Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Callahan and Hoffmann on endogenous social cycles


Via La Bocca della Verità, the SSRN download page for Gene Callahan and Andreas Hoffman's Two-Population Social Cycle Theories. From the Abstract:

Discerning family resemblances in the world of theories can be useful for several reasons. For one thing, noticing that two theories share the traits of a family of theories may help us to understand each of them better. Secondly, noticing the family resemblances may help us to model them more easily... In this paper, we note the large family of two-population social cycle theories, all based on a pattern of disruptions and adjustments akin to the well-known predator-prey model.

Oh! the predator-prey model, I know that one: Foxes and Rabbits... Foxes eat rabbits, so the rabbit population declines... Rabbits grow scarce, so the fox population declines... With fewer foxes hunting rabbits, the rabbit population increases... Then the hunting is good, so the fox population increases... and again, foxes eat rabbits, so the rabbit population declines. Even I know that one :)

Callahan's blog is great, so I figured I'd give the SSRN paper a shot. Here's the first paragraph:
This paper sets out to describe and begin modeling what we argue is a related group of theories of social cycles, all built on the framework of two populations, each of which disrupts the other, and adjusts to those disruptions, leading to the emergence of cyclical patterns in society. We find all of these theories akin to the well-known predator-prey model.

Okay, yeah, and I'm thinking of Hegel's dialectic. From Encarta 96: "The dialectical method involves the notion that movement, or process, or progress, is the result of the conflict of opposites."

Probably not relevant.

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PDF page 3 of 30: "Gottfried Haberler (1946) sets out a detailed schemata of business-cycle theories attempting to place them into a family tree."

I'll have to look into that. The reference is
Haberler, G. 1946. Prosperity and Depression: A Theoretical Analysis of Cyclical Movements, 3rd. ed. New York.

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From PDF pages 4-5:
In particular, what we mean by a true and endogenous social cycle is different from the fact that people will tend to flock to the beach in the summer, and the ski slopes in the winter, that they tend to use more artificial lighting in the evening than in the day, or that harvest festivals are in the fall while lamb is eaten in the spring. A social scientist may be curious as to why, say, people go to the beach or why there are harvest festivals at all, but given these things exist, it is pretty obvious why they happen when they do. While, as we will see in our subsequent schema, these are true cycles, the generation of the cyclicality is clearly exogenous to the social world. We may march through the same typical sequences of events repeatedly, but the fault is in our stars, or our solar system, or the Big Bang, or God. But the basic cyclicality is not a social product, and the social component consists in the chosen response to a cycle beyond human control.

What is of particular interest to the social scientist are cycles that arise endogenously in the social world. And not just that: are there purely social cycles that occur without being intended by anyone? So, if a village holds a maypole dance, there is not much of a puzzle as to why the dancers keep winding up in the same places: that is what they intended to do. But if an economy repeatedly arrives at a high level of unemployment, or a political regime keeps cycling through periods of order and of chaos, then those events are far more curious. Presumably, no one has arranged to have periodic business downturns or regular episodes of violent disorder, but there they are.

There they are.

I knew it would be good.

4 comments:

geerussell said...

Presumably, no one has arranged to have periodic business downturns or regular episodes of violent disorder, but there they are.

I'm not sure I share that presumption. At least, I can imagine a constituency for just such events. Downturns and disorder are useful pretexts for policies that consolidate wealth and power.

Nothing that requires a conspiracy. No tinfoil hat stuff. Just flocking and opportunism on the part of incumbent interests.

greg said...

Hi Arthurian. Don't know how much predator-prey modelling you can stand. But check out:http://www.ara.cat/societat/handy-paper-for-submission-2_ARAFIL20140317_0003.pdf
"A Minimal Model for Human and Nature
Interaction." 'Elites' and 'workers' figure in.

Also, if you're prepared to contemplate the possible end of civilization as we know it, you might want to check this guy out: http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/

Both discuss overshooting sustainable carrying capacity by our civilization. And subsequent crash. I myself hope for a soft landing. But...

The Arthurian said...


Thank you greg, that PDF is great.
They include wealth accumulation as a driving for ce of the rise and fall of civilizations. -- which is my view also. Thanks for the link.

Gene Callahan said...

geerussell, I've thought about just such points. And I agree this is possible. It was just too much of an aside from the main thrust of this paper to consider. All we need is that at least *some* social cycles are unintended.