Inequality

Why Trump-Sanders Phenomenon Signals an Oligarchy on the Brink of a Civilization-Threatening Collapse

Oligarchies win except when society enacts effective reforms

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By Sally Goerner

“The collapse of urban cultures is an event much more frequent than most observers realize. Often, collapse is well underway before societal elites become aware of it, leading to scenes of leaders responding retroactively and ineffectively as their society collapses around them.” –  Sander Vander Leeuw, Archaeologist, 1997

The media has made a cottage industry out of analyzing the relationship between America’s crumbling infrastructure, outsourced jobs, stagnant wages, and evaporating middle class and the rise of anti-establishment presidential candidates Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Commentators are also tripping all over one another to expound daily on the ineffectual response of America’s political elite – characterized by either bewilderment or a dismissal of these anti-establishment candidates as minor hiccups in the otherwise smooth sailing of status-quo power arrangements. But the pundits are all missing the point: the Trump-Sanders phenomenon signals an American oligarchy on the brink of a civilization-threatening collapse.

The tragedy is that, despite what you hear on TV or read in the paper or online, this collapse was completely predictable. Scientifically speaking, oligarchies always collapse because they are designed to extract wealth from the lower levels of society, concentrate it at the top, and block adaptation by concentrating oligarchic power as well. Though it may take some time, extraction eventually eviscerates the productive levels of society, and the system becomes increasingly brittle. Internal pressures and the sense of betrayal grow as desperation and despair multiply everywhere except at the top, but effective reform seems impossible because the system seems thoroughly rigged. In the final stages, a raft of upstart leaders emerge, some honest and some fascistic, all seeking to channel pent-up frustration towards their chosen ends. If we are lucky, the public will mobilize behind honest leaders and effective reforms. If we are unlucky, either the establishment will continue to “respond ineffectively” until our economy collapses, or a fascist will take over and create conditions too horrific to contemplate.

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Sound familiar? America has witnessed a similar cycle of oligarchic corruption[1] starting in the 1760s, 1850s, 1920s, and 2000s:

  • Economic Royalists infiltrate critical institutions and rig political and economic systems to favor elites. 1760s:Royal governors run roughshod over colonial farmers; The East India Company, whose investors were primarily wealthy aristocrats, is given monopoly trading rights in the colonies. (The Tea Act was basically a corporate tax break for it.)2000s: Vice President Dick Cheney’s company Halliburton is given no-bid contracts to handle military services in Iraq; American taxpayers bail out failed banks; Billionaire Warren Buffet pays a lower tax rate than his secretary; America’s medical system is dominated by profit-maximizing, health-minimizing insurance companies.
  • Rigged systems erode the health of the larger society, and signs of crisis proliferate. Developed by British archaeologist Sir Colin Renfrew in 1979[2], the following “Signs of Failing Times” have played out across time in 26 distinct societies ranging from the collapse of the Roman Empire to the collapse of the Soviet Union:
  1. Elite power and well-being increase and is manifested in displays of wealth;
  2. Elites become heavily focused on maintaining a monopoly on power inside the society; Laws become more advantageous to elites, and penalties for the larger public become more Draconian;
  3. The middle class evaporates;
  4. The “misery index” mushrooms, witnessed by increasing rates of homicide, suicide, illness, homelessness, and drug/alcohol abuse;
  5. Ecological disasters increase as short-term focus pushes ravenous exploitation of resources;
  6. There’s a resurgence of conservatism and fundamentalist religion as once golden theories are brought back to counter decay, but these are usually in a corrupted form that accelerates decline.
  • The crisis reaches a breaking point, and seemingly small events trigger popular frustration into a transformative change. If the society enacts effective reforms, it enters a new stage of development. If it fails to enact reforms, crisis leads to regression and possibly collapse. 1776: Lexington and Concord’s “shot heard round the world”; the Declaration of Independence; America becomes unified nation aimed at liberty and justice for all. 1933: Under huge public pressure, FDR turns from a standard New York politician to a champion of social and economic reform; government work-programs revitalize the nation’s infrastructure, and reforms such as the Glass-Steagall Act reduce bankers’ ability to abuse the system; Post-FDR America witnesses the longest surge of cross-scale prosperity and the largest increase in the middle class in history.
  • Over time, transformed societies forget why they implemented reforms; Economic Royalists creep back and the cycle starts a new. 1980-2000s: Reagan removes the Fairness Doctrine and stops enforcing antitrust laws; Economic elites argue we need to modernize finance by getting rid of Glass-Steagall; Tax rates on the wealthy plummet while infrastructure crumbles; The Supreme Court supports Citizens United and guts the Voting Rights Act; Gerrymandering increases.

We have forgotten the lessons of the 1760s, 1850s, and 1920s. We have let Economic Royalists hijack our democracy, and turn our economy into their money machine. Now the middle class is evaporating, infrastructure is crumbling, and pressure is reaching a breaking point. Anti-establishment candidates are on the rise, and no one knows how things will turn out.

What then shall we do? The first step is to remember that our times also hold a positive possibility – a transformation akin to those which followed 1776, 1865, and 1945. Honest reformers from education and agriculture to energy and finance are already reinventing their fields. Regenerative, resilient “New Economy” experiments are bubbling up everywhere. Thanks to the Internet, communication is faster and more effective than at any other time in history – so word is getting out.

The second step is to remember that the vast majority of people participating in today’s economic system are not corrupt, they just believe today’s dominant belief system is some combination of good, right, necessary, or inevitable. In today’s case, most of our political-economic elites – both Republican and Democrat, right and left – genuinely believe that today’s neo-liberal economic frame is the path to prosperity, a kind of “win-win” strategy of competitive markets that, in the end, will benefit both elite and global interests as a whole.

So, for the most part, we are not dealing with evil people, but what sociologists call a “social construction of reality.” Over time, human beings construct their everyday systems and practices around a set of widely held beliefs. They do this by creating a matrix of rewards and punishments that keeps everyone in line with the society’s dominant beliefs, for example, incentives to compete, and rewards for maximizing profit. Unfortunately, this matrix holds even as people begin to realize that the system is not working. What we’re now facing is a combination of: 1) people who still believe; and 2) people who doubt, but: a) would have to sacrifice their livelihood to act on it; or, b) are willing to leave the system but don’t necessarily know what comes next.

Today’s big challenge is twofold. First, we need to find a way to unite today’s many disjointed reform efforts into the coherent and effective reinvention we so desperately need. This unity will require solid science, compelling story, and positive dream. Secondly, since hierarchies are absolutely necessary for groups beyond a certain size, this time we must figure out how to create healthy hierarchical systems that effectively support the health and prosperity of the entire social, economic, and environmental system including everyone within. In short, our goal must be to figure out how to end oligarchy forever, not just create a new version of it. This is a topic I will take up in my next blog.

The last step is to keep our eyes on the prize. As Peter Drucker explained in 1995[3]:

“Every few hundred years in Western history there occurs a sharp transformation. Within a few short decades, society ─ its worldview, its basic values, its social and political structures, its key institutions ─ rearranges itself…Fifty years later, there is a new world, and people born then cannot even imagine the world in which their grandparents lived…We are currently living through such a time.”

Ours is not a simple task, but we can take hope from the fact that our ancestors succeeded under much harsher conditions.

[1] This cycle has occurred every 80 to 90 years throughout American and much of world history. It is detailed in books such as Strauss and Howe’s The Fourth Turning, and Thom Hartmann’s The Crash of 2016. See Strauss, W. & Howe, N., (1996). The Fourth Turning: What the cycles of history tell us about America’s next rendevouz with destiny.

[2] Renfrew, Colin. 1979. Systems collapse as social transformation: Catastrophe and anastrophe in early state societies. In Renfrew C. and Cooke, K.L. (eds.), Transformations: Mathematical approaches to culture change. New York: Academic Press, 481-506.

[3] Cited in Drucker, Peter. 2009. Managing in a Time of Great Change.

Originally published here.

2016 April 29


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  • Jannik Thorsen

    This is a good article that addresses some fundamental issues. The West as a Whole is in Deep cultural and economic crisis.
    I, as opposed to the author, do believe that the elites have an idea of where this is heading. They are just trying to buy time and extract as many ressources as possible. In due time the masquarade will however be exposed fully. The cracks are already beginning to show.

    • Sabretruthtiger

      They planned it.

    • Sam Durrango

      They are perfectly aware of exponential growth as applied to rising interest-debt. They must have realised way back what that would ultimately mean but still they continued with their toxic usury. They have, I’m sure, been planning for what comes in the wake of the collapse. Here in the UK the country is bursting with CCTV cameras everywhere, all for the inevitable social unrest & disorder.

      We could hopefully avert major problems by the early adoption of complementary currencies & maybe gift economies such as Ubuntu Contributionism in small communities: http://www.ubuntuplanet.org/wp/contributionism/ & then their monopoly on power over us is broken.

      If we don’t have anything to cushion our landing, there will be pain.

      • Josh

        Have you also heard that the super wealthy in the UK are building massive lavish multi-level basements that go far underground? I wonder what they could possibly be preparing for? Of course, space is tight in London, but it’s still eerie nonetheless. Makes you wonder what would have happened in France during the Revolution if the aristocrats had lavish bunkers and modern military protecting them. I don’t want to imagine.

        • Sam Durrango

          Yes, some vanity houses in the rich bits of London have many levels of luxury basements. Buts that’s just money talking & it doesn’t mean the rich have more intelligence than elements of the poor that they continually oppress. They’re not even the last ones to have on board after a major crash as their ‘knowledge’ will be of no practical significance whatsoever. As for the military/police working on their behalf that’s all well & good… …until their wages & money itself mean absolutely nothing & it’s every man/woman & child for themselves until any survivors realise that they must work together for their common good. I’d like to think that usury would then have no place in such a society. It would stand a chance then as perhaps a moneyless gift-economy society, cf Ubuntu
          http://www.ubuntuplanet.org/wp/contributionism/

          • demetri

            In Chicago, they have built a small underground highway in downtown ,exclusively for the few elite rich, because of traffic congestion.

        • Jeremy Tarone

          Space is tight? They build lavish basements because of restrictions and costs of building row houses, the weather and damage done to other property. It’s cheaper to build down rather than up, especially when your house is attached to other houses and there are neighbourhood height restrictions. The rich often live in areas with height restrictions to protect their view.

        • Timothy Dannenhoffer

          What a way to live, underground unable to show faces in public.

    • AKPatriot

      And after the Last breath of fresh air has been taken, and the last drink of fresh water has been drunk. Just remember you can’t EAT the MONEY!

      • smendler

        But you CAN eat the rich.

    • Jeremy Tarone

      If Western civilization collapses, it will be because of the USA and it’s huge influence (and global dependency) on it’s massive economy. Not because “the West” is all an oligarchy.

      Plenty of Western democracies have well run good governments with social programs that work and elections that are not rigged, leading to generally happy citizens.

      The USA stands as an example of poor governance. Almost all of it can be laid to the feet of the Republican Party, it’s masters and it’s idiot supporters.

      Donald Trump is simply the outward expression of what the Republican party has been for at least 30 years. Racist, proud to be ignorant and willing to spout any nonsense to get their way, while supporters are willing believe any idiocy their leaders spout.

      Sanders politics is what many other countries actually do. Universal healthcare isn’t controversial anywhere else except in the USA. Neither are government programs to help the poor, or give low cost education to the citizens. In many countries these are simply a way to bring up the average standard of living to ensure everyone benefits (or has the chance to benefit) from the country. Sanders isn’t a far left communist (as Republicans state), Sanders is just average for most countries.

      The West is not in deep cultural or economic crisis. Most countries are doing fine. Perhaps your problem is, when your standing in a cesspool that’s covering your head, everything else looks like crap because that’s all you can see.

      • Jannik Thorsen

        “Donald Trump is simply the outward expression of what the Republican party has been for at least 30 years. Racist, proud to be ignorant and willing to spout any nonsense to get their way, while supporters are willing believe any idiocy their leaders spout.”
        Its quite obvious that your description is ideologically heavily biased. Your simplistic description lacks credibility. Grow up.

        • Timothy Dannenhoffer

          He is spot on “ideologically”. His only mistake was implying the Democrats haven’t become just like Republicans as far as giving everything to the rich is concerned.

          • Not just like, but too similar. The Dems serve the rich and the Repubs serve the ultra rich. The Dems got a long time ago that they’d have to at least throw bones to the middle class, hence their partnership with unions and attempts at healthcare reform. But ultimately, they are beholden to too many of the same constituencies as the other party, which doesn’t even make any attempt to lessen anyone’s pain but that very richest of the rich.

          • Ruzl Odoni

            I’d suggest his other mistake is claiming that the rest of the West is not also in a cultural or economic crisis. Most of the West is trapped in a straight jacket of economic principles which are extremely damaging, and there is little political will or ability to change. The welfare state is under assault everywhere, and while in Europe it is better defended than the US, it is still vulnerable as the centerist liberal elites have long since turned their back on the alliance with the working class, leaving them unrepresented. They thus turn to neofascists like Trump, Le Penn, AfD etc.

    • Timothy Dannenhoffer

      When they are exposed fully the elites cannot be allowed to keep their ill gotten gains. They need to pay a confiscational tax to rebuild the world and right as many wrongs as they can.

      • ozarkmichael

        Eat the rich!
        But after you destroy every fortune 500 company and seize the assets of the rich… there is nothing left in one year, and then what?

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=661pi6K-8WQ

        • Timothy Dannenhoffer

          Nothing is destroyed fool, everything will remain, the difference is more people will own a stake in things.

          I hate these morons that believe if we get rid of billionaires and tax millionaires then all of the wealth and assets just fall down some black hole forever. It’s moronic thinking. A functioning economy needs well paid workers every bit as much as it needs people with money to invest…quite possibly even more so.

    • Plutosdad

      Except each person is an individual, they look out for themselves, they cannot act in concert to stave off the coming problems because they are humans like us, and put themselves first. So each keeps on stealing resources from those under them.

  • jgreenhall

    The necessity of hierarchy is no longer necessarily the case. A number of new platforms ranging from liquid democracy to self organization on the blockchain show promise.

  • In servant style leadership, we take a typical hierarchical pyramid and invert so it is upside down.

    Essentially, our public sector is devised in this order. The masses are at the top, while the leaders serve.

    The mission and goal is to serve the people to ensure the best possible outcome for the greatest number of people. All of our systems should be reformed in this manner.

    It requires the Aristocracy giving up control and no longer ruling over. Instead, they must serve and create systems which benefit the greatest number in a community.

    The Social Progress Initiative replacing GDP is one example of this.

  • Sabretruthtiger

    Unfortunately the vast majority fail to realise that the collapse is planned by the central banking oligarchy as part of their divide and conquer agenda to destroy the current power structure and dismantle the dominance of the west in order to bring in their new global government which will be an Orwellian feudal nightmare with the few rich living in luxury while the rest are peasants living in relative poverty in a tightly controlled technological control grid.

    This is why they’re exponentially pushing race-baiting, feminism, SJW insanity constantly, this is why they’ve instructed police to shoot black people and imported hundreds of thousands of refugees into the western countries, it’s all about creating division and civil war as an excuse to bring in martial law and strict control regulations for the populations.

    The other aspect is their social engineering of the populations to make them more easily manipulated and divided via feminism and other SJW facets. Feminism makes male/female relationships hard to form leading to less families and family is the backbone of social cohesion, they cannot tolerate devotion to family before state. This also allows less parental influence and kids can be increasingly raised by the state and their media propagandist arm.
    A female dominated society is less able to fight due to the weaker males and women are more easily swayed by emotional manipulation and propaganda operates on emotion.

    Trump is a controlled opposition strawman designed to attract all the attention and demonise anyone that opposes the elite’s liberal religion as as a racist, sexist xenophobe by association.
    Trump works for the elite as does Sanders, anyone that genuinely opposes the Oligarchy doesn’t make it to any position of influence, if they do make it and then decide to oppose them they get killed like JFK.

  • Matt Baen

    It’s different this time because automation is replacing labor. The overclass will no longer need to extract wealth from the classes beneath them. The choice is between a) mass deprivation (and eventually depopulation, whether by starvation or more slowly by declining birth rates) of the majority with a small number of elites living in a digital/robot-enabled Utopia and b) some kind of socialism.

    (Antitrust is good but the Fairness Doctrine may have slowed the gay and marijuana legalization causes.)

  • Dr. Red

    The very existence of oligarchies (rule of the few) shows that the polity within which they rule is not democratic (see Aristotle’s Politics). Paradoxically, the term democracy is not mentioned even once in the article. Instead, a point is made about the natural necessity of hierarchies (a view endorsed by elitism in all its versions), condoning furtively inequality and the ‘regeneration’ of oligarchy since the latter is the social offshoot of any regimentation of hierarchical relationships.

    • Miau Frito

      I also don’t believe hierarchy to be a necessity. What is necessary is organization, and computers were made just for that. Take the example of bitcoin, it’s completely decentralized and just as good as other currencies.
      Surely, there must be ways to make everything else that a society needs to function into fully automated and decentralized software, thus eliminating the need for a ruling class

      • Dr. Red

        You are right that the technical solutions exist. The real problem obstructing change are the concentrations of power that keep on conserving the status quo and the benefits they derive from it and the capitalist interests that want to maintain the reproduction of this social order that favours limitless accumulation.

    • Jannik Thorsen

      There will always exist hierarchies, and elites that rule the masses. Thinking that you can do away with hierarchy is a marxist fantasy that is not evidenced by the historical record.
      Democracy is a facade that just masks power relations.
      It is only when the elites become fully subverted and traitorous towards the people they are supposed to guide or rule, that the masses start to revolt. This is what is happening now.

      • Dr. Red

        The point is not whether hierarchies have existed but whether they ought to exist. The historical trend shows a progressive overturning of established political and social hierarchies. Otherwise we would have still been living under absolutist rule and exist as slaves and serfs.
        In most of history power relations did not need to dissimulate themselves. It is the power of democracy that has compelled power relations to try to disguise themselves as not seeming what they actually are.
        There are no masses. You seem to still live in the 19th century.

        • Jannik Thorsen

          No there is no progressive overturning. Just like economic inequality is rising in modern democratic capitalist societies, the elite is becoming more powerful. Historically there are far more fluctuations in hierarchies than what you suggest. Tribes in the hunter gatherer stoneages were far more egalitarian compared to modern societies. So human collectives apparently have regressed when they entered the age of despotic rule.
          Whether hierarchies ought to exist is like asking whether gravity should exist. Its a natural phenomena. Musing over the inherent immorality of hierachies makes Little difference at the end of the day. You cant fight nature.
          You accuse me of living in the 19th Century, when you are the one subscribing to some naive remnant of enlightenment ideology. I find that quite ironic.

          • Dr. Red

            Your reduction of social hierarchies into a natural phenomenon (akin to gravity) only reveals your conservative ideology and the distance you maintain from the sciences of sociology and social anthropology. This kind of thinking used to be called ‘social physics’ and it is a relic of the 19th c. legacy.

          • Jannik Thorsen

            I only maintain a distance towards marxist and postmodern Schools of thought in sociology and socialanthropology. There is a big difference.
            Hierarchies are a natural phenomena, as they have always existed in human societies, and they will continue to exist either formally or informally. This insight is much older than the 19th Century btw.

          • Dr. Red

            PHENOMENON !!

          • John Champagne

            Hierarchies are NOT a natural phenomenon and have NOT always existed. Just take an undergraduate course in cultural anthropology.

          • Jannik Thorsen

            Nonsense. Even among egalitarian minded stone age hunter gatherers there exists informal hierarchies. Radical egalitarianism is an utopian fantasy.

          • John Champagne

            Waste of time.

          • Jannik Thorsen

            You are just wrong. Its that simple.

          • John Champagne

            http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/367/1599/2119.short
            http://www.jstor.org/stable/2743665?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
            http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/286052?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
            It took approximately one minute to find these articles. In the real world, argument require evidence. Anything else is assertion.

          • Jannik Thorsen

            These studies dont really prove that there was no hierarchy in hunter gatherer societies. Only that they were far more egalitarian, or hierarchy was “stunted”, compared to modern societies. I never denied this some what weaker claim. Even in egalitarian hunter gatherer tribes there will exist a hierarchy. The old command more respect than the young, as do the seasoned veterans who have enjoyed much success. With status comes hierarchy. There always existed tribal leaders and tribal elderman.
            The only reason it might appear like there is no hierarchy, is because these tribes are very small, say between 20-50 individuals, and hierarchy is not formalized.

          • Helga Vierich

            I happen to have done fieldwork (three years) among hunter-gatherers, in the Kalahari. I also did some four years of fieldwork among tribal subsistence farmers and herders in West Africa.
            Among hunter-gatherers there are definitely people with higher rank based reputation, and such people often emerge as organizational leaders during times when people are aggregated seasonally. However Is the term hierarchy the correct one in this case? The term is synonymous with “pecking order” and has often been used to describe the way dominance of one animal over another in a ranked system is related to access to food and solace. It conjures up a flow of authority and even coercion from the individual at the “top” which controls the movement and opportunities of individuals further down.

            On the contrary, leadership in a band or tribal system is a function of trust and respect; if leaders merely hoarded or extorted tribute for personal gain, they would not last long. 

Such surpluses also make it possible, in a food producing and storing economy such as we see in most “tribal” societies, for the communities to hold feasts which assemble people from may surrounding communities.

            Thus, while a display of generosity towards those in hardship within a community can demonstrate the character of the leader, any display of generosity where a village hosts many of its neighbors during a festival goes well beyond this. It demonstrates the quality of the people of the hosting community. The net effect is that the people in each community are given additional motivation to work harder. 



            Why is this important? I suggest that such regional festivals also redistribute food across regions where not all harvests of are likely to be equal. Each local community is thus less exposed to risks of famine. The community who had the most surplus food trades this food for higher prestige and simultaneously reduces the chances that hungry neighbors will come to raid. 

 Lineages and “big man” systems, therefore, appear to be risk aversion strategies – aspects of cultural adaptation, not evidence of selection pressures causing novel shifts in species-specific innate behaviors.

            Hierarchies of coercion and the self-affirming narcissists are not the inevitable products of evolutionary genetic change, but rather, I would suggest, a cultural adaptation to much higher levels of population density and competition. With the development of higher frequencies of warfare, military elites can enforce tribute rather than rely on voluntary contributions.. and become “entitled” and self-affirming elites that lose sight of common welfare.

            In the tribal societies I studied in West Africa, prompt assassination was traditional response to a lineage head who used the communal grain stores, with which he was entrusted, in order to enrich himself. Most of the village chiefs and lineage elders I interviewed were meticulously checking these communal granaries for signs of cold or insect damage. Sometimes they had to get the help of many younger persons to remove and salvage grain from granaries that might hold several tons. If they were not diligent in this, and if they failed to use these stores to assist families in need within the community, they lost the trust of the community and were replaced.

            This is not some kind of hierarchy headed up by an elite; it is ordinary community politics. And the purpose of it is common welfare, not the enrichment of a predatory elite.

          • Mattleaxe

            I trust your interpretations of your fieldwork with the Kalahari, but I would like to question how they fit into the larger picture.
            First, what you’ve said does not actually contradict Jannik Thorsen here. What you’re describing is still, strictly speaking, a hierarchy. The urge to argue meaning rather than connotation bothers me. Certainly hierarchy can be maintained very differently, as your example illustrates, but I think this can be viewed as an emancipation of the hierarchy view rather than a condemnation of it.
            Second, I would be cautious of overstating your case by saying that the powerful in these societies are acting for the common good. If you haven’t read it, I would recommend to you the book “The Handicap Principle” by Zahavi and Zahavi. It explains in detail how various social animals, including humans, inhibit themselves as a way of demonstrating their superiority. Among babbler birds, higher-ranking individuals feed lower-ranking ones, and will even go so far as attacking them if they refuse to be fed.
            Thus high-ranking individuals don’t necessarily act in the common good—they act in a way that maximizes prestige. To me, this distinction is important, even if the outcome is the same. It ensures that we take the right lesson as to how we can better construct our societies.
            Do humans act for the common interest? Yes, but they will not do so consistently unless it aligns with their own interest.

    • Dan Cranberry

      Agreed, any hierarchy devised to take money from some and distribute it to others, “naturally” reverts to systemic corruption and immense waste. How do you destroy a nations wealth as efficiently as possible? Take it from producers and give it to economic zombies. The existance of “central planners” in the hierarchy/bureaucracy is the problem. It aids in both the concentration of wealth and the destruction of it.

      • Dr. Red

        Your criticism of bureaucracy is pertinent. Though some administrative mechanisms must exist to coordinate and allocate the wealth produced. The solution to the malaise of bureaucracy is to have procedures of accountability, transparency, limited terms of service, possibility of recall, and a more radical democratic institutional arrangement could be participatory accessibility open to all.

  • tomjlowe

    The task to be done and the available technology are the major factors determining whether a political or social structure is hierarchal, flat, inverted hierarchal, or a variation of one of more of these factors. Both of these factors are now changing rapidly and the result is conflict. Think of two tectonic plates stuck against each other. As they move in different directions the stress increases and eventually the plates give a big jerk in opposite directions to release the pressure. You get earthquakes. And then there is a new equilibrium. At least for a while.

    I agree with Jannik Thorsen that the oligarchy is well aware of how this will end. Because they are so remote from Main Street, however, they may not realize how close we are to the earthquake.

    • Patricia

      As I have said time and time again here in New Zealand let’s just abolish the existing tax structure and start again. No income tax, no corporate tax, no fringe benefit tax, no exemptions of any sort, no stamp duty, no payroll tax, no GST. Nothing. Then put a financial transaction tax on all deposits, double the rate if the money is sent overseas – the rebuttable presumption being that it is done to avoid taxation. Then everybody, individual and company, would be contributing to the running of the country they either live in or in which a business is active. The FTT would be so easily administered because it would be collected by the Banks on behalf of the Government. If there was too much money in the system then that FTT could be increased and vice versa.
      If a country elected a Government that put its people first then it would also have a progressive inequality tax on incomes over X times the average wage with an inflation adjustment for tax bracket creep plus an inheritance tax. The government could then work out a policy how to better the country as a whole with all that tax money. A UBI would even be very possible. Mind you all this is based on the now common view that a Government can only function through taxation. Totally untrue but if the people want to believe the moon is made of green cheese then you just have to suggest policies based on that.
      But if the elected Government wasn’t interested in the welfare of its people then that Country would not have an inequality tax. Everything would be so very transparent.
      Surely anything is better than the nonsense we have now throughout the western world.
      There are sure to be faults in my proposal but more clever minds than mine could see them and rectify them.

  • jayrayspicer

    Good article. If I may sum up, “Share. If you don’t share nicely, you will end up sharing, and it won’t be so nice. Just ask Marie Antoinette.” It’s important to have the expansive historical analysis that Dr Goerner provides. Maybe that will help us avoid the worst of the next disruption.
    The bigger takeaway is that a system that more fairly distributes the wealth, to the workers who actually produce it, rather than to the oligarchs, is a system that thrives and survives. A system that overly rewards the capital owners crashes and burns and the capital gets redistributed (or destroyed) anyhow.

    • TedKidd

      Not sure it is just about producers. As we approach AI, fewer will be producers. We may need to think about productive citizens as consumers.

      Transactions are societal lubricant, not production.

      I think we need to think about equitable design of universal income.

      • jayrayspicer

        TedKidd, I agree with that. We will have to modify things extensively as greater percentages of the population are automated out of the workforce. Before that, there’s a period where work will need to be rewarded as the major component of production that it is, rather than as the race-to-the-bottom expense it is currently treated as. It’s hard to see how capital or management are any more valuable than labor in the creative/productive enterprise, but they take the lion’s share because they can. Without correcting this imbalance, the consumer base will continue to shrink far faster than it needs to.

        • TedKidd

          Power imbalance. Basic income will fix that to, while possibly reducing the minimum wage and improving US labor competitiveness globally.

      • Reed Schrichte

        Agreed. Ironic to talk about labor’s share as labor becomes less important. But why does Capital get the first and biggest bite of the economic pie? That is social construct, not Law of Nature.

    • norcal2

      if you give every person an equal share of all the cash in the US, that’s only around $4000 per person. That’s not enough to make a significant investment. It is enough for people to make a significant purchase.

      The result is mostly bad. Savings and investment down. Current inflation and consumption up. Future consumption is lower, as people won’t be able to finance it out of their savings. The only good result in that last is the increase in current consumption. That will produce increase incomes for someone. Mostly those rich enough to own stocks or businesses.

      The middle class will be the worst hit. The rich don’t keep most of their savings in banks. They buy stocks and property instead. The poor don’t have any savings. Short term, the poor will get the most benefit. Longer term, the rich will get most of the profits. This will increase wealth inequality, which would seem to be the opposite of the intent. And the government run the businesses? Look at how well that worked out for russia

      • jayrayspicer

        Kinda depends on what you mean by “cash”. If you use M2, it’s closer to $30,000 per capita. Either way, the amount has nothing to do with who deserves it, so I’m not sure why you bring it up. If a billionaire steals $5 from me, I still want it back.
        Savings does not equal investment. The idea that they are equivalent is one of the many bogus axioms of neoclassical/neoliberal economics. Money stuffed in a mattress is not invested. Money stashed in the Caymans is not invested. Immense wealth is stashed by the super-wealthy against their own future needs and not used by the current economy at all. Assuming that billionaires put all their money to good use is simply naïve.
        If labor got a more equitable share of company profits, it would only be inflationary if demand was already pushing the economy to capacity. We’re nowhere near that. Which is why billionaires and corporations aren’t actually investing. There’s no reason to. So they just sit on record piles of cash.
        In an economy operating below capacity, everybody benefits by injecting cash into the lower levels that are more inclined to spend it. Let’s worry about inflation when we get there. And in the meantime, let’s abandon the fantasy that billionaires benefit the world simply by existing. This is one of the most pernicious falsehoods of the neoclassical/neoliberal bill of goods we have been sold.
        And maybe I’m misreading you, norcal2, but it sure sounds like you’re arguing that the best way to avoid exacerbating wealth inequality is to not take anything away from the wealthy. Interesting how hardship is supposed to spur the poor to greater effort, but the wealthy are only expected to contribute if they are coddled.

      • RPDC

        Cash in circulation is pretty meaningless. If, however, you divided the wealth equally, each person would have nearly $300,000.

    • Jarayspier …. I would like to point out that Marie Antoinette and her husband were trying to bring about reform, and were unwilling to tax the people more during hard times. What followed their removal from office was in due time an ALL POWERFUL LEADER (Napoleon) that taxed them more, and took their sons to a foolish war, that hurt the French more than the King ever did …. What was becoming apparent was the old system of Kings, Lords, and Serfs was being replace by a system that was based on merit ….. The Free Enterprise System ….. Had the people acted wisely, and made a few symple changes, the lives of the people would have improved, but instead of moving to the RIGHT (smaller government) they moved to the LEFT (bigger government with more controls) just as many today want to do…..

      • jayrayspicer

        I didn’t say Marie Antoinette deserved it. Had the people acted wisely, they would have insisted on taxing the rich instead of decapitating them.

  • Kevin Meyer

    I do not think that Acemoglu & Robinson would agree with your thesis that extractive oligarchies *always* collapse. Sometimes they do, sometimes they do not, depending upon (among other things) cultural & institutional arrangements… sometimes the particular extractors are simply replaced by different extractors, and the extractive system remains [largely] unchanged.

    • Marilyn McLean

      believe the authors of Why Nations Fail refer to the contingencies… “an outcome not historically predetermined” pg 110. They also discuss growth under extractive institutions where there can be growth due to labour which can be moved around , and extractive institutions can create wealth in the short term typically where there is a centralized state however it comes to an end and does collapse. Pg 124

    • John M Legge

      The term “collapse” is unfortunate. The mathematical use of the term “catastrophe” catches the situation better: a relatively short period of turbulence leading to a new set of power relationships. Some of the former oligarchs may hold powerful positions in the new structure but some will lose their power and possibly their wealth or even their lives. Much of the cost will be borne by middle level people in the old power structure, and while the ascendant oligarchs will promise that “ordinary” people will benefit from the change this is by no means certain. 1933 saw the ascent of FDR and the New Dealers in the USA, but Hitler and the Nazis in Germany.
      It is polite to forget that there were active, well financed and widely supported admirers of Hitler and enemies of FDR in the US until December 7, 1941.

  • The article gives some useful insights in some contexts, and it also displays some major shortcomings in the depth of the strategic complexity displayed.

    The complete picture is much more complex, and certainly the picture painted is one important aspect (one amongst very many, dozens that are equally as important, and a few that are much more important).

    This site is supposed to be about evolution.
    Evolution is about survival of replicators in strategic contexts.
    Even if one accepts a fully causal reality (as Wolfram does) Wolfram demonstrates that such a reality attains many aspects of maximal computational complexity, and becomes unpredictable (though still causal).
    I strongly suspect that the fundamental levels of reality are actually stochastic, and simply deliver a close approximation to causal at the levels we are able to observe, which delivers a very different sort of reality, where the possibility of real choice, real freedom exists (rather than Dennett’s hidden lottery form).

    Getting back to evolution and replicators more directly, we have two major domains of replications that most evolutionists are now aware of, genetic and mimetic. It seems that there may in fact be an infinitely recursive set of such replicator spaces available at higher levels of abstraction, that are not memes as such, but exist in a different dimensional structure, that in our reality requires genes to deliver and environment where memes can flourish, and memes to deliver an environment for the new replicator. Leaving that thought hanging for the present, lets go back to what historically drives human evolution.

    In a sense, evolution is about differential survival, and about in another sense it is about efficiency of energy utilisation.

    Hunter gatherers required about 1 million square meters per person of land area. The technology was rather inefficient at converting sunlight into human beings, and it did work after its fashion.
    We have gone through many strategic and technological forms, with aspects of our technology on an exponential increase. Some very few people have had some awareness of this extremely complex set of environments and nested contexts of evolution.
    We can currently develop systems that allow a reasonably high standard of living from under 1,000 square meters of sunlight (using efficient solar collectors and robotics).

    Currently we have a technological form that is dominated by market exchange, rather than any sort of overall picture of efficient conversion of energy to human security and freedom.

    Markets were an effective tool for coordination in an age of genuine scarcity of most resources (as noted by Smith and Hayek and others), but as technology has developed to the point of being able to deliver a rapidly exponentially expanding set of abundant goods and services, the scarcity based values of markets and exchange actually become the single greatest threat to the security of every one of us – even those oligarchs at the top.

    Absolute security is a myth, and we can do a lot better than we are.
    Absolute freedom is a myth, and again, we can delivery far greater practical sets of choices to everyone than are currently available. (One always has the freedom to end one’s existence in a sense, and that seems to be the most limited form of freedom. Freedom in any meaningful sense seems to require a reasonable probability of continued existence – and that technology now seems to be available.)

    We either leave our scarcity based paradigm of money and markets behind,and adopt a paradigm that is based in universal abundance, or we have a very low probability of survival (as individuals or as a species) – that much is abundantly clear.

    We have the technology to make distributed manufacturing, and distributed high fidelity trust networks a reality. These things do not require hierarchy or central control. Individuals use context sensitive heuristics to grant authority to those in their trust networks depending upon context, and these cascades of trust and information flow, can deliver very effective and efficient decision making.

    Full automation of manufacturing and service delivery is the key. People can do any aspect of the process they want to, and if they don’t want to, then the automatics can take over and function at a useful level of efficiency (even if not quite so efficient as the best of humanity).
    Information and technology universally available, through trust networks, in near real time (millisecond delays).

    Technically, such systems are not difficult.
    Socially, in a context of market based values, trying to create profit, they are impossible.

    The issue of our age is not reforming markets or money.

    The issue of our age is using distributed automation and communication to make markets and money a redundant paradigm, of historical interest only.

    Elites tend to be conservative, in the sense that they became elite by being successful in the existing context. They tend to rely on things that have worked in the past.
    As failures start to mount in complex systems it is always possible to make a reasonable case that it is some part of the complex system that is at fault, rather than the paradigmatic base of the system as a whole.

    Yet the logic is clear.
    The answers are the same. It works if one assumes causality (as per Aristotle, Wolfram et al) or one assumes stochasticism (as per Rumi, Heisenberg, myself et al) [Rachel Garden’s universal logic is an intermediary paradigm that also appears to deliver the same outcome].

    I see no stable or safe way to continue using markets as a dominant paradigm of value, with the necessary consequence of continued poverty for the mass of humanity.
    We really do seem to be approaching something of a binary – where it really is one of those very rare all or nothing situations at a major paradigm level – and not simply at a quantum or neuronal level.

    If any of us want a reasonable probability of living a very long time with reasonable levels of security and freedom, then we must be able to deliver that to everyone – no exceptions. And there is a test of reasonableness in here.

    • X-7

      Greets Ted. Nice comment, at least what I think I get. Agree markets can’t calibrate complex relationship-value information with reach, speed, accuracy & power.
      Can you expand on this, mostly the 2nd sentence?:
      “The issue of our age is not reforming markets or money.
      The issue of our age is using distributed automation and communication to make markets and money a redundant paradigm, of historical interest only

      Intuit what you’re saying, but not sure. Seems like Larry Chang’s fractal-based econ app — the Planetary Index (PI) — may fit the “distributed automation and communication” orientation?
      http://ow.ly/Znz4G
      His current implementation methodology is to develop an app that runs parallel to monetary code where people could, in the short term, use PI (software code) & monetary code simultaneously.

      • Hi X7
        Chang’s approach does not address the base issue I am pointing to.
        He just develops a different instance of it in a very real sense.

        In an age when most things were genuinely scarce, then it made very good sense to organise around exchange, and to incentivise the production of novel methods of production. As Hayek and others (arguably Marx) pointed out, markets thus served an information processing and coordination function.

        The big issue, is that exchange values are predicated on scarcity.
        When most things (goods or services) required human input, then there was a certain stability in the system.

        We are now in an age of exponential expansion of computational ability (double exponential actually, currently on about a 10 month doubling time).
        What that means, is that full automation of classes of goods and services is expanding faster than human beings can create new skills of value.
        The “labour” side of the labour/capital mix is becoming more and more marginal.

        So we have this really perverse outcome, in that the more we automate production of goods and services (which should make them easily available to all) the less ability there is for those at the bottom end of the economic distribution curve to access them.
        We have the potential for universal abundance of a large and exponentially expanding set of goods and services, but the current exchange based (scarcity based) paradigm of markets and money cannot give a positive value to any universal abundance (by definition it has no exchange value – it is universally abundant).

        Currently people are keeping the system operating by creating artificial legal barriers to such abundance, in terms of concepts like intellectual property, and “health and safety legislation”, which are both actually practical mechanisms for creating scarcity (preventing universal abundance) and thereby maintaining market value for a set of goods and services.

        This has worked for a while, and the spin doctors have been able to convince themselves and others of the merits of what they are doing, but it actually isn’t in anyone’s long term interests.

        There is a large set of very real low probability high impact events that are a very real threat to everyone.
        Mitigation measures for those threats require massive redundancy, and widely distributed and highly interconnected networks (at all levels).
        Markets cannot deliver that long term.

        We need to go post scarcity.
        Fully automated and fully distributed production and information.
        Distributed trust networks.

        Human nature is very complex, very context dependent.
        We can be very cooperative and very competitive.
        Context is king.

        Our current market systems force most people into competitive modes, which is not stable for anyone long term.

        Most people don’t actually want or need a lot of resources (some do, certainly, but not many).
        It is easily possible to deliver to every person a set of goods and services (fully automated) that they would consider fair and reasonable and would not have an issue that some others had much more than that – the freedom and security they experienced from the set of resources available to them would be sufficient context to maintain a cooperative nature for the vast majority of humanity.

        In an age where indefinite life extension is becoming a very real possibility, then all individuals interested in such things need to be thinking about all the many other risk factors to survival – most of which come from strategic interactions within human populations (or the extended set of mimetic and higher order entities within those populations). Money and markets become the major strategic threat in such an environment.
        In the name of personal security, we need to change to an abundance based paradigm. There is an infinite set to choose from, any of which will work. We just cannot any longer afford the risks associated with a scarcity based exchange paradigm (nor do we need to).

        In a very real sense, it is only a sort of “cultural drag” (social inertia) on the conceptual sets of understandings available that hold us in our current pattern.
        Lubricating paradigms are available.

        • X-7

          Agree with the essence of this, not your statement that Chang’s model doesn’t address it. Not sure how you came to that conclusion. I’m not saying his Planetary Index (PI) concept is complete, or even workable. I don’t know. But it’s a theoretical start, one that, to me anyway, appears congruent with repeating patterns across physics / evolution: increases in complexity and information processing facility, to name two.
          It attempts to compute complex relationship-value in-and-across geo eco bio cultural & tech networks, and across time.
          Agree that scarcity can be on the way out for humans, but a functional sky, one of the threats, is scarce.
          PI measures value with a new, exponential reach (a coding system more in line with our species exponential gains in network reach and disruptive impact) and attempts to do so closer to real time, like an immune system. PI can handle, can process abundance, and integrates that potentiality with a functional sky and ocean, and other key network / survival components.
          Agree that monetary code sucks as tech for value computation.
          For readers, here’s more on how exponential complexity has crushed the efficacy of humans using monetary code to calibrate relationship-value: http://ow.ly/Zny2a

          • This is really complex, “tricky” to use a New Zealand colloquial term that may not quite carry the same connotations in other cultures.

            Firstly – agree completely that much of the “code” of both our genetics and our culture and our higher order (post mimetic) evolution is made redundant by the exponential rate of change we find ourselves in (recurse to infinity).
            The really tricky bit, is finding effective ways of judging just what bits of the coding milieu are no longer as utilitarian as they once were, and in what contexts.

            I’ll try and point to an example by a practical analogy from my life.
            I grew up on farms. By four years old I had already worked out how to make herds of animals go where I wanted them to. I could already see that moving a herd meant maintaining a balance between inquisitiveness and caution, and not going over the border into terror (which would cause the herd to fracture). I could already see that the balance of transition between states was different for different individuals within the herd, so the balancing act of how close to the herd I was, and how threatening I was, varied with which individuals were closest to me, and with the general threat level of the context (the closer to buildings the more nervous the individuals, the greater spacing required to maintain balance, etc).
            By four years old I knew how to do that.
            I didn’t understand it in the terms I just outlined, but I could do it in practice.
            The more I did it, the more I studied psychology, cybernetics, behaviour, zoology, games theory, etc; the greater the depth of my understanding, and the more utilitarian and generalised across domain spaces generally became my theoretical understanding, and my neural network was configured for that sort of thing at a very early age.

            Jump forward.
            It is a little over 42 years ago since as an undergrad studying biochemistry it became clear to me that all cellular life alive today is part of a continuum of cellular life that is some 4 billion years old. In this sense, indefinite cellular life is the default condition for cells, and age related senescence is something that certain lines of life have evolved for certain lines of cells – ie aging is a genetically controlled trick that allows for rapid evolution of multicellular complexity. That being the case, at some point we would figure out the exact genetic mechanism and alter it. Indefinite life extension was a real possibility.
            So, given that as a starting position, and being clear that plenty of people were interested in that, and it would most likely happen in my lifetime, I settled into the really difficult question that results from such a realisation.

            Given that indefinite life extension is possible, what sort of social, political and technical institutions (strategies in the deepest sense of strategies, code in the sense you seem to be using in the article you refer to) are required to give potentially long lived individuals a reasonable chance of living a very long time?

            For 17 years I worked as a commercial fisherman, which is a job that occupies the body and leaves the mind very free. It is also a job that is in an ever changing environment (the ocean with its waves, tides, currents, life forms, etc) – much more chaotic than any human context. I read, I contemplated.
            I built my first computer from components.
            Then I bought an assembled one, started programming in earnest. Formed a computer club, met lots of interesting people.

            Eventually sold my fishing interested and started a software company.
            For the last 30 years I have run that software company, and every day that 42 year old question has been with me.

            About half my time I spend exploring new concepts, new ideas, developing new competencies, refining old ones.

            In 1978 I discovered Richard Dawkins’ Selfish Gene, and it transformed the way I thought about culture and individuals. I got the way evolution can recursively explore new domain spaces. I observed post mimetic evolution within my individual consciousness, within the replicator space of my individual neural network.

            I explored domain spaces, looking for commonality, looking for fundamental principals, in as much as such things exist. Read a lot. Met a lot of people, many different groups. By the mid 80s I was active in over 30 formal groups and about a dozen informal ones.

            I finally understood the fundamental limitations of any and all exchange based paradigms. Money and markets are one specific instance of an exchange based paradigm, and none of them can consistently assign a positive value to universal abundance. They fundamentally impose scarcity as a limiting paradigm – kind of like the implicit box that stops most people solving the nine dots problem.

            So in that context, in as much as the PI system is an exchange based paradigm, it does not transcend those limits.
            And in another sense, I can see a certain utility in the paradigm.

            There are many aspects, biological and cultural, to being human that no longer serve our best interests.
            While acknowledging the realities of both biology and culture, I am essentially post both in a very real sense. I survived a terminal melanoma diagnosis by radical change of diet, and reprogramming my neural networks to like new things (years of intentionality without exceptions) – not easy, and doable.

            And there are many aspects of both biology and culture that are very applicable to our current exponential context, and can be powerfully used.

            Human neural nets are very powerful distinction systems, if they are given useful training, and they are prone to a vast array of errors (many explicitly developed in Yudkowski – Rationality A-Z).

            So coming back to moving herds.
            I see the use of tools, like David Snowden’s Sensemaker, and group decision tools like unu.ai as having great utility in the near term, particularly if they are generalised and universally available to all levels of human social interaction.

            So in that sense, I like the dimensionality of Chang’s context, if it is used in the sort of context that Snowden would consider appropriate.

            And in the wider (deeper) context of computation more generally (as in the sorts of complexity that Wolfram explores in NKS, even if he assumes causality, and I prefer to generalise even further to fundamentally stochastic systems which have the strictly causal as one limiting case of an infinite spectrum) it seems clear to me that we must accept the infinite diversity implicit in freedom, even as we accept that freedom cannot be absolute, and that life and liberty are necessarily the highest values of any sapient entity.

            [And I’m not sure if that will clarify anything, and it is the best I can do at this time.]

          • X-7

            Great stuff, thanks, not that I got it all. Know of a bit Dave Snowden but not his Sensemaker, nor am I familiar with the group decision tool you linked. Will check them out. Thanks.
            Not sure this applies, but re your the limitations of exchange paradigms (interesting), intuitively think that may connect with David Deutsch & Chiara Marletto’s Constructor Theory of Information. One distillation he uses re transformations is that they are either possible or impossible. That seems to open up many limitations. Sort of scared to write much about Constructor Theory because I may be getting it wrong.
            This, I feel more secure about, and you may already know this, but William Wimsatt, Martin Nowak, Corina Tarnita, E. O. Wilson & Yaneer Bar-Yam have have all contributed to blowing up Dawkins.
            If interested, you can read the interview I did with E. O. Wilson here:
            http://www.postgenetic.com/Postgenetic/E._O._WILSON.html
            Dr. Bar-Yam blows him up in his book: “Making Things Work”
            Think we’re thinking along quite similar lines, but coming at it from different parts and using different language code … would be good to talk on the phone maybe?
            Plus, I drank Kool-Aid more than Tang as a child, so you know, cognitive limitations …

          • Hi X7,

            This is a seriously yes and no sort of reply.

            Constructor theory is kind of cute, in the same way that Kurt Goedel’s incompleteness theorems are cute.
            Goedel holds a place of eminence in my experience, as being the only individual who’s work I have not been able to falsify in some significant aspect, and I am also clear why he holds that spot. He did it by staying strictly in the realm of logic, and making no assertions at all about reality.
            Constructor theory fails that test immediately, and it is cute – has a certain intellectual symmetry and elegance to it, but not enough to significantly alter my understanding of reality.

            To understand how that might be so, I need to explore your second idea, that Wilson somehow exploded Dawkins. To me that division was more of a burning of a straw effigy, rather than anything of substance.

            The key thing I got from reading Dawkins was the recursive nature of evolution.
            In the domain of genetic replicators, it was there in RNA working with Ribosomes (RNA constructs) to give proteins, and thence opening a whole new realm of catalytic constructors, amplifiers, gates and logical systems (first major recursion). Then on to the level of prokaryotic cells, then eukaryotes, then to multicellular forms, to multiorganed organisms, to wider groupings or social organisation etc. As a biochemist the precise mechanisms for how that was done fascinated me. The physical mechanisms, and the state spaces that delivered for evolution to work in – deeply profoundly beautiful. The simultaneous operation of all the different levels.

            Once brains evolved, then the second major domain step could occur (this was explicitly explored in chapter 11 Memes the new replicator). In one sense Dawkins can be argued as saying that it was a new domain, and in another sense, that it was a step on a potentially infinite recursive path. It was that latter idea that immediately captured my intuitive attention. Having been using the tools of mathematical induction in all spheres of enquiry for over a decade at that point, I applied them here. I had good evidence for cases n=1 (Darwin, Watson-Crick, Dawkins et al) and n=2 (memes, Axelrod, Maynard-Smith, Dawkins et al – and later von Neuman, Babbage, Lovelace, Turing, Wolfram et al), could I find an n=3. Yes I could, me (and I suspect many others, and I had evidence for my own specific case). I looked very deeply within, applied as many tests as I could find, yes – n=3 seemed probable. If I assumed n=k, could I demonstrate proof of n=k’. After a few weeks of exploration, that did in fact seem probable, but I didn’t have the time or interest to develop it formally (my chosen interest lay elsewhere, as already stated).

            So I have never seen any fundamental difference between EO Wilson and Dawkins. They are both just talking about instances of levels of complexity within early level domains of evolution in a sense. They seem mostly just to be talking straight past each other, using different sets of assumptions and not taking sufficient time to generalise the assumption sets to the point that the difference becomes obvious. Having met Richard, and having read enough of Wilson, I can see how that might be so. I’ve spent enough time in Mensa groups to see that in operation at many different levels – one of those aspects of being human that recurses all too easily.

            Which gets us to the really interesting bit, what is reality?

            And that is where I seem to diverge from most.

            It seems very clear to me that reality is a something, and that it very closely approximates a causal domain space at some levels, yet at other levels it seems to display stochastic properties (Heisenberg et al) [Kind of the flip side of Descarte’s “cogito ergo sum”, in a very real sense].

            How could that be?

            Well actually that is quite easy, once you start to get a grip on probability and collections of stochastic systems. Individually stochastic systems are by definition unpredictable, but grouped together they become more and more predictable.
            When you consider that the smallest thing a human eye can resolve is a collection of some 10^18 of these stochastic systems existing for some 10^40 of their time units (state spaces), then it is not at all surprising that our world seems to follow hard causal rules, even quite broad probability distributions can deliver very reliable outcomes over that sort of state space.

            So while I very much enjoyed Wolfram’s NKS, in a sense, I do not at all agree with his stated assumption that reality is founded on hard causality. It is not required. At our current level of technology such an assertion is neither provable nor disprovable. (And I do get how Rule 30 can deliver probabilistic like outcomes, and it can also work back the other way – so it doesn’t actually prove anything in that sense. I reject the notion implicit in hard causality that my existence is an illusion, and claim my choice in a fundamentally Bayesian existence.)

            And don’t get me started on the many forms of QM experimental inference, none of them do a reasonable job of exploring the state space of assumption sets possible – so not worth worrying about at this juncture.

            It seems to me far more elegant that reality has the entire domain of stochastic systems available – from the simple binary of true-false, to the far more esoteric systems of probability that probability theorists from Bayes onward have loved to explore.

            So in this sense, the idea that constructor theory can have anything certain to say about the nature of reality seems to me as ignorant and hubristic as Plato (and acknowledging all the elegance that both have bought to the realm of human thought), and certainly, there will be influences, at different levels – it does seem to be a useful tool in some domains – but not at any sort of fundamental level – reality seems to be somewhat more creative than that.

            One of the key things to get about being human, is that as conscious entities, we have no direct access to reality. All of our experience is of a subconsciously generated model of reality, that is predictive in nature, by some contextually variable number of milliseconds, which leads to all sorts of misunderstandings about the outcomes of certain psychological experiments on the nature of choice and determinism in the human mind as one notable example.

            So here we are.
            Experiential entities experiencing our own personal versions of reality, loosely connect it seems to some actual reality, whatever that actually is.

            And we are so constrained by the things we accept (mostly unconsciously) at every level of awareness (which seem potentially infinite).

            Infinite stacks of infinities – any and all of which hold interesting paths for one to explore – in our eternal ignorance.

            What an amazing existence!!!

            What a serious and debilitating drag, limitation and existential risk, is the currently dominant notion of exchange values!

    • Helga Vierich

      In the human economy of hunting and gathering, we are a feature evolved to generate positive trophic flows that increase diversity and stability within our ecosystems. Humans, thus, initially were are keystone species in most local ecosystems they entered. Even horticultural economies and mobile pastoral economies traditionally coexisted with high wilds biomass ands great species diversity.

      And “mimetic”? I think that term is inadequate. Human cultures do not just consist of mental constructs; in fact they memes and other mental or ideological constructs are systems of explanation and rationalization that prepare people for participation within the kinds of social organizational and institutional forms that emerge in adaptation to the form of economy that the culture develops. Memes thus are not the cause of cultural evolution, but constitute a source of variation that can adapt to new economic circumstances.. which in turn, are adapting to shifts in the rations of resources to population.
      See also my remarks above.

    • Flo_C

      Dang. I wish someone could explain to me in language that I could understand, what you have said here.

    • will

      “Hunter gatherers required about 1 million square meters per person of land area.”

      This is a modernist paradigms, detached from place and presuming an extractive relationship to environment. The range requirements of Hunters/gatherer fishers in the region currently known as coastal Oregon/Washington is entirely different from those in the arctic. Not only does this industrialist model miss out on the vast diversity within H/G cultures, it imagines humans as exploiters and extractors of a resources system that they exist outside of. As Helga Vierich notes below, humans can and have been a species within productive and sustainably generative ecosystems.

      • No argument in a sense.
        As we gain more knowledge of the many levels of relationship and interconnectedness, and are technically capable of integrating much more effectively with the diversity of systems around us. Unfortunately, the current economic paradigm of market capitalism cannot put a positive value on anything that involves universal abundance.

        Many other complicating factors, like beliefs, cultural truths and the many other levels of “habits” in the broadest sense of “habit” that complicate things.

        Right now I am in Kaikoura NZ. We are cut off from road access due to a 7.8 quake just up the road 5 days ago. Power is back on, internet came back yesterday – sewers will be out for months, so a hole in the yard covered by a tent does the job for now. 6 naval vessels visible from our place ferrying in supplies.
        All that sounds great, and it is in a sense, but now people are coming in with systems, and people without any local knowledge are now starting to tell locals that they cannot do things that they have done all their lives, like take 4WD vehicles over unstable roads. So tempers are starting to fray.

        There are ample resources here for everyone, but not everyone is getting what they need.
        I’m fine.
        I was prepared for a major earthquake, and always have several months worth of food and water on hand, also generators, solar PV, tools, etc…. Only minor inconveniance for us. Yet many people had no knowledge of geology, geological risk, or effective risk mitigation strategies. Most of those here to help (all very well meaning) have little or no knowledge of local people, competencies, etc, and are setting rules based on the lowest common denominator.

        This situation has made international news. I’m in the middle of it.
        I was prepared, and I have even got my software business back into full operation, spending much of yesterday online with clients.
        Yet most people in town were not prepared, and now most face major financial hardship.
        Many people had build houses in places that houses should never have been built, but were encouraged to by “economic” incentives. Those houses are now unlivable.

        It is kind of like our whole world economic and political system in microcosm.
        Too many people compartmentalised in their thinking, fixed in their thinking, and unwilling and/or unable to see the bigger pictures, and the many levels of linkages present.

        And the reality remains, that if we use technology effectively, we can deliver abundance to everyone, and reduce our footprint on the planet’s ecology. And that cannot happen in a market based system, because anything universally abundant has no market value. Markets require scarcity to work.

        It is so weird, being here, now – with the mix of technologies and systems, solar panels and laptops, alongside longdrop toilet and wood burning stove. Naval helicopters carrying supplies from ship to shore, at the same time as competent 4WD drive people are not allowed to use a viable access route because it doesn’t meet “highway standards”. Getting to the local store is difficult, communicating with people across the globe is easy.

  • There is not a “THEY” at the top …. The top 1% is made up of 3,000,000 people, the top .1% is made up of 300,000 people, and the top .01% is still 30,000 people! All with differert interest and goals. BIgger Government does benifit those who want to use government to get good Contracts, or like the Clintons to get people to donate to their fund which pays them nicely. …… What Citizen United did was to permit more people to speak out on issues. To make our system more democratic (small “d”). AS voters it is our responsibility to try to limit the power of our national Government and at the same time to reform our tax laws that foolishly taxes Employees and Employers. And does not tax foreign goods, by so doing we are telling employers to go overseas! We should repeal all Labor Based Taxes (FICA, FUI, Fed. Income) and to make up the lost tax revenue we should pass the FAIR TAX on Goods only. This would give workers 8% more take home pay, while giving the same to employers as labor cost reductions. …… BUT unless the PEOPLE speak up for tax reforms we will never see it.

  • SuzanneTaylor

    What a breath of clear air this is. Thanks so much for making such sense. What you’ve laid out fits the Hegelian dialectic of Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis, supplying contemporary data for this map of cyclical change that I keep in mind to help ground me in reality.

    Surprised there’s no discussion here of basic income, which just was mentioned in passing and could be what creates a sea change from a worldview based in greed to one based on compassion. Here’s a new piece with lots of detail: “What Would Happen If We Just Gave People Money?” http://53eig.ht/22TWlS4.

    “A World Without Work” is a video about the problem of not enough jobs no matter what, and of guaranteed income (we called it the BIG, Basic Income Guarantee) being the solution: http://tinyurl.com/q6rmhwf. Bernie Sanders endorsed the idea in this soundbite https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZFnE94ni9I, and what a shame he didn’t sell this game-changer that might have given us a chance to be in a situation where “the public will mobilize behind honest leaders and effective reforms.”

  • Felipe P. Manteiga

    Following published and cross referenced indicators America is not in economic stress.

  • A. Nuran

    In other words, the contradictions of Capitalism

  • Hannes Radke

    Since I’ve read Asimov, I loved extreme birds-eye views of society and human behavior. It just makes more sense this way. This article is just that. Looking forward to the next one!

  • Ceunei

    How encouraging. I have about fifty years left in this body, and the weather will help the change, but it must be ‘good’ change, not ‘bad’ change. The hysteria the Sanders-Trump phenomenon has wrought makes me worry about it all going bad, and the weather isn’t getting any cooler, and it is cooler heads that must prevail.

    So, as I see it, one thing that needs changing the most is parenting.

    The second thing is women must stop attacking and undermining each other at the behest of their culture and religion and progenitor inculcation, and that brings me back to parenting.

    Therefore, I recommend “Screamfree Parenting” by Hal Edward Runkel. The parenting technique requires parents to act like grown ups, and I’ve seen what the parents are sending in to 5K and 1st grade, and too many parents are not modeling grown up behaviors for the posterity, and that is why I despair good change is coming any time soon.

    However, the Desiderata says “No doubt, the universe is unfolding as it should,” and “many persons strive for high ideals,” and “everywhere life is full of heroism” and these are the words that I cling to desperately in order to not lose hope. Also, I read “Freakonomics” by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt at one very low and depressed point in my life, and that helped, too.

    As we used to say in Wisconsin: Forward!

  • rextrek1

    Americans are / were TOO STUPID to LISTEN to BERNIE SANDERS – I say let the US BURN…….F this crap……….Americans are dumbass retards……..I mean look at the GOP assholes, then on the left we have Hillary (same ol same ol) – NOTHING will change……..Sorry we let you down Bernie!

  • alphamale11

    Some good changes. People live longer, that means they can remember what their grandparents lives were like and how things have changed. They also can remember the horseshit that happened a generation or two ago, plus into the next. And witnessing the bull that is going on now and how many truly stupid people there are. If people want to reinforce the hatred of the week and break the decisions down as simplistic as possible they will just take their hatred and do it.

  • DIE_BankofAmerica_PHUKKING_DIE

    Anybody who wants to can work 3 shifts per day at McDonalds, cook and sell meth, and use the proceeds to put themselves through college, get a PhD in molecular biology, a Stanford MBA and join a hedge fund and retire a billionaire at age 40. Why does everyone hate success these days?

  • Les Kuzyk

    I predict an international climate change confrontation between the wealthy and highly impacted less wealthy countries in a novel Pinatubo II https://0urnearfuture.wordpress.com/books/ Globally we now consume 1.6 planets worth of biosphere. Hoping for a soft crash, in place of a collapse, I have researched Jared Diamond’s historical civilizational collapses. And can never forget the last tree scene in the Rapa Nui (Easter Island) film. The author’s sentence “This unity will require solid science, compelling story, and positive dream.” makes believable sense to me.

  • Valkyrie_Ice

    And I have been pointing this out over and over and over and over and over FOR HOW LONG NOW???????????????????????????????????????????????

    http://www.acceler8or.com/2012/01/the-future-according-to-val-part-2-consequences/

    • smendler

      It’s hard being a prophet, ain’t it?

  • John Majkrzak

    America just needs to undo certain doings in DC that were done to direct more power into the hands of fewer people, including those who own the media. Overall the US Constitution is good.

  • smendler

    I am not sure that a focus on “unity” and the “creat[ion of] healthy hierarchical systems” are actually all that essential. One could get lost trying to get all the starlings into a straight line. I say unleash the (intelligent) swarm and see what emerges.

  • The narcissism of believing you’re living through a Revolutionary Moment… It reminds me of Jerry Falwell believing the Second Coming would occur in his lifetime.

    • smendler

      *Every* generation has had people who thought the Second Coming was at hand. Every generation has also had people who thought the system would collapse any second. But let me suggest that “revolutionary moments” are different from both those scenarios: you don’t have to wait for them to happen – they can be created.

  • smendler

    I am reminded of Abbie Hoffman’s dictum: “Democracy is like chicken soup: if you don’t stir it up once in a while, the scum rises to the top.”

  • The real rich keep their mouths shut, do not flaunt their wealth, and live their lives quietly, shunning the limelight. Donald Trump is a self-aggrandizing, ignorant lout who came by his wealth through his inheritance and no oversight was given him as to what to do with it. He boasts of his success, yet the public record shows that he does not know what he is talking about, he does not pay his contractors and also finds ways to cheat his workers. He claimes the minimum wage is too high, yet the minimum wage should be higher accounting for the cost of living, which Congress had failed to work on when they had ample time to do it.

    This is not a clear example of an oligarchy on the brink of collapse, but of a political season rife with displeasure at the workings of political servants who had lost sight of their purpose for being in office, led by a group of them who decided that they would blockade the president because he won the popular vote of the people and happens to be black. They determined that they would not work with him, refused to enact legislation which they were initially willing to do before he was elected, and in other ways managed to take too much time off and postpone important votes, so that nothing was done in the last 8 years. Now there is grumbling among them that the president is using executive privilege to make an end run around their blockade. Whose fault is that? Theirs.

    The perception of an “oligarchy” is a false one, painted by those who don’t know what has really been going on. Our economy will collapse eventually from the sheer weight of itself, thanks to the failure of Congress to do its job. Blame that on the elected officials who have hamstrung our progress as a country, not on those who have taken an active part of shoring up our economy through their philanthropy and private research. So many charitable foundations are financed by the rich. Think what would happen if they were not there to help those less fortunate than them. The economy would have remained as it was since 2007 and no one would benefit from the intercessions the rich have given us. They are not evil, simply lucky that they had parents who brought them up from nothing, and they are trying to pay it back. To blame them for the ills of our economy is to turn our backs on reality.

  • The rich are creating one great big financial ark, on which they and only they will survive. When the crash of crashes comes, they will have made themselves so safe from the tsunami of shit that will hit the global fan, that only they will rise out from it.

    And after that, there will be no money. It will be something people will only read about in history books.

    The Human Race 2.0 will be free of money, will have AI serving us, and will have all the resources it needs to keep its one billion or less population in luxury and safety.

  • Dan Slaby

    I think the article is misguided by a fundamental belief in class structure; the whole historical progression is more complex than the prophetic paradigm of Karl Marx where industrialization occurred in fairly ethnically homogeneous societies. Globalization has created a transnational network of megacities (over 1 million population) that has raised the welfare of a large majority, but with the consequence of migration faster than the economy can create employment and good living conditions. The populist paradigm of class fratricide only leads to authoritarian states governed by a new corupt elite of populist leaders.

  • Suomy Nona

    I hate America…I wish i could leave but i dont have the money

  • Nelliana Calvert

    Please investigate a Resource Based Economy as proposed by The Venus Project and The Zeitgeist Movement, along with many other organizations. Alternative economic models are out there you simply have to look for them.

    • SLDI

      The Universal Principles of Sustainable Development
      by Sustainable Land Development Initiative

      As a comprehensive sustainable development decision model, The SLDI Code™ functions as a completely integrated, fractal matrix which leads decision-makers from the foundation of triple-bottom-line sustainability to sustainable results… http://www.triplepundit.com/2011/02/universal-principles-sustainable-development/

  • Curt Welch

    All very true. The fix to get is loads this transistion is a Basic Income. Simple to implement but hard to get people to understand and support.

  • Helmut_Schmidt69

    I think “economic royalists” is not the best term here. It’s effective propaganda for certain audiences, but may confuse others.

  • brad

    LOL US citizens don’t stand a chance… your only hope is military personnel willing to get the job done against a fascist dictator if it comes to that…

  • Jonathan Oskins

    I own the book “Transformations: Mathematical Approaches to Culture Change”. While you may have been summarizing, not quoting verbatim, his chapter, “Systems collapse as social transformation: Catastrophe and anastrophe in early state societies”, i wanted to share what he wrote about “General Features of System Collapse”:
    Collapse
    1. Collapse of central administrative organization of the early state:
    a. Disappearance or reduction in number of levels of central place hierarchy
    b. Complete fragmentation or disappearance of military organization into (at most) small, independent units
    c. Abandonment of palaces and central storage facilities
    d. Eclipse of temples as major religious centers (often with their survival, modified, as local shrines)
    e. Effective loss of literacy for secular and religious purposes
    f. Abandonment of public building works
    2. Disappearance of the traditional elite class:
    a.
    Cessation of rich, traditional burials (although different forms of
    rich burial frequently emerge after a couple of centuries)
    b. Abandonment of rich residences, or their reuse in impoverished style by “squatters”
    c. Cessation in the use of costly assemblages of luxury goods, although individual items may survive
    3. Collapse of centralized economy:
    a. Cessation of large-scale redistribution or market exchange
    b. Coinage (where applicable) no longer issued or exchanged commercially, although individual pieces survive as valuables
    c. External trade very markedly reduced, and traditional trade routes disappear
    d. Volume of internal exchange markedly reduced
    e. Cessation of craft-specialist manufacture
    f.
    Cessation of specialized or organized agricultural production, with
    agriculture instead on a local “homestead” basis with diversified crop
    spectrum and mixed farming
    4. Settlement shift and population decline:
    a. Abandonment of many settlements
    b. Shift to dispersed pattern of smaller settlements
    c. Frequent subsequent choice of defensible locations—the “flight to the hills”
    d. Marked reduction in population density
    Aftermath
    5. Transition to lower (cf. “earlier”) level of sociopolitical integration:
    a.
    Emergence of segmentary societies showing analogies with those seen
    centuries or millennia earlier in the “formative” level in the same area
    (only later do these reach a chiefdom or “florescent” level of
    development)
    b. Fission of realm to smaller territories, whose boundaries may relate to those of earlier polities
    c.
    Possible peripheral survival of some highly organized communities still
    retaining several organizational features of the collapsed state
    d. Survival of religious elements as “folk” cults and beliefs
    e. Craft production at local level with “peasant” imitations of former specialist products (e.g., in pottery)
    f.
    Local movements of small population groups resulting from the breakdown
    in order at the collapse of the central administration (either with or
    without some language change), leading to destruction of many
    settlements
    g. Rapid subsequent regeneration of chiefdom or even state society, partly influenced by the remains of its predecessor
    6. Development of romantic Dark Age myth:
    a.
    Attempt by new power groups to establish legitimacy in historical terms
    with the creation of genealogies either (a) seeking to find a link with
    the “autochthonous” former state or (b) relating the deeds by which the
    “invaders” achieved power by force of arms
    b. Tendency among early
    chroniclers to personalise historical explanation, so that change is
    assigned to individual deeds, battles, and invasions, and often to
    attribute the decline to
    hostile powers outside the state territories (cf. 5f)
    c.
    Some confusion in legend and story between the Golden Age of the early
    vanished civilization and the Heroic Age of its immediate aftermath
    d.
    Paucity of archaeological evidence after collapse compared with that
    for preceding period (arising from loss of literacy and abandonment or
    diminution of urban centers)
    e. Tendency among historians to accept
    as evidence traditional narratives first set down in writing some
    centuries after the collapse
    f. Slow development of Dark Age
    archaeology, hampered both by the preceding item and by focus on the
    larger and more obvious central place sites of the vanished state
    Diachronic Aspects
    7.
    The collapse may take around 100 years for completion (although in the
    provinces of an empire, the withdrawal of central imperial authority can
    have more rapid effects).
    8. Dislocations are evident in the earlier
    part of that period, the underlying factors finding expression in human
    conflicts- wars, destructions, and so on.
    9. Boundary maintenance
    may show signs of weakness during this time, so that outside pressures
    leave traces in the historical record.
    10. The growth curve for many
    variables in the system (including population, exchange, agricultural
    activity) may take the truncated sigmoid form seen in Figure 21.1.
    11. Absence of single, obvious “cause” for the collapse.

  • Nick

    Great article but to me misses the crucial factor of global population growth. The resulting pressure is incredible. The discussion to date ignores the iachievement of accommodating the population growth of china. The last time we had such growth we had two world wars and colonialism.

    Similarly in the discussion of brexit, we ignore the incredible achievement of enlargement. How on earth did we avoid total chaos and dictatorship in the former USSR? Those technocrats of the EU. The elite.

    So I think the discussion needs to take on board what the elite did achieve. Otherwise there is a bit of a danger that instead of learning something new – I get caught up in a dialogue of people telling me they were right all along. Not what I need right now. I need sensible and genuine engagement to help me see what next.

    Thanks

  • Commander Khan

    “Why Sally Goerner Signals an Intelligentsia on the Brink of a Civilization-Threatening Collapse”

    I haven’t written this vital story yet, but I will if someone pays me.

  • Commander Khan

    Fascism is the solution to entrenched oligarchy and out of control global capitalism, not the problem. The Bernie Sanders gang is never going to defeat the oligarchy, but the military, led by a popular leader, can easily. I don’t see what’s so scary here. Fascism is a centrist movement. If the leader deviates too far from the popular will, he can be replaced by force. This is a practical system that can boost the economy, strengthen its security and unify and revitalize the nation. It’s simply fascism time now.