Thursday, July 22, 2010

Professor Commons

HARI SELDON-- ...born in the 11,988th year of the Galactic Era; died 12,069.

Nations last two hundred years. Civilizations last two thousand. Why is that? Why can't we keep it together for twelve thousand years?

Read these two pages, and you'll know as much as I do about Professor Commons. Or read the abridged version below, from Essays in Persuasion:

Professor Commons... distinguishes three epochs, three economic orders, upon the third of which we are entering.

The first is the Era of Scarcity... In such a period, 'there is the minimum of individual liberty and the maximum of communistic, feudalistic, or governmental control...'" This was, with brief intervals in exceptional cases, the normal economic state of the world up to (say) the fifteenth or sixteenth century.

Next comes the Era of Abundance. 'In a period of extreme abundance there is the maximum of individual liberty...'" During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries we fought our way out of the bondage of Scarcity into the free air of Abundance, and in the nineteenth century this epoch culminated gloriously in the victories of laissez-faire and historic Liberalism. It is not surprising or discreditable that the veterans of the party cast backward glances on that easier age.

But we are now entering on a third era, which Professor Commons calls the period of Stabilisation... In this period, he says, 'there is a diminution of individual liberty....

Scarcity... Abundance... and Stabilization. If there are business cycles -- and cycles within cycles -- then there is a Cycle of Civilization. The Dark Age is a Great Depression. The Era of Scarcity is the long, slow, painful recovery. The Era of Abundance is the boom, the peak of the cycle. And the Era of Stabilization is the Professor's optimistic misnomer for crisis-and-decline.

If we're good, if we choose wisely, if we don't proceed blindly, then there is a chance we can ride the downslope of that economic wave like a surfer. But if we proceed blindly, it's over.

Early in what became the Great Depression, John Maynard Keynes was asked if anything similar had ever happened. "Yes," he replied, "it was called the Dark Ages, and it lasted 400 years."

If we can learn to surf the economic wave, we can have our Era of Stabilization. We can get to those five-digit years.

1 comment:

The Arthurian said...

goddam google books. Every time you link to something, they change things so the link fails.

Sorry... the "Read these two pages" link no longer works.

Actually -- at the moment -- it brings you to a Google Books page for Essays in Persuasion. Right under the four stars they give the book, it says 4 Reviews. I clicked on that, and got a page that says
User reviews
We haven't found any reviews in the usual places.

They change things so much, they even mess up their own stuff!