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.


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.


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.

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.


The end of the future

Posted in books, culture, future, innovation, long waves, technology by thenextwavefutures on 29 November, 2014

Mark-Fisher-Ghosts-Of-My-Life-Zero-Books-hauntology-A-Year-In-The-Country-442x575One of the most tiresome tropes on the futures circuit is the idea that the world is speeding up, often accompanied by a dodgy video with dodgier data. It’s one of those things that almost every generation in history has believed, along with the notions that young people are less respectful than they used to be and that society is going to the dogs. It also helps to sell books and consultancy projects. And broadly speaking, it is just plain wrong. To borrow Sohail Inayatullah’s terminology, it is a “used future”, borrowed from someone else.


Copyright wars

Posted in digital, long waves, politics, technology by thenextwavefutures on 1 February, 2012

Cross posted from The Futures Company blog

Watching the SOPA/PIPA saga unfold from the other side of the Atlantic, it was difficult not to see it as a ‘wave war’, in which companies which grew up in different technology waves compete to set the frame of economic and policy discussion. On the one side, the media companies, creatures of the mass production era that dominated much of the 20th century; on the other, the technology companies that have grown up in the digital wave that followed it. (I wrote about these waves in the Futures Company Futures Perspective report, Technology 2020).

The technology companies seem to be on the right side of the generational wave.


Thinking about Ed

Posted in emerging issues, long waves, politics by thenextwavefutures on 3 October, 2010

Miliband’s election, and the reaction to it, tells us much about the nature of long-term social and political change.

I’m not a member of the Labour Party and didn’t have a vote in the leadership election, but I am a social democrat. There were cheers in our house when Ed Miliband won the leadership – and some perplexity since then as to why the Conservatives seem to think it’s such a good result for them. It’s probably worth explaining this, for wrapped inside both of these arguments is a larger story about the nature of long-term change.

The 1910 time traveller

Posted in future, history, long waves by thenextwavefutures on 4 September, 2010

In thinking about long-term change, social change is harder to imagine than technological change.

I read an interview the other day with a futurist who said that a traveller from 1910 would find the present world ‘unfathomable’. It was one of those ahistorical things which futurists say to get attention, sometimes adding that everything is speeding up, but it’s not borne out by the briefest review. Quite a lot of the world of 2010 would be familiar to a traveller from a hundred years ago.


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When politics breaks down

Posted in history, long waves, politics by thenextwavefutures on 27 March, 2010

The United States is the location for a huge experiment about the failure of political systems.

There’s nothing to add on the US healthcare bill from this side of the Atlantic, except for the bemusement that proposals which would be regarded as mild  by any Christian Democratic (right of centre) government should provoke such a grim catfight. But from a futures perspective the US offers an interesting living laboratory experiment, of what happens when politics breaks down. It’s difficult to tell whether what we’re seeing is just one of those 50-year realignments you see in electoral democracies, or whether it’s the end of the road for the whole idea of the separation of powers. But it could be that serious.


The iPad and the Chevrolet

Posted in business, digital, long waves, strategy, technology by thenextwavefutures on 3 February, 2010

Now that the froth from the iPad launch has blown past, it’s worth stepping back a bit. For me, the most telling comments were not the ones which talked about functionality, but those which looked at what the iPad proposition told us about the state of the device and app market. Which is this: the computer technology market is now moving out of its technology-led phase.

A moment of theory might help. I’m quite influenced by the work of the economic historian Carlota Perez, who’s tracked five long phases, or surges, of technology innovation, going back to 1771. Each phase runs for 50-60 years and follows a common pattern (there’s more detail in the diagram below). There’s an ‘installation’ phase, in which the new technology platform spreads in visibility and usage (device penetration increases, underlying infrastructure is developed). There’s a bubble and a crash, in which investors get over-excited about the prospects. And then there’s a deployment phase, in which the applications associated with the technology platform deepen and broaden, and the underlying impacts on society become more profound.  The ICT surge started in 1971, with the invention of the microprocessor. We’ve finished the installation phase, we’ve had the crash (, not global financial crash, though the two may be linked), and now we’re several years into the deployment phase. The iPad launch was another confirming sign of this.


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