What Would a Rational Society Do With Its “Elite Overproduction?”

“elite overproduction” … refers to a growing class of elites who are competing for a limited number of elite positions, such as political appointments. __Klint Finley in Wired Magazine

Elite overproduction also refers to tenured professorships at elite universities, “thinktank” positions, board memberships of foundations, corporations, and activist lobbies, etc. This term is being made famous by Peter Turchin, an “elite” tenured professor at U. Connecticut — and perhaps an example of the phenomenon he describes.

With too many lawyers, too many civil servants, too many policy-makers, too many “intellectuals” — before you know it, a society becomes constipated with incompetent know-it-alls who are helpless in real life crises, when hands-on skills and quick decisive action are crucial. In Turchin’s own words:

Elite overproduction generally leads to more intra-elite competition that gradually undermines the spirit of cooperation, which is followed by ideological polarization and fragmentation of the political class. This happens because the more contenders there are, the more of them end up on the losing side. A large class of disgruntled elite-wannabes, often well-educated and highly capable, has been denied access to elite positions. __ Peter Turchin

Besides high-level superfluous elites, we find superfluous elites at many levels of society. Too many trial lawyers, for example, can lead to an excess of frivolous tort lawsuits, draining off an excess of society’s resources to non-productive use. Tele-evangelists and their organisations might represent another wasteful excess “elite.” Public sector labour unions have their own scum of overpaid excess elite floating on the surface, as do all groups with political connections. Like organised crime gangs, parasitic elites are apt to attach themselves within any niche of society that is foolish enough to accept them. (for a related idea, see Paul Johnson’s “Intellectuals” (PDF))

Something should be done about an overproduction of fatuous yet grasping “elites,” and Turchin should be thanked for pointing the problem out. But Turchin himself might be considered an example of the very phenomenon he describes.

Turchin is a champion of a field he himself helped fabricate: Cliodynamics. Impressive to some for its complex charts and models, it is less impressive or credible to those who work with complex models routinely. That is particularly so for those who work with complex models that must be shown to be effective . Most academic or political models are not required to actually work, in order to advance the careers of those who advocate them.

Cliodynamics Chart of US Political Violence 1780 - 2020 http://www.wired.com/2013/04/cliodynamics-peter-turchin/all/

Cliodynamics Chart of US Political Violence 1780 – 2020

What Turchin and his colleagues have found is a pattern of social instability. It applies to all agrarian states for which records are available, including Ancient Rome, Dynastic China, Medieval England, France, Russia, and, yes, the United States. Basically, the data shows 100 year waves of instability, and superimposed on each wave — which Turchin calls the “Secular Cycle” — there’s typically an additional 50-year cycle of widespread political violence. The 50-year cycles aren’t universal — they don’t appear in China, for instance. But they do appear in the United States.

The 100-year Secular Cycles, Turchin believes, are caused by longer-term demographic trends. They occur when a population grows beyond its capacity to be productive, resulting in falling wages, a disproportionately large number of young people in the population, and increased state spending deficits… ____

Most modern consumers of news and information assume that a published “data-based” chart or model must have some credibility, or relationship to the real world. And sometimes such a relationship exists. But don’t count on it — particularly if it purports to reveal inside information about the future.

Jason Collins:

… I am sceptical of the “chartist” approach of Turchin and others who extend their search of patterns and causation to identifying cycles. In particular, Turchin and colleagues have identified two historical cycles:

The first, which they call the secular cycle, extends over two to three centuries. It starts with a relatively egalitarian society, in which supply and demand for labour roughly balance out. In time, the population grows, labour supply outstrips demand, elites form and the living standards of the poorest fall. At a certain point, the society becomes top-heavy with elites, who start fighting for power. Political instability ensues and leads to collapse, and the cycle begins again.

Superimposed on that secular trend, the researchers observe a shorter cycle that spans 50 years — roughly two generations. Turchin calls this the fathers-and-sons cycle: the father responds violently to a perceived social injustice; the son lives with the miserable legacy of the resulting conflict and abstains; the third generation begins again. Turchin likens this cycle to a forest fire that ignites and burns out, until a sufficient amount of underbrush accumulates and the cycle recommences.

This conclusion is difficult to reconcile with a view of history as the outcome of a complex system, where what seem to be repeated cycles may be transitory and long periods of apparent calm may end with sudden shifts. Black swan events (even relatively small) can have large effects. Turchin appears to be aware of complexity theory from what I have read of his writings and he adopts many of the tools that has emerged from it, so I find his focus on cycles surprising. __ Jason Collins in Evolving Economics blog

“Cycle theories” can often be particularly seductive. A host of natural phenomena occur in cycles. But when it comes to human cultures and societies, trends are generally not so neatly cyclical — but more chaotic. Some societies disappear from the planet entirely. Others are conquered by outside forces, or overrun by immigrant peoples, religions, mind-altering drugs, and ways of speaking, thinking, and acting such that nothing is the same afterward.

An example of a continent that is drowning under the dead-weight of superfluous and excess effete elites, is Europe — The Sick Man of Europe. Europe is so burdened down by superfluous intellectual elites, that is is paralysed and helpless to work itself out of its own binds of economy, energy, helplessness in the face of a declining but militant Russia, and failing demographics.

Europe’s poor economy stems in large part from policy. The strong welfare state so admired by progressives here has also made Europe a very expensive place to do business. High taxes and welfare costs, long tolerable in an efficient economy like Germany, have a way of catching up with companies and countries. This has been particularly notable after the financial crisis; since 2008 the unemployment rate has shot up 5 percentage points while dropping steadily in the Untied States.

The European-wide embrace of “green” energy policies has been tough particularly for manufacturers. Under Chancellor Merkel, Germany has embraced a massive shift to green energy that has helped raise electricity costs for companies by 60% over the past five years to double the rates in the United States.

… The young are arguably the biggest losers in Europe’s decline. Even though birthrates are very low throughout much of Europe from Germany, Italy and Spain to the eastern countries, those now coming into the workforce face extraordinarily high levels of unemployment, topping 50% in some places. It’s no wonder that some are dubbing them a “lost generation.”

The combination of low birth rates and declining prospects contribute to rising concerns about immigration. __ Joel Kotkin . . . The Sick Man of Europe is Europe

Europe’s populations are declining, except among low-IQ immigrants who lack the will or ability to maintain complex infrastructures and systems of secular justice.

This brings up an interesting question: Is Russia, with its mafia-like leadership class, in a better position to face future challenges than Europe, with its ideology-bound leadership classes of ineffectual and incompetent “elites”?

Europe’s economy is much larger and more versatile than Russia’s. The Russian economy is smaller than that of California, after all, and is heavily dependent upon the export of natural resource commodities. But Russia has nuclear weapons, some of which probably work — despite Russia’s abysmal tendency toward poor maintenance and pan-drunkenness.

There is one more concept that I would like to mention, in this context. We should not confuse the utility of “the productive leisure class” with the superfluity and destructiveness of “elite overproduction” as described by Turchin. A stupid person might easily turn the concept of “elite overproduction” into an all-out war against the rich and successful. But that would be the equivalent of cutting off one’s head to spite his heart.

We owe a tremendous debt to intelligent persons of “the leisure class” throughout history, who were able to support their own profound and radical forays into science, philosophy, medicine, and many other crucial fields of study.

Much of the civilisation we enjoy is the work of leisured men and women who put their time to good account. Plato came from the Athenian leisure class, and though he taught for 40 years in the grove of Academe, this was not work as commonly understood, then or now; unpaid too. Among his pupils was Aristotle, a leisured son of a successful doctor, and always nattily dressed. He was not paid, strictly speaking, for acting as tutor to Alexander the Great, and the 800 talents Alexander later gave him was for his scientific and manuscript collection and museum.

Among those who never had to earn their own living were Darwin and Gibbon. Kant and Hegel enjoyed the leisure to establish themselves as philosophers before they accepted academic posts. Goethe’s father was a rich lawyer (his grandfather, it is true, was a tailor), and the young poet and flâneur was a Bertie Wooster type until he acquired the wisdom to get down to serious scientific and literary work. __ Paul Johnson

We need these intelligent and productive sons and daughters of the leisure classes. What we do not need is more and more stupid people in voting booths, civil service bureaus, and positions of authority.

The sad fact of the world is that most humans are stupid. I am not talking about “below the IQ of 100 stupid”, but rather “below the IQ of 80 stupid.” It is even worse, since the most rapidly procreating populations live in sub Saharan Africa, and the mean IQ in that region is about 75, plus or minus 5. Half the population with IQs below 75 is pretty darned stupid! And it grows worse by the day.

More advanced societies cannot afford to let their superfluous excess political, academic, media, and cultural elites drag their societies down. The prospects for replacement flowing in from the third world are not favourable to an abundant and expansive future.

Provisions need to be made, for a number of different possibilities. The most likely possibilities are the ones that are almost never mentioned by our political, academic, media, and cultural elites.

Give it some serious — and original — thought. You cannot afford to let anyone else do your thinking for you.

More: When “elite overproduction” clots the arteries of thought and action within more advanced nations, more primitive nations take advantage of this paralysis to do their own mischief. Not only barbarous Islamic groups such as ISIS, but established governments are working to create chaos for their own advantage:

Two leaders who will remain in power for the foreseeable future are Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese Premier Xi Jinping – both of whose countries have generated instability in their respective regions. Long before Russia invaded Ukraine, China was engaged in territorial disputes with several of its neighbors, most notably in the East and South China Seas. __ Grave New World

Most of the international mischief being done by the dictators in Moscow and Beijing is done in secret, in the way of preparation for future chaos. For the barbarians of Islam to sew chaos, the only need is for fertile muslims to migrate to advanced secular countries along with a few Islamic supremacists to tend and intimidate every flock.

Another take on how cycles may play in a larger scheme:


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4 Responses to What Would a Rational Society Do With Its “Elite Overproduction?”

  1. jabowery says:

    A rational society would eliminate its elite overproduction by imposing these minimalist rules for sorting proponents of social theories into governments that test them.

    Any system of government that doesn’t implement sortocracy of this type is begging for everyone with anything resembling talent or any delusions that they have anything resembling talent, to waste their entire life contending for control of the social theory being imposed on everyone else.

  2. XVO says:

    By definition aren’t half of people above 100 and the other half below 100 iq?

    • alfin2101 says:

      It depends on the population being tested, and the population on which the test had been “normed.” The procedures are straightforward. The common way of comparing different populations that exhibit different score distributions, is to use one of the populations as the norming population. This allows the different populations to be scored on the same scale.

  3. Abelard Lindsey says:

    The modern elites are often described as “limousine liberals”, which is actually the modern version of what Machiavelli called the “Gentry” in “The Discourses”. Machiavelli says several times that the “gentry” are incompatible with any kind of civil society (and productive accomplishment) and calls for their extermination several times through out “The Discourses”. I believe this to be the appropriate resolution to the “elites” question.

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