The phenomenon of elite overproduction, as conceptualized by Peter Turchin, is a crucial factor in understanding the social tensions and rise of counter-elite movements challenging the established order. Turchin’s work highlights how an imbalance between the number of individuals vying for positions of power and the available opportunities can lead to societal instability. Combined with general public miseraiton, and you have a recipe for revolution.

In our current era, artificial intelligence is exacerbating this phenomenon through the ratcheting effect, rapidly transforming various sectors and disrupting traditional power structures. While AI is creating new elite classes, it is simultaneously displacing existing elites, leading to an oversupply of individuals with elite aspirations. This oversupply is what leads to the rise of a counter-elite class, who like political entrepreneurs capitalize on negative public sentiments to reshuffle the existing power structure.

II. Understanding Elite Over-Production

Elites are individuals or groups who hold disproportionate power, wealth, and influence within a society. They shape the cultural, economic, and political landscapes, often perpetuating their dominance through various mechanisms, such as exclusive educational institutions and social networks.

Elite over-production occurs when the number of individuals seeking elite status exceeds the available opportunities. This imbalance can arise from various factors, including economic changes, social mobility, and shifts in power dynamics. Historical examples of elite over-production and its consequences include pre-revolutionary France, where the nobility’s privileges were increasingly resented by the rising bourgeoisie, and the Weimar Republic in Germany, where the displacement of traditional elites contributed to the rise of Nazism.

III. The Ratcheting Effect and AI

The ratcheting effect is a phenomenon where technological progress tends to accelerate over time, as each new innovation builds upon previous advancements. AI is a prime example of this effect, as advances in computing power, data availability, and algorithmic techniques have propelled the field forward at an unprecedented pace.

The ratcheting effect, which describes the tendency for technological progress to accelerate over time, is a key driver of the disruptions caused by AI. As each new innovation builds upon previous advancements, the pace of change accelerates, making it increasingly difficult for individuals, institutions, and societies to adapt.

AI is disrupting traditional elite domains, such as law, medicine, media, and finance, by automating tasks previously performed by highly skilled professionals. For instance, AI-powered legal research tools can quickly sift through vast amounts of data, potentially reducing the need for human legal experts. Similarly, AI-assisted medical diagnosis systems are challenging the dominance of human physicians in certain areas. Of course we aren’t at a point where we can fully automate these domains, but it’s easy to understand that where before you needed 10 lawyers on a case, now you simply need one with the right AI tool.

Those individuals that fail to adapt to this new landscape, will be out-competed by firms which seek to lower costs by creating more efficient workforces through hybrid AI/human combinations.

IV. AI’s Impact on Elite Over-Production

While AI is displacing traditional elites, it is simultaneously creating new elite classes. Tech entrepreneurs, data scientists, and AI researchers have emerged as the new elite, wielding immense power and influence in the digital age. However, this new elite class is relatively small compared to the number of individuals aspiring to join its ranks.

As AI automates tasks and disrupts industries, it is creating a surplus of highly educated and skilled individuals who find themselves displaced from their traditional elite roles. This oversupply of individuals with elite aspirations or displaced elites is exacerbating the existing imbalance between elite expectations and available opportunities.

AI’s ability to automate tasks and disrupt industries is upending traditional power structures and creating new elite classes. Simultaneously, it is rendering certain skills and professions obsolete, displacing existing elites and contributing to a surplus of individuals with elite aspirations. This oversupply of individuals vying for a limited number of elite positions is fueling frustrations and a sense of disenfranchisement among those left behind.

V. The Rise of Counter-Elite Movements

Counter-elite movements are social or political movements that challenge the dominance of established elites. These movements often arise from a sense of disenfranchisement and a perceived lack of representation among the masses.

The combination of elite over-production and AI-driven disruptions has fueled the growth of counter-elite movements worldwide. Populist and anti-establishment movements, such as the Brexit campaign in the UK, the rise of the AfD in Germany as the second most popular party and the Trump presidency in the US, have tapped into the frustrations of those who feel left behind by the rapid changes brought about by globalization and technological advancements, including AI.

In some cases, counter-elite movements have taken on more extreme forms, such as the rise of far-right and nationalist groups that scapegoat immigrants, minorities, and other perceived outsiders for the economic and social challenges faced by the disaffected masses.

Counter-elite movements, ranging from populist and anti-establishment groups to more extreme nationalist and far-right factions, are tapping into these sentiments. They offer a narrative that resonates with those who feel marginalized by the rapid changes brought about by globalization, technological advancements, and the concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a new, AI-enabled elite class.

VI. Implications and Potential Solutions

The unchecked growth of elite over-production and counter-elite movements poses significant risks to social stability, economic progress, and democratic institutions. If left unaddressed, these forces could lead to increased polarization, political gridlock, and even civil unrest.

One of the key concerns surrounding the rise of AI and the new elite classes it creates is the potential concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a few individuals and corporations. As AI automates tasks and disrupts industries, it is creating new sources of economic value and wealth generation. However, the benefits of this AI-driven wealth creation are not evenly distributed. Instead, they are accruing disproportionately to a small group of tech entrepreneurs, investors, and AI researchers who are at the forefront of these technological advancements. This concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a new AI-enabled elite class is likely to exacerbate existing inequalities and fuel resentment among those who feel left behind.

Turchin suggests the possibility of an “Asimovian agency” that monitors leading indicators and advises accordingly, akin to the Federal Reserve, but tasked with averting total civilizational collapse.

Unfortunately in previous civilizational crisis moments, the solution to elite over-production was war or purges. Today it’s not clear what we can do with a growing class of elite aspirants who feel they have lost opportunities.

VII. Conclusion

The rise of AI and the ratcheting effect it unleashes are profoundly reshaping the dynamics of elite over-production and counter-elite movements. As AI automates tasks and disrupts industries, it is displacing traditional elites while simultaneously creating smaller elite classes. This imbalance between elite aspirations and available opportunities is fueling the growth of counter-elite movements challenging the established order.

Addressing these challenges requires a multi-pronged approach that involves education reform, inclusive economic policies, and responsible AI governance. Policymakers, industry leaders, and society at large must proactively address these issues to prevent further polarization, social unrest, and the erosion of democratic institutions.

By embracing the transformative potential of AI while mitigating its disruptive effects, we can navigate the turbulent waters of elite over-production and counter-elite movements, ensuring a more equitable and stable future for all.