Do we stand at the precipice of radical change?

Saw this article Do we stand at the precipice of radical change?

And yet in the end, what happened? Armageddon didn’t happen. There was no global socialist revolution or fascist reaction; instead, most countries just liberalized and democratized in the 80s and 90s. Milquetoast neoliberalism became the dominant philosophy of how to organize a society. Terrorist attacks guttered to a low background hum, as did riots and violent crime. By the turn of the millennium, the idea of overthrowing the U.S. government seemed like a joke.

In other words, we muddled through. Life puttered along. The horrors of the early 20th century saw a few echoes in the late part of the century (Cambodia’s killing fields, China’s Cultural Revolution), but overall, the nightmares of the earlier decades were remembered and were not repeated. Americans generally remember the 70s as a time of social and political exhaustion, the 80s as a time of silliness and consumerist distractions, and the 90s as a golden age.

So while it’s possible that the 21st century might repeat or even exceed the horrors and wonders of 100 years ago, it’s equally possible that things might putter along like they did 50 years ago.

I agree with this so much that I had to devote a blog post to it. Things are going to just muddle alone for the foreseeable future, punctuated by the occasional overblown, media-generated crisis (like right now regarding Ukraine).

Yes, Covid is on track to kill 1 million Americans (assuming not erroneously counting non-Covid deaths as Covid deaths), which is 400,000 people/year, but this is only 12% [0] of baseline U.S. population growth (and it’s mostly just low-productive people dying or getting really sick), which is why the economic impact on Covid on the U.S. economy has proven so minimal despite all the media hype.

As I am fond of saying, to understand the future, extend all current trends outward. So higher stock market, bigger tech companies, more anger online, more political division, etc. But at the same time, there is convergence: the so-called tech and investing singularity. This means bigger and more dominate large companies and the strengthening of the U.S. global economic and cultural hegemony.

As for unrest, the pervasiveness of social media and clickbait journalism means that incidents of unrest that would have gone unreported decades ago are now broadcast in real time to millions of people, making headlines worldwide. The 2020 BLM riots were disruptive locally, but short-lived and not systemically economically disruptive. It’s not like the kind of unrest seen in Lebanon, Italy, Brazil, Spain, or Turkey, which can destabilize entire regimes. The S&P 500 didn’t flinch even as entire neighborhoods were lit ablaze, yet Brazil’s stock market in 2017 crashed 10% in a single day due to a combination of unrest and corruption.

Regarding global warming, I am extremely optimistic nothing bad will come of it. Either the warming will not be as bad as expected, solutions will be devised, or the economic consequences of possible warning will not be as bad as feared. Experts have been predicting climate doom for decades. Their track records are terrible, like it is with Covid, the economy, and almost everything else. Being long stocks is an indirect bet that nothing bad will happen. I wish there was a way to directly bet on this prediction. It would be like picking up $100 bills on the sidewalk, because I think people overall vastly estimate the likelihood of climate disaster.

But that doesn’t mean the big fuss is over and we should all go back to sleep. First of all, as Peter Turchin’s theory of unrest stresses, the biggest factor suppressing unrest is when moderates believe that society will fragment unless they bestir themselves to restore order. In other words, we won’t go back to normal unless normal people stay scared and mad for a long time. Again, recall that Parable of the Sower was published in 1993.

Turchin’s research doesn’t even rise to the level numerology or astrology. The conditions that led to one empire or civilization declining does not generalize to others. At best all you have is a hypothesis that some cause should lead to some effect, but it cannot be seen as anything more than a hunch and is useless as far as predicting is concerned.

[0] 800,000 deaths over a 2-year period is 400,000 deaths/year. But U.S. population is 330 million and grows at 1%/year, so 3.3 million people. 400,000 deaths/year is just 12% of that 3.3 million. And .12% of overall population.

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