THE FUTURE OF FINANCE BLOG

Trump, Sanders, and the Collapse of the American Oligarchy

April 26, 2016

 

The following guest blog post is by Dr. Sally Goerner, Capital Institute’s Science Advisor.

“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

cartoon-of-the-decade

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.

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.

Comment<Back
  • ProsperityForRI

    The Green Party is working to hlep this transition be non violent and democratic. Join us.

  • Sally, I am impressed with you presentation of the problem and I was impressed with John Fullerton’s presentation in Vancouver. Yet I feel you are both underestimating the amount of overshoot that has to be dealt with this cycle. The overshoot is larger than you have proposed from a rising stratification of wealth with its untended disenfranchisement of a broad base of the economy. A decrease in delivered energy, would produce a decrease in carrying capacity. Combined the resulting scarcity would increase conflict, and migration, decrease production and trade, and divert resources from supporting people to supporting conflict or defense. These additional forces might cause a permanent collapse of civilization.

    Thus it might be good for humankind, to be proactive in not letting the next cycle complete itself. To prevent the worst outcomes, I have proposed a broader view of the predicament which then supports non-business-as-usual behaviors. see:

    Unwinding the Human Predicament — working document
    http://www.skil.org/position_papers_folder/PlanForUnwindingThePredicament.html

    Jack Alpert alpert@skil.org

    • Sally Goerner

      It is not so much that I under-estimate the problems we face; rather I feel it is important to emphasize the positive potential because loss of hope tends to demoralize those who are already making change and thus accelerate what could indeed be permanent collapse

  • Nice. Would be nice to incorporate a discussion of the changing employment landscape and the relationship between automation and the decrease in the need for manual labor.

    • Sally Goerner

      I believe the lion ‘s share of the employment problem comes from oligarchic business practices. As long as our corporations are run for the profit of elites only – and not the people who actually create wealth – then “employment” by outsourcing, wage- and benefit-minimizing oligarchs will always be a problem. In contrast, economist Richard Wolfe suggests that “Democracy at Work” will eventually cure oligarchic capitalism because having all “employees” participate in major decisions such as whether to outsource jobs, poison local water or up CEO pay makes business more employee and consumer friendly. In The Work of Nations, Robert Reich similarly shows that those companies that are thriving today are investing in their human capital in order to pursue “high-value capitalism” — which is beginning to replace “high-volume industrialism” run by corporate oligarchs.

  • Doc Hall

    Like Jack Alpert, I see us drastically underestimating the severity of change required. The chaos of the transitions following the 1760s, the 1850s, or the 1920s was tame by comparison. Climate change exacerbates many other impending calamities. We fear seriously contemplating them separately, while intellectually seeing the causal linkages of many calamities reinforcing each other taxes our brain power beyond its bandwidth capacity.

    Trapped in our current systems of thought, this depth of change is hard to conceptualize, both intellectually and emotionally. Until severely jolted, we tend to be overoptimistic, thinking that we only have to change a few practices and life will go on. And we all tend to see the future through the prisms of our lifetime experience: finance, engineering, biology, and so on.

    Clearsighted pessimists like The Archdruid (John Michael Greer) consider all to be lost; that we are incapable of evolving ourselves as fast as the future overtaking us, so at best our progeny, if any survive, will be condemned to live in a new version of the Dark Ages.

    Technically, we know a great deal that can be done, and many little movements have set about doing them, albeit very timidly and very small scale compared with the need. Only if these movements begin to meld into a huge mass effort are we going to escape the folly of our prior presumptive “progress.”

    We even have competing visions of this potential new world, each one couched in somewhat different terms, and each underpinned by its own shaky assumptions, for example, the Tellus Institute model, The New Society Model, Regenerative Capitalism, perhaps one from the Post-Carbon Institute, and of course, a direction of sorts from my own organization, The Compression Institute. And there are others, including Jack Alpert’s.

    All of these models recognize that if we are going to preserve human life in any great numbers, we have to very quickly shed our extravagant resource consumption footprints. But to do that we need not only different technologies, but a very different guiding vision. That is a shift that recognizes that our reason for living is to preserve continued life; it’s not to produce and consume to the max.

    Doing anything like that turns our frameworks of thought on their heads. In finance, for instance, what’s the purpose of interest (which presumes growth)? If interest becomes a very limited concept, what is the purpose of funds? What has to change in social assumptions if the global population actually stopped growing and shrank? And how could we do this without degenerating into chaos — endless wars of all against all?

    Any chance of digging deeper into this dismal sounding abyss?

    Doc Hall
    Compression Institute
    http://www.compression.org

    • Sally Goerner

      I’ve written a couple of books about today’s parallels to really large transitions, like the shift between the medieval and modern transformation which included the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment. My premise is that systems concepts and tools emerging across scientific disciplines is creating a second “scientific Revolution”. My hope is that the substance and vision coming out of this new “Copernican Flip” will provide us more solid foundation for today’s new “Enlightenment” efforts. The core change of economic vision that emerges is that the only route to lasting economic vitality is to build healthy human networks. We are currently working on combining physical, biological, historical and social science insights into what makes human networks healthy to create a clear picture of how we need to revise our practice. Much of this turns out to fit commonsense and practices – like reciprocity – that are as old as the hills.

      • I certainly agree we need common sense practices, and a lot could be done with them. It’s also evident we’re leaving big things out somehow. One clear sign is that even the most logical common interests are generally not what anyone is talking about.

        For example, that we just are not doing or studying “sustainable development” if today’s SD accounting practices still leave uncounted nominally 90% of the impacts that business decisions determine. That’s a very fair general estimate when you look at the amazing list of things the economists (at the direction of the OECD it seems) took off the list of things to count quite arbitrarily.

        At present the impacts arbitrarily excluded include the normal largest impact of businesses, paying for human services, paying business people, professional services, financing and taxes, as if the direct consumption paid for to get those services wasn’t “consumption for production” just as for technology as far as environmental impact goes. The one and only difference is that the human services can be said to be provided by other humans, and how it’s done is not directly controlled by instruction. It seems historically that was enough to feign having no responsibility for what service providers did with the money you gave them, even though you knew very well they’d do the same things the business decision makers would do with their shares.

        To include those only takes realizing that business decisions are responsible, and realizing the statistical practice would require the default assumption of “average” rather than “zero” for those consumption impacts paid for to do business. Then you’d collect the data on the “impacts uncounted” to get to create reliable global ESG balance sheets, and be able to equally inform all sectors of society on the scope and scale of decision making impacts to guide individual decisions. That’s what I proposed, as the “common sense practice” we’d follow, calling it a “World SDG”,

        People have clearly indicated they prefer to live in total denial of money having any predictable impacts, though the evidence is really very very clear.

        Impacts Uncounted
        http://www.synapse9.com/_SDinteg/ImpactsUncountedl.pdf
        World SDG
        http://synapse9.com/signals/2014/02/03/a-world-sdg/

  • What gets me in trouble on this issue seems to be my insisting on radical truthfulness. Bernie promises unsustainable solutions, focusing on giving everyone a fair share of the unsustainable spoils of “big money”. It’s such an ancient problem, society politics focusing on fighting over the spoils, not paying attention to where they come from… I’m pretty sure all preceding attempts at reform were shortsighted too. We really need a whole system view, not more politics.

    I think one needs to start comparing the answers you’d get between self-serving arguments for shares of unearned wealth and uses of the wealth in the common interest. The one argument would maximize cheating the numbers and omit most unpowerful constituencies, The other would minimize the cheating. What we need then is a view of *radical truthfulness* from an *us all* for the common good. Bernie’s view is great for getting people to respond to injustice, I certainly like, but it’s from a we-they view that would leave us with a world working the same way. So I think he’s “behind the ball” and would really like him to catch up.

    It doesn’t deliver justice to fund social services on unsustainable sources of wealth. Our whole economy became a “backroom deal” for sharing growing wealth made from accelerating our exploitation of the earth as fast as we could, very literally. We’ve seen the consequence in Chile and Alaska, social systems based on short lived oil profits, the oil companies walk away from and the people can’t.

    We can see numerous other places where people were fooled into consuming resource profits, leaving them bankrupt when their traditional ways of life were lost and the resource was depleted. You can find a rather long list of ways world culture developed to depend on the spoils of completely unsustainable kinds of world investment. For the investors getting their “usual compound returns” it was just the usual kind of corruption, paying some fraction of the profits to silence the people whose lives were being disrupted and resources taken, all but invariably without thinking of their real futures. As morally persuasive as he is,

    The original fault could be seen as that of the “oligarchs” doing their thing, but the whole of society is hugely at fault too. We can’t omit the great public demand for economic growth and high returns on investments from society too, top to bottom. Everyone has been unable to question the validity of their own life assumptions. In that environment what would an honest oligarch do?? They couldn’t “rock the boat” though they might see how crazy things are becoming. They’d be as trapped as anyone else. So I see the real political basis for the catastrophe we find ourselves in to be the vast middle class, sold a bill of goods long ago, seeing investment as a way to make money more easily than by work.

    So I think that’s the heart of money & politics collusion. Government became committed to maximizing the growth of public wealth any way business could manage, tied to maximizing investor wealth. Every sector of the society genuinely misunderstood where the money was coming, Every sector misunderstood how both the whole earth would be depleted and the value of human labor undercut. We all became “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”*.
    *http://synapse9.com/signals/2016/04/21/next-thing-in-ny/

    That’s the real source of our ever faster increasing inequity, a misguided sense of generosity, of “giveaways to ourselves” that generated unsustainable cultures and investment strategies.

    What’s more clear than how to correct it, of course, is our need for better information for finding a better course ahead. Part of our “giveaways to ourselves” were to adopt ways of cheating the numbers, to favor maximizing (unreal) profits from our destructive investment practices, all ‘legal’ of course. We could start small, but only if the intention is to go the whole way.

    For example we might start with just adjusting the idea of “profitability” by combining it with “true sustainability” (emphasis on the “true”). We could start with a two tier capital gains rate, so investors would know more about what they’re investing in, and add levels in some cases to penalize highly unsustainable investment, or benefit profit distribution. Then as the “real math”* is more widely understood, we’d start set that control to steer investment to resolving climate and other existential threats***.
    **http://www.synapse9.com/issues/FalseReports_of_Decoupling.pdf
    *** http://synapse9.com/signals/2014/02/03/a-world-sdg/

    In the end we’ll realize that the natural value of investment profits is NOT for inflating the wealth and power of the investor. In sustainable systems profits are more for serving the family and wider societal interests of the investor, that the “real math” will tell everyone more about.

    The radical change that follows comes from ALL the profits of the system accruing to individuals. So once individuals know better what’s profitable for their world they’ll have their own say in how they’re used. It may be a long way off, of course, but not unthinkable. When people finally understanding unearned income is there to allow investors to do more for their world, we’d have people with a real “eye for value” directing the profits of the economy to best serve the long term wellbeing and profitability of world, We’d no longer focus on bankrupting the earth as fast as humanly possible as we so tragically are focused on now.

    • Angus Cunningham

      “I think one needs to start comparing the answers you’d get between
      self-serving arguments for shares of unearned wealth and uses of the
      wealth in the common interest. The one argument would maximize cheating
      the numbers and omit most unpowerful constituencies, The other would
      minimize the cheating. What we need then is a view of *radical
      truthfulness* from an *us all* for the common good.”

      Such a view of ‘radical truthfulness’ for an ‘is all’ for the common good has to be put into commonly understood language. This raises the question of how we recognize verbal truth. We need a practical way of doing so. In my coaching practice, we learn to recognize verbal truth by observing “I have ‘X emotion’ now” whenever we sense untruth, and then inviting an honest response to the question “What emotion do you have now?”. To keep the conversation truthful we learned we had initially to limit our ‘X emotion’ to a noun or noun phrase because in that circumstance we are all, since childhood, experts in discerning congruence between language and physical appearance.

      These exchanges have led to the resolution of problems felt to be intractable, A narrative of one such instance is available at:

      http://www.authentixcoaches.com/IHXENPayOff.html

      A book on the subject of language guidelines for truthful problem-solving is now nearly ready. Please feel free to be in touch about it.

      • It is unfortunate to see old position statements taking only a bit out of context, and recognize how incomplete they were in expressing the intended point! 🙂

  • thrownstone

    After recognizing the historical validity of your observations, I am left at a loss as to the nature of your concern. It remains the stated goal of the USA since WWII to export capitalism throughout the world. Every effort has been made by the federal government through Plans (Marshal, et al) and trade agreements to further this end. As I recall, the reasoning was to get money into the hands of other peoples so that they could buy from us. We all bought into this (it seemed like a good idea at the time).

    Everything is going according to plan. What we have in our country today is a microcosm of what the world will look like when our goal is reached: we will have 90% of the globe’s wealth and everyone else will have the rest. It just turns out that when you extract resources and build factories in other countries, those jobs are no longer needed here (who could know?). And if we insist (as our Secretary of State has done) that wages “over there” remain below $0.70 an hour, then they will have the jobs but not enough money to eat properly much less to buy our goods anyways (go figure). We are not caught in either a nefarious plan by our captains of industry to destroy American labor or in the dark side of “oligarchic business practices”, but simply going through the necessary transition from a self-reliant, holistic economy to an elite center of investment and capitalistic innovation.

    To say that we are caught in yet another “cycle of oligarchic corruption” does not do justice to the sustained effort that we have made to get here. We had to rebuild Japan and Europe, destroy the remaining archaic tribal cultures that would not get with the program (especially the ones sitting atop great wealth), and make the world dependent upon our debt. What we have now is merely the inevitable consequence of progress. We need only to find some meaningful activity for the poor souls who made America great, tidy up the place, and get ready to enjoy the benefits of reaching our goal. Where’s the problem?

    • Sally Goerner

      You are correct: America’s oligarchic elites have been going in this direction for a long time, and now appear to be on the brink of total success – holding 90% of the globe’s wealth means the home stretch is in sight: the ultimate goal is 100%. On the other hand, these are exactly the conditions that drive both oligarchic collapse and the (possible) rise of something better. From written laws and Greek democracy to the Magna Carta, France’s “The Rights of Man” and (yes) American free enterprise democracy – the larger population eventually either pushes back or succumbs to oblivion. All I’m saying is that we do have a choice and the conditions are ripe for positive change. Cynicism is just going to grease our roll into oblivion.

      • thrownstone

        I have been trying to respond to your reply, but my access to the Capitalinstitute website server is denied…it says it is either a maintenance or capacity issue. I don’t want you to think that my reply to your presentation was a drive-by , so I am following up. I apologize for appearing to be cynical as I was trying to be realistic. My point was not that the oligarchy didn’t agree with and support the direction that we are going in, but that we all actively support it because we think that it is the right thing to do. Realistically, there are two additional possibilities to be considered. The first is that it is not the oligarchy itself that is the problem, but their main tool: the corporation. It certainly appears that the consolidation of wealth and power by the oligarchy coincides exactly with the “evolution” of the granting of personhood to the corporation and, most recently, the granting of the protections given to human citizens in what is referred to as the “Bill of Rights”. Your reference to “The Rights of Man” above is directly on point. If this usurpation of humanity by a piece of paper (referring , of course, to the Articles of Incorporation filed with the IRS) is not corrected, then restricting the oligarchy will only result in the rise of another -archy to take its place. I would appreciate your thoughts on this issue. The second point is one more of efficiency. We agree that the oligarchy already has 90% of the wealth. Why not just give them the rest in exchange for their commitment to go off to Dubai and leave us alone? There would be nothing left to fight over and money would be taken out of our social equation. Win/win.

        • EmilyCWalsh

          Our website was down for a bit this afternoon, hence the issues you experienced. However, it’s now back up-and-running and the above comment is public!

  • Doc Hall

    Sally’s last two paragraphs well-describe our situation. We can all think of more fragments of evidence that the current system is past its use-by date. Just the financial system alone is sending out SOS signals: negative interest rates, endless quantitative easing, shifting private losses to public coffers, even bail-ins to shore up bank capital with haircuts on depositors. But what can we do about it other than write blogs?

    Empires in decline can’t cope with their own decline. My reading of Roman history is that for 100 years or so before the Western Roman collapse in 476 AD, the elites reveled in lavish celebrations of their glorious past, oblivious that invaders were much better fed than their own starving legions. They could not recognize present dangers, much less deal with them.

    The sad end of empires is accompanied by self-delusion. I will presume that if an empire became fully aware of a precarious situation and acted, it was less likely to fall, and thus that story is reported differently.

    So we are dealing with a huge shift in mindsets in a situation where denial is the first recourse of minds frozen in old paradigms. Sally calls this “socially constructed reality,” a wonderful euphemism for mass delusion, aided by media likewise steeped in the delusion.

    If change is to take place, people must first accept that it is needed. Then we need a direction, a vision of a robust alternate future toward which we can work.

    My own bias is that this revolution, if it happens, will not come from convincing the elite. People at the bottom will drop out of the current system and forge a new one by learning to do more for themselves. They will learn to survive, and perhaps even enjoy life, while consuming much smaller resource footprints. They don’t have big footprints now, so they won’t miss the high living when it is gone.

    • Sally Goerner

      I think many people already accept that transformative change is needed – that’s the meaning of the Trump/Sanders phenomena. History suggests, however, that transformative change comes from the bottom, middle AND top simultaneously. Roman, French and American elites were critical to their society’s transformation. Healthy change also requires a more effective socio-economic alternative – and that requires serious thought about how human systems work. Both the French and American revolutions were part of the larger Enlightenment transformation, but the French revolution turned into a bloodbath and reign of terror because its leaders thought they could reinvent their society from the ground up simply using their own intuitions. The result was a new set of “Enlightened” elites who were in many ways more brutal than the old. Yes, social constructions of reality are, in some ways, a mass delusion, but the ones that last embody lessons about life and living together that must be respected as well.

  • Doc Hall

    Yes, the history of leaders trying to design utopias for other people is a sad one, and we should have learned by now — but haven’t. In the current U.S. election, environmental concerns have played a minor role. People perceive that they are being screwed and won’t take it any more. They don’t agree on what they want, but it isn’t what they’ve got.

    Moving ourselves from unquestioned belief in an expansionary, money driven society into something is huge. It’s like changing a de facto religion. The present system is bolstered by centuries of structural encumbrances like legal precedents, plus decades of illusion that laissez-faire really results in everyone being”free.”

    A system based on recognizing that the purpose of the system is to preserve all life indefinitely, not just human life, would rip the old system asunder. I shared this with a German prof about eight years ago. He agreed, then said that the chances of doing that peacefully were about the same as the chances of Russia remaining peaceful after the 1917 revolution.

    So we circle back to how this transformation might really go. It obviously entails a deep change in beliefs about what is important, not just revising how companies work, or revising present economic models. We are having a tough time coming to grips with that.

    • The poster formerly known as t

      Unfortunately, the economy needs to keep growing or industrialized countries collapse–like Venezuela and Syria have. Another system, would have a very difficult time keeping seven billion people alive.

      • #DeepGreenResistance acknowledges this and advocates accelerating the breakdown as the faster we doit the better the outcome. And ALL outcomes are bad, just degrees of worse and worser.

      • Sally Goerner

        Actually, while I think economies need to keep producing jobs, circulating money and producing real goods and services, GDP growth as it is currently practiced and conceived is not doing these things very well because it is mostly based on speculation and extraction — not value-add

    • JamesDavid

      Not sure what your bent is when describing leaders trying to design utopias and then stating environmental concerns played a minor role, but maybe you should visit Mexico City or a few large cities in China and see how you like something as simple as trying to walk outside and breathe the air there.

    • Sally Goerner

      Doc – I think you hit the nail on the head with your comment — “People perceive that they are being screwed and won’t take it any more.
      They don’t agree on what they want, but it isn’t what they’ve got.”

      This fits with my favorite quote from the original Martin Luther in 1526 when the Reformation wars were just beginning because the Catholic elite where betraying their people: “The mad mob cares not that it be better, only that it be different. And so they get bees for flies, and eventually hornets for bees.”

      With Trump we have elected our first hornet.

  • I agree entirely, that the UN’s proposal like most others is in effect to make the poor successful capitalists, by augmenting their growth plans and abilities. That won’t work of course, however it helps perpetuate our false myths. My proposal called a “World SDG” is for everyone to be shown the same information on how to limit our impacts will be more profitable for everyone. It was republished today in Luis Guiterrez’ “The Pelican Web” fyi. http://www.pelicanweb.org/solisustv12n09page3.html

    • Your error here is in thinking capitalist machine- which is the unstated root of all you are saying – can be fixed. It cannot. And you are still a linear thinker.Keep moving out of that box.

      • Sally Goerner

        Change is the one
        constant in the universe. So we at Capital Institute are just naive enough to think that capitalism,
        which has already gone through several transformations, has (at least) another
        big one to come, forced by the pressures that are rising up to make that
        seemingly unlikely change, inevitable… And thus capitalism too will follow
        the universal law of continuous change that has guided our universe through the
        ages..

  • Abbey, I’m really aware of those issues, and the need to begin with linear thinking that becomes holistic, trying something new in that regard. I largely agree with you on the shape of the problem.

    What I noticed, though, is that “reductionist” approaches in this case can be reduced to the “profit and loss statements”. There are lots of holistic harms with measurable costs no one is putting into their business balance sheets yet. So it’s possible to use a balance sheet as a partial measure of the impacts of the reductionist system on the holistic system. The biggest challenge seems not to be the completeness of the accounting, but simply accepting that your share of the economy makes you responsible for what it does. That seems to be the transformational insight needed, that you and others could help with if you added your way of validating it to the mix.
    ,
    So my idea is more or less like healing a cancer on nature, using a holistic way of collecting information, used like targeted gene-therapy. That’s my intent in developing the World SDG, anyway, to show people scientifically that they actually own a share of what the reductionist system is doing to the natural system. If you follow the money it does seem to clearly show both morally and scientifically that our responsibility for its measurable threats to mankind and nature are directly proportion to our shares of the economy.

    So it’s an effort to use whole system information, focused on those impacts SD decision-makers are not yet aware of needing to count, to steer their decisions toward an awareness of needing to respect the whole. That’s a long shot, perhaps, but actually practical to do today. It would of course only be a start, but it would be one that would globally validate the need for SD to have true whole system awareness and response.
    http://www.synapse9.com/_SDint
    http://synapse9.com/signals/20

  • 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