There’s a theory - associated with Peter Turchin (who we’ve discussed before
) that a major cause of civilisational collapse is “elite over production”. Over time, the size of the elite that gains a certain level of wealth or education grows, but supply of key status goods (such as political office or places for offspring at top institutions) remains fixed. This results in more intra-elite competition, which has damaging effects ranging from rent-seeking
to full-blown civil war. Turchin summarises the argument here
A recent TiB
preoccupation has been the question of whether there are too many entrepreneurs (see here
). Turchin’s theory seems like one more reason to see any growth in the number of founders as a relatively benign phenomenon. Turchin has argued
that a “lawyer glut” could “ruin America” by pushing elites into a brutal zero sum game
for status. Startups, by contrast, are a positive sum game (albeit one with a lot of losers).
Moreover, as the excellent Byrne Hobart argues this week in a brilliant essay
, entrepreneurship is actually a convenient way to nudge a society’s most ambitious (and so presumably most dangerous?) people into big but often unglamorous industries. As Hobart says:
A founder thinks “For someone with big dreams like me, there’s no choice but to found a tech company in Silicon Valley,” and a decade later that same founder is running a hotel company, a cab company, or a grocery store.” [i.e. Airbnb / Uber / Instacart]
Not even I would claim that “too many entrepreneurs” will save us from civil war, but it’s a start.