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Friday, November 27, 2015

Yes, but WHICH century/ies?

At the blog Noahpinion, economist Noah Smith posits the arc of a century:

Phase 1: Technological Change. A huge burst of new stuff gets invented. Growth accelerates. 

Phase 2: Globalization. New tech and growth create new global supply chains. Trade and migration accelerate.  

Phase 3a: Inequality. New tech and globalization offer lots of opportunity for rich people to deploy their capital. New supply chains, products, and markets allow entrepreneurs to evade incumbents, vested interests, and governments. First movers make fortunes. Rich people deploy their wealth to restrain government attempts at regulation and redistribution, to keep the party going. Meanwhile, workers are forced to compete with foreigners and immigrants, and are also forced to pay the costs of reskilling in response to tech changes and globalization. Widespread inequality results.

Phase 3b: Cultural Change. New economic opportunities allow previously disempowered groups to gain power and status. Tech disrupts traditional family structures. Culture changes rapidly.

Phase 3c: Financialization. The need to finance new tech industries and new global supply chains expand the size of the finance sector. This results in large asset bubbles.

Phase 3d: Geopolitical Shifts. New supply chains and new tech mean some previously poor countries are now able to become rich. With wealth comes power. New great powers destabilize the geopolitical order.

Phase 4: Rise of Extremism. Economic inequality precipitates the rise of "leveling" (leftist) movements. Anger at cultural change and fear of competition with immigrants, mixed with displaced anger over inequality, precipitate the rise of reactionary (rightist) movements. Rightists and leftists feed off of each other, each portraying the other as an existential threat in order to frighten the populace into turning to the opposite extreme. Extremist politicians abuse veto points in political systems to paralyze governments and make countries effectively ungovernable.

Phase 5: Economic Slowdown. The collapse of a global bubble begins a protracted worldwide economic slowdown. For whatever reason (overhang of debt? extrapolative expectations? hysteresis? secular stagnation? some weird disruption to trade networks?), the economy does not recover quickly to previous growth rates. Because of extremist control of veto points, policy is unable to respond to the slowdown. Centrists on both the left and right are discredited and toppled. 

Phase 6: War. Extremists may fight each other in civil wars. Alternatively, geopolitical disruptions may lead to international conflict between new and incumbent powers. Extremists push their governments toward fighting external enemies, assassinating or toppling moderate leaders who refuse to fight. If a country is too weak to fight external enemies, or if no such enemies are close by, civil war results instead.

Phase 7: New Order. Out of the chaos and destruction of the wars emerges a new stable geopolitical order. Left-right extremist conflicts cause society to be exhausted by violence, and moderates slowly return to power. The exigencies of war cause governments to reestablish control over their economies, creating a new set of vested interests and protected incumbents. Inequality is dramatically reduced by destruction of wealth in wars. New incumbents provide a new "social model" that creates economic security for the masses.

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