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What Ancient History Has To Say About Near-Future Doom

Quote:The Roman Republic was decaying long before Julius Caesar marched on the city in 49 B.C. and toppled it for good. One of the pivotal moments in that decay came just three decades earlier, during the brief dictatorship of Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix.
Comparisons between 21st century America and the late republic are a bit cliché, and frequently overwrought. But there's one choice Sulla made that has a direct parallel in modern politics.
Although Sulla ruled as dictator for just one year before retiring into private life, he packed a lot into those months. Not only did he butcher thousands of potential rivals, he also instituted sweeping reforms, some of which contributed to the republic's eventual demise. For example, Sulla doubled the size of the Senate, from about 300 men to roughly 600. As Cambridge classics scholar Mary Beard detailed in her recent book "SPQR," this had the side effect of burdening Rome's political system with a bigger elite than it could possibly handle...
This article will be right up Mike's alley! Big Grin
Yes it is. Big Grin 

It sounds like Turchin is hedging his bets.  In his manuscript for his new book on the secular cycle in America he has the Civil War as a mid-cycle conflict, that is one that did not solve the problem of elite overproduction and start a new secular cycle.  But here is makes the case that elite overproduction was very much the case in the run up to the Civil War.  As I see it the Civil War destroyed one category of elites, Southern slaveowners, every bit as effectively as William the Conqueror eliminated Saxon elites.  That is the Civil War solved the problem of elite proliferation for the times.  Industrial elites (e.g. Robber Barons) were not (yet) a major factor in 1860, a majority of the workforce were still farmers.  

[Image: figure4.jpg]

The figure above shows the value of a slave in terms of economic impact (that is, what would impact politics). A major plantation owner with 500 slaves would hold wealth of about $150 million in 1837, and when you add land it would be about $250 million.  In comparison the single largest fortune at the time (a Northerner I believe) I estimate at $6 billion in 2011.  There were 13 slaveowners with 500 or more slaves in 1860.  I suspect the situation was similar to today.  The richest northerners were those like Bill Gates or the tech billionaires who got rich in the hot new industry of the time and did not exercise political power in proportion to their wealth.  Thus, although a dozen "quarter billionaires" did not collectively posses the money of the richest northerners, the latter were probably more disengaged for politics, whereas the Southern elites, like the Koch brothers, were plugged in.  As a result the South was dominant politically for longer than their relative wealth would suggest (look at how many early presidents hailed from the South). By 1860 they were seriously outnumbered both in terms of elite numbers and elite wealth (clout), however and politics went the culturally Northern way.

The Civil War saw the complete destruction of the Southern elite as a class. When you take the impact of slavery into account, as I have done below but which many scholars have not, you can see a distinct reduction in inequality (although short-lived) after the Civil War.

[Image: Amer-sec-cycles.gif]

If I am correct, this means that Turchins's secular cycle corresponds to the S&H generational cycle, which was not the case for the agrarian era.  In this case, having an understanding of the saeculum can provide insights that Turchin does not have.

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