When there isn’t enough room for everyone’s dreams

A 2013 Bloomberg op-ed is surprisingly descriptive of the explosion of the American social fabric, a disaster accelerated with the advent of COVID-19. Snippets below paint the picture.

Elites (the highly educated and reasonably well off members of a society) like to fight for their stake in the social power game, and we’re creating too many of them while failing to expand the number of political offices available to accommodate their ambitions: “There are many more millionaires, multimillionaires and billionaires today compared with 30 years ago, as a proportion of the population. … Yet the supply of political offices has stayed flat (there are still 100 senators and 435 representatives — the same numbers as in 1970). In technical terms, such a situation is known as ‘elite overproduction.'”

“Past waves of political instability, such as the civil wars of the late Roman Republic, the French Wars of Religion and the American Civil War, had many interlinking causes and circumstances unique to their age. But a common thread in the eras we studied was elite overproduction. The other two important elements were stagnating and declining living standards of the general population and increasing indebtedness of the state. 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.”

Another key metric: productivity up yet wages stagnate. Doing more and more for less and less. At some point it might make more spiritual sense to destroy the widget-making machine to which you’re glued rather than try to pump out more and better widgets to buy less food, less space and less future.

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