Wars, hegemony, and long waves

Posted in books, long waves, warfare by thenextwavefutures on 3 July, 2015

The Battle of Waterloo,
by Clément-Auguste Andrieux (1852)
Public domain via Wikipedia

In an earlier post in my “long waves” series I wrote briefly about the war school and the different theories that existed within it. After this post, I plan mostly to move on from Joshua Goldstein’s 1988 book, Long Cycles: Prosperity and War in the Modern Age. In summary, there are three “war” theories: The leadership cycle school, based on the work of Modelski; the world-system school, led by Wallerstein; and the power transition school, which has emerged from the research of Organski. Goldstein summarises these differences well:

The leadership cycle school focuses on the role of global war in establishing a new international order under a world leader roughly every century. The neo-Marxist world-system school focuses on hegemony and rivalry in the core of the world economy, linking hegemonic cycles to pairs of long waves. The power transition school focuses on changes in national power and their effects on war and hegemony.


Some notes on Obama in Charleston

Posted in future, politics by thenextwavefutures on 2 July, 2015

There are several reasons to watch President Obama’s eulogy at the funeral of the Reverend Clementa Pinckney, one of the nine people shot in the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June.

The first is that it is, simply, an outstanding piece of political oratory, one of the best you might hear, beautifully constructed and masterfully delivered, full of light and shade, with changes in tone and timbre, in which the pauses are often as important as the words. Yet it doesn’t seem, at least not obviously, to draw on many of the familiar tropes of political speech, such as the “rule of three“. So it’s also distinctive.


Disturbing the future: my ‘Five Books’ interview

Posted in books, future by thenextwavefutures on 28 June, 2015

WP_20150529_003 (1)The website Five Books has a simple proposition: it asks people to nominate five books on a subject and then it interviews them about their choices. Anyway, I was privileged to talk to Bea Wilford of Five Books about futures and futures books recently, and the interview has now appeared on the site.

The books I chose are in the picture:


Long waves and the innovation question

Posted in books, future, innovation, long waves by thenextwavefutures on 20 June, 2015
Image by Caroline Neld

Stephenson’s Rocket: an abundance of speed.
Image from Caroline’s Miscellany

In my last post summarising some of the key ideas in Joshua Goldstein’s book on long waves, I looked at the different schools and some of the evidence. In this one, I’m going to look at the model he constructs on the dynamics of a long wave, and its link to innovation. (Discussion of the war school(s) will follow in another post). But I also realise that I haven’t spent enough time on his work on whether long waves or long cycles exist at all. So I’m going to start there.

Collecting evidence

In Chapter 4, Goldstein brings together the long wave dates going back to 1485 from 33 different scholars (I added a 34th from a book published more recently). These are data sets that operate at different scales (e.g. national, regional or continental) with different data (e.g. prices, production) and with very differently levels of granularity. The full dataset included 55 series, as follows:

  • Prices: 28 series
  • Production: 10 series
  • Innovation and invention: 9 series
  • Capital investment: 2 series
  • Trade: 4 series
  • Real wages: 2 series

I’ve reassembled the dates he derives from these into a spreadsheet, which still needs some work to extract the dates as charts. But it does suggest that there is reasonable consistency between the dates of different scholars working in different schools, and that there are reasonable regular cycles of downswing and upswing.

Which isn’t to say that cycles are exactly the same length, or would need to be for the theory to hold. Goldstein quotes Kondratiev, who argued repetition is more important than periodicity.

The “regularity “of long waves should refer not to periodicity but to “the regularity of their repetition in time” and to the international synchrony of different economic series.


Utopias and six generations

Posted in future, visions by thenextwavefutures on 5 June, 2015

Source: Soho Theatre

Looking back six generations is a ‘utopian trick’. And looking back at the last six generations suggests that capitalism might have been a transition.

Danny Dorling has posted the audio of the talk he gave in Bristol recently on “Utopian tricks”, and it is worth a listen. It’s subtitled, “thinking ahead 100 years and back six generations,” and therefore links to a couple of my previous posts on here: on six (or seven) generations, and on looking forward a hundred years.

His argument is that utopia is a journey, not a destination. We tend to look forward a hundred years, as Keynes did in his famous “grandchildren” essay, which looked out from 1931 to 2031 (a date which Keynes’ critics sometimes overlook). It’s a shorthand, as Dorling said, for “after I am dead”. When we go back, we tend not to go further back than six generations, or two hundred years. Which reminded me of one of Paul Saffo’s rules of forecasting: look twice as far backwards as you look forwards.

Long waves: discussing the evidence

Posted in books, long waves by thenextwavefutures on 30 May, 2015

Image: Wikipedia

The second post in my series on long wave theories

The idea of long waves is associated with the Russian economist Nikolai Kondratiev, who was eventually shot by Stalin for his troubles. But the first versions of the theory came from two Dutch scholars a decade earlier, van Gelderen and de Wolff. Kondratiev studied price data (and therefore effectively was looking at long swings in economic investment activity), but other long wave theorists have developed their theories based on different drivers of change, from innovation, to capitalist restructuring, to long-run capital investment, to war.

My plan in these posts was to review the different theories by re-reading the various theorists, but the American academic Joshua Goldstein has done a lot of this work in some detail in his 1988 book Long Cycles: Prosperity and War in the Modern Age, and has also posted the whole of the book online. I’d say his book is essential reading if you’re interested in the idea of long wave theory.

This post will draw on some of my wider reading, but will mostly synthesise the painstaking work that Goldstein has done.

Insiders and outsiders

Posted in politics by thenextwavefutures on 14 May, 2015

I’ve been wondering about the relationship between insiders and outsiders ever since I was at university and then at the BBC, and have concluded (a) that it’s the combination of background and ambition that makes the difference, and (b) the outsider who wants to be an insider is the most dangerous of all combinations, for that way corruption lies.


I’ve assigned these groupings to British politicians because they are sufficiently in the public domain to be able to apply judgments.

Thinking about long waves

Posted in future, long waves, research by thenextwavefutures on 5 May, 2015

James Dator. Source: Trends FM

It’s fairly clear, if you spend any time doing futures work, that there are some recurring patterns that seem to evolve over one or two generations, or more. As part of a personal research project, I have started re-reading these “long wave” theories to try to understand their similarities and differences, and I’ll be blogging about my reading as I go.

An obvious starting point in this journey is Jim Dator’s long survey of the area, “From Tsunamis to Long Waves and Back”, drawn from the archive of the journal Futures, and published over two articles in Futures in 1999. The essay – recombined – can be found here.

Here I’m just going to pull out some extracts that seem to shape the landscape.


Politics, parties, and positioning

Posted in brands, politics by thenextwavefutures on 20 April, 2015

Screenshot 2015-02-21 09.05.28

I had a piece a couple of months ago in Market Leader on why political parties represented a particular sort of brand, and what that meant for their freedom of movement. I can’t attach the article here (Market Leader is paywalled), but with the election in full swing it seems worth sharing a couple of extracts.

The Market Leader article was partly a rewrite of my post here in the autumn on the long-term decline of the Conservative party, but I had more space, so could extend the analysis to the Labour Party, and also deepen the thinking.


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Four things I learnt from that “business leaders’ letter”

Posted in economics, politics by thenextwavefutures on 10 April, 2015

telegraph-business-leadersOf course the election has moved on, but I just wanted to come back to last week’s “business leaders’ letter” to the Telegraph. That letter, which focussed on corporation tax, and the business response to Labour’s zero-hours proposals, tell us more about business than it does about politics. Here’s a quick guide to four things they tell us.



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