Event Information:

  • Fri

    Ages of Discord: a structural-demographic analysis of political violence waves

    Peter Turchin, NTU Complexity Institute lecture, Singapore

    A useful approach to thinking about why outbreaks of political violence (scaling up to revolutions and civil wars) occur is to separate the causes into structural conditions and triggering events. Specific triggers of political upheaval, such as self-immolation of a Tunisian fruit vendor, are very hard, perhaps impossible to predict. On the other hand, structural pressures build up slowly and predictably, and are amenable to analysis and forecasting. Quantitative historical analysis reveals that complex human societies are affected by recurrent — and predictable — waves of political violence (P. Turchin and S. A. Nefedov. Secular Cycles. Princeton Univ. Press; 2009). The structural-demographic theory suggests that such seemingly disparate social indicators as stagnating or declining real wages, a growing gap between rich and poor, overproduction of young graduates with advanced degrees, and exploding public debt, are actually related to each other dynamically. Historically, such developments have served as leading indicators of looming political instability. In my presentation I will describe a dynamical model based on structural-demographic theory and illustrate it with data on economic, social, and political dynamics in nineteenth century America, including the most violent episode of political instability in the U.S. history, the American Civil War. I also discuss what this theory tells us about the U.S. today.