Are We Headed For A Revolution?
Pandemic Diary Entry #65
The results of the election became known around 8:30 in the morning on Saturday, but we are still a very divided country. I hope we can begin to heal and put this factiousness behind us, I believe the country has chosen the right team to get that ball rolling, and while I have a lot of hope, I still have fears.
Last week I wrote about the increase in gun purchases in the United States in 2020, and my fear that it is a portent for increased violent activities in this country.
Before the results of the election I was digging into the 2010 structural demographic forecast for the 2010–2020 decade: A retrospective assessment by Peter Turchin and Andrey Korotayev. The study looks back on ten years of work by evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Connecticut, Peter Turchin.
In 2010 Turchin, wrote to Nature Magazine in response to an article Nature had written discussing what to expect in the year 2020.
“In the United States, we have stagnating or declining real wages, a growing gap between rich and poor, overproduction of young graduates with advanced degrees, and exploding public debt. These seemingly disparate social indicators are actually related to each other dynamically. They all experienced turning points during the 1970s. Historically, such developments have served as leading indicators of looming political instability.”
He continued, “Very long ‘secular cycles’ interact with shorter-term processes. In the United States, 50-year instability spikes occurred around 1870, 1920, and 1970, so another could be due around 2020. “
He wasn’t all doom and gloom he ended his piece with this comment “Records show that societies can avert disaster. We need to find ways to ameliorate the negative effects of globalization on people’s well-being. Economic inequality, accompanied by burgeoning public debt, can be addressed by making tax rates more progressive. And we should not expand our system of higher education beyond the ability of the economy to absorb university graduates. An excess of young people with advanced degrees has been one of the chief causes of instability in the past.”
I experienced the excess of young people with advanced degrees hungry for jobs while traveling throughout Spain in the last two years, but in the United States, some believe we need more college educated people entering the work force.
Turchin, through quantitative historical analysis, developed the PSI or Political Stress Indicator. Today that number is higher than it was before the Civil War.
Turchin then began collaborating with George Mason University sociologist Jack Goldstone author of a report for the US government for the State Failure Task Force, now called the Political Instability Task Force.
According to Turchin and Goldstone, the PSI combines three crisis indicators: declining living standards, increasing intra-elite competition/conflict, and the weakening of the state. Growing PSI indicates the likelihood of political violence.
The Well-being Index indicates greater equality, greater elite consensus, and a stronger, more legitimate state.
Goldstone alluded to much of this in his 1991 book Revolution and Rebellion in the Early Modern World. His point then was that as the Boomer generation aged and accrued wealth a political crisis could follow. He quantified this with the fact that all the stars must align. It would happen if the elite rich did three things: tighten up the path to mobility to favor themselves and their children, (this has happened with the extreme rise in the cost of higher education and the college admissions scandals) tamp down wages and hold onto a larger share of the economic gains (think gig-economy), and then this elite class must fight for lower taxes starving the government of the money needed to function.
In addressing the last star — taxes, many people feel higher tax rates are not “good for business”. In fact it is the opposite. A chart found on the website of the Tax Policy Center shows that through the entire administrations of presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter, the top-tax-bracket rate was at least 70 percent, and for many years it topped 90%.
This is the time where, due to post WW II consumer demand, and our ever expanding military-industrial complex ramping up for the Cold War, the US was at its height of prosperity. Gross national product (GNP), which measures all goods and services produced, grew to $300 billion by 1950, up from just $200 billion in 1940. By 1960, GNP had topped $500 billion, making the United States the richest and most powerful nation in the world.
In a joint September 10, 2020 article by both Goldstone and Turchin which was published in NOĒMA and titled Welcome To The ‘Turbulent Twenties. The gentlemen wrote of the way they interpret their historical information with regards to this year’s election.
“Is the U.S. likely headed for still greater protests and violence? In a word, yes” …given the accumulated grievances, anger and distrust fanned for the last two decades, almost any election scenario this fall is likely to lead to popular protests on a scale we have not seen in this century.”
But will this lead to a revolution? Professor Goldstone doesn’t think so. Instead, he told James Purtill of Hack “The population of the United States is relatively aged and unlikely to be carried away by ideological fervor. Enough people would prefer to have leadership settled by election results rather than battles in the street.”
Maybe not a revolution, but we have a long way to go to even find peace in this country. Turchin and Goldstone finish the NOĒMA article thus: “Only if all sides can again recover a stake in our government, no matter which party controls it, can we avoid sliding into a crisis that will undermine our Constitution and pit Americans against each other in a way we have not seen for generations.”
With Mitch McConnell already saying he will block many of Biden’s Cabinet appointments, I do not see us moving towards a place where both sides find common ground enough to agree that all people must have a stake in a democratic government.
America has been divided for a long time now, but the last four years used one of the largest cleavers in the knife rack to destroy what we hold dear. The rule of law, and acceptance that differing ethnicities, differing ways of life, different political points of view are what defines our democracy. What the last four years has successfully done is put a spotlight on this schism.
In the Turchin — Korotayev report they discuss COVID and pointed out that while it was not part of the equation in the 2010 study, disease outbreaks occur more frequently during crisis periods and have a disproportionate effect on the less advantaged. “What this means…is that the pandemic has further worsened the well-being of large swaths of the American population. Furthermore, the governmental dysfunction in dealing with the pandemic, coupled with intra-elite infighting, will likely further depress the already low level of trust in government institutions. Thus, the effect of the shock delivered by the coronavirus has been to further destabilize the American polity.”
Why have we not learned? W. E. B. Dubois (1868 —1963) said about America “If it is going to use this power to force the world into color prejudice and race antagonism; if it is going to use it to manufacture millionaires, increase the rule of wealth, and break down democratic government everywhere; if it is going increasingly to stand for reaction, fascism, white supremacy and imperialism; if it is going to promote war and not peace; then America will go the way of the Roman Empire.”
We are too different from the Roman Empire to die a slow agonizing death, but we haven’t really changed as a country since those words were spoken.
America is a rapidly changing country demographically, and that will play heavily into how we define ourselves and our democracy going forward.
The Center for American Progress, and independent nonpartisan, policy institute, published the States of Change in 2019. The purpose of the study was to document and analyze the challenges to democracy posed by the demographic evolution of the US, from the 1970’s to the year 2060 and to promote bipartisan discussion about these changes and how they will challenge America and effect policy.
Their findings include, the decline of white voters through 2036 in both parties, in particular, non-college voters, and this will occur most rapidly in the faster growing states such as Arizona and Texas.
By 2032 Hispanic voters will surpass black voters as the largest overall nonwhite voting group and by 2036 black voters will make up a larger share of the Democratic coalition than white non-college voters.
As throughout history, generational changes will be substantial. By 2036, Millennial and Gen Z voters will be heavily represented in both parties while Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation will radically decline.
How you define democracy is based on who you are and where you are in history.
In 1789 the Constitution gave states the power to set voting rights, that meant white property-owning males. It took another 40 years for non-property owning white males to get the right to vote.
The 15th Amendment, passed in 1870 gave black men the right to vote, but that did not necessarily mean that they could. Between the Jim Crow laws and Pole Taxes of many states, black men simply did not have the ability to vote.
It was not until 1887 that Native Americans were granted citizenship, but only if they would disavow their tribe. This technically gave male Native Americans the right to vote.
The 19th Amendment, ratified on August 18, 1920 gave women the right to vote, but that did not guarantee black women the right to vote.
In 1924 the Indian Citizenship Act gave all Native Americans the right to vote, but there were still states that barred them from voting. These states did not over turn their prejudicial laws against Native American voting until 1948.
In 1943 Chinese immigrants were given the right to vote by the Magnuson Act
Residents of Washington D.C. were not granted the vote until 1961
Between 1942 and 1964 the Supreme court established the one man one vote system in the united states, but Poll Taxes were still in effect in many states
This discrimination against people of color was not completely eradicated until Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Bill in 1965.
Democracy has always been more of an ideal than a reality for a large slice of the US population.
San Francisco weather: 56 degrees and clear
NYSE DOW compared to one year ago: +809
COVID cases in the US: 10,295,890
Deaths from COVID in the US: 243,797
OED word of the day: waynpain — A man who has to work for his bread; a servant; a labourer
Days since Shelter In Place was initiated: 239
Reading: Eiffel’s Tower by Jill Jonnes
My Black and White Picture of the Day
Something funny from the internet: