Today, 150 years later, this lesson has been thoroughly forgotten. As I discuss in Chapter 11, the degree to which cooperation among the American political elites has unraveled during the past decade is eerily similar to what happened in the 1850s, the decade preceding the Civil War. The divisive issues are different (although the fault-line between the North and the South endures), but the vehemence and the disregard for the consequences of failing to compromise are the same.
As we shall see later in the book, something happened to American society during the 1970s. Several previously positive social, economic, and political trends suddenly reversed their direction. Each of these turn-around points has been noticed and commented on by social scientists and media commentators. However, what is not broadly appreciated is that these trend reversals were related. A human society is a dynamical system, and its economic, social, and political subsystems do not operate in isolation.
History has lessons for us, but these lessons must be extracted in an indirect way. What we need is theory in the broadest sense, which includes general principles that explain the functioning and dynamics of societies and models that are built on these principles, usually formulated as mathematical equations or computer algorithms.
Increased intraelite competition leads to the formation of rival patronage networks vying for state rewards. As a result, elites become riven by increasing rivalry and factionalism. Third, population growth leads to expansion of the army and the bureaucracy and to rising real costs. States have no choice but to seek to expand taxation, despite resistance from the elites and the general populace.