Is Peter Zeihan right? Part III
The Council researcher who wrote that seniors are less violent and less politically extreme than the youths has never attended a local political committee or municipal government meeting.
Bruckner’s Mass in F minor was the perfect soundtrack for this essay, with its epic and apocalyptic themes safely ensconced in the promise that our reward is not in this world.
re: footnote #12, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KY_zsc0wf1Y, Sep 17, 2021. Of note this video was published 6 months after the Global Trends 2040 report, published March 2021. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ could stem from that?
Gosh, Clarie, I'm glad we're paying you to slog through all this. I would pass out if I had to read more than one or two of those official reports you cite.
It's clear that Zeihan wants clicks and views. Attention-grabbing claims and headlines are nothing new. I heard his podcast interview with Demetri Kofinas (Hidden Forces), and he did sound convinced of his scenario. Some of it has already been falsified (Putin's supposed rationality and already failed invasion of Ukraine). OTOH, some of his predictions are not new. Fifteen or 20 years ago, the commentator Mark Steyn predicted that China would "grow old before it grows rich," and he wasn't off by much. What is distinctive is Zeihan's almost mechanistic logic of aging demographics > societal collapse.
As someone trained in the physical sciences and mathematics, it's always interesting to me to see how people outside the natural sciences use or misuse probability talk. Clearly, at the imprecise, non-technical, and qualitative level, much of the Talk is rhetorical, not technically oriented. It's Pathos and maybe Ethos, but not Logos. Accused of overusing and misusing cardinal quantification, economists often retreat to ordinal comparisons instead, which are much more defensible. *This* is more probable than *that*, but not as probable as the "sun will rise tomorrow," which 100% certain (unless we're hit by an asteroid nearly as big as the Earth, but we'd know by now). Ordinal comparisons don't require the often false sense of quantitative precision associated with issuing abstract mathematical probabilities, which at bottom requires us to know the probability distribution. In reality, we rarely know that, except perhaps fragments.
A better way to think about chaotic systems (that is, the world we live in) than the Butterfly Effect is as follows. (I use "chaotic" in the technical physics sense.) All systems of any complexity exhibit periodic behavior, generally *multiperiodic* (many periods overlapping and acting simultaneously). Even in this case, without technical chaos, the system as a whole never repeats, because the ratios of the many periods are, in general, irrational: they cannot be represented by ratios of integers. Therefore, these pairs of periods exhibit no integer common multiplier, to generate a single "super-period" that encompasses exactly this many (M) of one period and that many (N) of another period (no integers M, N such that M*period1 = N*period2 -- say, 7 of this fitting into 3 of that).*
A chaotic system has something else at work as well: an irregular but never-ending stream of one-off events that never repeat in an infinity of time (fancy name, bounded deterministic aperiodicity). These cannot be categorized in a "periodic" framework, because they have no "frequency" (they're not "frequent"). The root of this lies ultimately in the pathology of continuous real numbers, in which irrationals are infinitely more common than rationals.
In conclusion, the immortal words of Yogi Berra remain, that it's hard to make predictions, especially about the future, which ain't what it used to be. This too shall pass. Maybe we will remember E II R as the last of the good times.
* Ouch. My first examples, 12 and 3, share a common factor, namely, 3, that can be cancelled out. Bad, bad example <slaps wrist>.
Regarding the comment "The good times are over and Queen Elizabeth’s reign was the best it will be."
Churchill, as usual, said it best in the coronation speech: ‘That it should be a golden age of art and letters we can only hope but it is certain that if a true and lasting peace can be achieved … an immense and undreamed-of prosperity, with culture and leisure even more widely spread can come … to the masses of the people.’
We are immeasurably lucky indeed to have lived in the second Elizabethan Era.
Funny. Yes, both graphs show that there are about 5% more males than females, at all ages from 0 to 60 years old.
The climate is one of the most complex systems humans observe.
You mentioned how difficult it is to predict complex systems even a year or two out.
The climate predictions out to the year 2100 with a supposed accuracy range of 2 to 4 degrees Celsius are ridiculous by that standard as they should be.
Believing we can predict the global temperature several decades in the future accurately enough to use those predictions as a basis of government policy is resulting in policies that are starving and impoverishing people today. Those policies could easily do more damage to people now than the predicted future climate problems ever will, even if they happen, which is unknown.
I hope we come to our senses soon and rethink this foolishness before these energy policies result in more poverty, misery and destabilization in the near term.
The new British PM appears to be making a course correction in a more sensible direction. We shall see.
From the 3rd IPCC report:
"The climate system is a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible. Rather the focus must be upon the prediction of the probability distribution of the system’s future possible states by the generation of ensembles of model solutions."
There are growing trade sanctions between the U.S. and China, initially justified by national security concerns and now mostly punitive tit-for-tat.
==> Differences in the predictions due to China's aging between Zeihan and the Council:
China will mitigate demographic aging by its cultural dedication to science. Young people in China are wildly enthusiastic about pursuing careers in science. In contrast, the U.S. pursues science by ensuring racial and gender equity in college admissions, hiring, and funding.
Nearly all hiring of college science professors is prioritized by equity.
The US-Canada-Mexico alliance and its ocean motes offers some resilience to global instability, albeit by enhancing economic isolation. Mexicans' work-oriented culture helps.
Two charts on China’s population:
"In both, there are more women than men."
The graphs show more men and women. (Note: one graph has men on the right and women on the left. The other is reversed.)
This is not a comment on this article but a reference to a post, highlighted in a recent TLDR newsletter, that "looks at past predictions of the future to evaluate which prediction techniques worked and which didn't. Most predictors and futurists have a fairly poor track record of predictions. People with big ideas and a shallow understanding of their subject generally fared poorly. Those who had a deep understanding of the problem and had a record of learning lessons from past predictive errors had relatively accurate predictions."
I think it can inform the first part of Part III, "Can we predict the future?"
I would put a vote closest to Model 2, A World Adrift... maybe because I'm too fearful to believe that the others are likely. And I'm not so hopeful to believe that we're in an environment where democracy will flourish. We're barely holding on.
IMO, the question about any long-term forecaster is not whether they are ultimately right - as conclusions are dependent upon many intermediate steps/events and policy makers have time to adjust to new events as they happen, but whether they highlight risks/possibilities one has not considered or weighted highly enough. Decision-makers like to hear from people who think differently (and make them think differently), even if our ultimate forecasts (several steps down the road) will diverge.
Thought processes and insights are often more useful than the ultimate forecast- or at least more likely to be of value as the odds of a long-term forecast being exactly correct is remote.
“Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future" usually attributed to Niels Bohr.
Does he mention pandemics, asteroids, the gray goo scenario, sentient AI killing us all, and on the positive side, the robot revolution lifting productivity, the collapse in green energy costs, the medical marvels arising from biomedical research (e.g. the malaria vaccine in prospect) etc.?
One thing that always bugs me about these apocalytic scenarios is the lack of consideration given to the spread of literacy and education more generally.
Education is the one of the major paths to decentralised competitive problem solving, and the internet allows solutions to spread at scale.
(I'm an optimist, btw).