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Secular Cycles Hardcover – 9 August 2009
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- Language : English
- Hardcover : 360 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0691136963
- ISBN-13 : 978-0691136967
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"Secular Cycles is an ambitious, audacious, and engaging achievement from two very talented scholars. This stimulating book will attract interdisciplinary attention from those interested in global history and secular economic change."--Cormac Ó Gráda, author of Famine
"I am impressed and delighted by the breadth, rigor, creativity, originality, and power of this book. The graphs present the data in a fashion that will be clear to any audience, and the text is straightforward and persuasive. This book carries the study of historical dynamics to a whole new level."--Jack A. Goldstone, George Mason University
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One of the aspects of this book that impresses me is the authors’ avoidance of doctrine. Unlike Toynbee or Spengler, they do not insist their cycle always proceeds in exact accord with a preformed structure. They acknowledge the influence of particular factors that make the cycles differ between countries and eras. Their arguments are convincing precisely because they acknowledge they are general principles and correlations, and that industrialization has changed the model in ways they have yet to consider.
However, I believe that can be done by considering farms and factories as different forms of resources for wealth production. Add in natural resources – water, minerals, energy, and the ecosystem’s ability to absorb pollution – and the implications of their model seems sensible and logical. For instance, factories are an employment resource for the lower half of society. As such, the factory has ‘shrunk’ – requires fewer employees to make the same number of widgets (even without outsourcing); but the corporation’s profit from the factory continues – for now. Another example: Oil becomes more difficult to procure and oil (and gasoline) prices rise. All resources can become over-exploited, and the Turchin / Nefedov model works well.
The one application of the model that is provocative is to the global economy: A few ‘elite’ countries (Western Europe, the U.S.) and the many less wealthy nations. The latter are holding the resources the former require; the former have the financial and military power. And perhaps this is one aspect that makes this book so interesting: Besides some great lessons of history, it changes the reader's world-view and provokes speculation on the future. Yay for gray matter!
It cuts off at the beginning of industrialization, something that disappointed me. But the dynamics of industrial societies may differ from the dynamics of preindustrial, agrarian ones, so the authors may have decided to work on something more manageable.
I note this because the French Revolution fits quite well into a disintegrative phase, and the book cuts off before it, while the Bourbons were still in their integrative phase. It looks like there were lots of professionals and other elite aspirants who did not enjoy being shoved into the Third Estate behind the clergy and the nobility. So the elites battled it out, with some elites appealing to the common people, another feature of disintegrative phases. That revolution even had a device that was convenient for reducing the elites' numbers: the guillotine.
Napoleon's conquests seem like a return to an integrative phase, however, with him returning to power after his initial defeat and exile. But he was defeated and exiled a second time, and his conquests were not permanent. France continued to have a lot of tumult after his death, only settling down late in the 19th cy.
I won't write 1000 words explaining what it is all about; others have done this already. I suggest you just buy the book and read it. Absolutely worthwhile.
Spoiler: Basically history seems to have a long-term boom/bust cycle, and we seem to be in the stagflation phase of the cycle (near the top), as other reviewers have noted. The book will explain how this works and what the rest of the cycle looks like, based on several historical case studies.
Definitely worth reading, and I'll be interested to see if it makes any impact more widely.- on related fields.
The general thesis of this book is that agricultural societies strengthen and weaken in multi-century cycles based on a modestly complex interaction of the population dynamics of the peasantry and the elite. Turchin and Nefedov provide quite a lot of data to buttress their case. One consequence of their thesis is that "golden ages" for the elites of a society are lousy times to be a peasant, while good times for the peasantry are usually times of stability, but only modest prosperity, for the nobility/elite of a society.