing and threats such as Trump’s tariffs and ‘trade war’ (which was more media hype than a war) that gets a lot of media coverage, but nothing substantive happens. In regard to purported expansionism, China has done very little actual expansion. The annexation of Tibet was 70 years ago. The last incident of expansion could technically be in in 1997 when Hong Kong was transferred to China from Britain.

6. America’s large bureaucracy and its constitutional republic composed to hundreds of Congressmen and Senators creates a lot of redundancy and limits the damage any one individual can do, unlike aristocracies and nobilities, which are more centralized and have point of failure. Yet at the same time, in spite of this large federal government and also numerous state governments, the private sector has a lot of autonomy, with the federal government only interceding during crisis but otherwise tending to keep an hands-off approach, although the Covid shutdowns are a possible exception to this.

7. A large middle class and high standards of living, further making revolution and mass unrest unlikely even if there are occasional outbursts such as BLM protests.

I don’t think Turchin’s research is of any useful predictive value. I don’t know why his ideas have gotten so much attention when there are so many obvious methodological problems and dubious assumptions, such as that history must cycle or that empires must fall. The problem with making such inferences based on historical trends and patterns is that the circumstances for each country, throughout history, are unique and it is hard to generalize. You can say “going back 2000 years, empires and regimes on average last 200-400 years,” but there is no immutable law that says it must be less than 400 years. It can be 4,000 or 40,000 under the right circumstances, for all we know. Because the conditions are so vague and the time frames are so long, it is hard to quantifiably and objectively test Turchin’s ideas. Mathematics typically tries to make things precise, yet history is imprecise in nature, so attempting to merge these things probably yields the worst of both.