But the golden age for elites causes their population to grow as well—both through reproduction and through social mobility. As a result, “The class of the wealthy and powerful expands in relation to the whole population,” which eventually creates scarcity for them. In particular, “There are not enough positions, power positions governing, in business and government, to satisfy all elite aspirants. And that’s when inter-elite competition starts to take uglier forms.” That can be measured in terms of “overproduction of law degrees, because that’s a direct route into government, or the overproduction of MBAs,” and, higher up, in the increased competition for House and Senate seats, where the money spent on such contests spirals ever upwards.
“So the competition intensifies, and when competition intensifies, there are losers. There are many more losers now than there were 40 or 50 years ago,” Turchin said, and “Many of them are not good losers,” meaning they devote themselves to frustrating others, further eroding the cooperative ethos societies need to keep functioning.
This in turn connects with the role of the state in moving toward increased instability. “During this pre-crisis phases of the secular cycle, the governments tend to get more and more indebted,” Turchin said. “The reason is, most simply, the inter-elite competition becomes very hot. You have a lot of frustrated elite aspirants, and the states try to respond by providing them with jobs…. even in the historical societies… they would expand the army, so that offices could serve…. That puts a lot of pressure on the state coffers.” (Even nowadays, when elite opinion rallies around the idea that “middle class entitlements” are the great threat to fiscal solvency, Thomas Ferguson and Robert Johnson have pointed out that the actual primary threats are “the excessive costs of oligopoly in health care and defense spending” plus “the contingent liability of another financial crisis,” all of them rooted in elite special interest demands on the state.)