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Predicting the Future in Science, Economics, and Politics

Predicting the Future in Science, Economics, and Politics

Edited by Frank Whelon Wayman, Paul R. Williamson, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Solomon Polachek

It is a puzzle that while academic research has increased in specialization, the important and complex problems facing humans urgently require a synthesis of understanding. This unique collaboration attempts to address such a problem by bringing together a host of prominent scholars from across the sciences to offer new insights into predicting the future. They demonstrate that long-term trends and short-term incentives need to be understood in order to adopt effective policies, or even to comprehend where we currently stand and the sort of future that awaits us.

Chapter 12: Power structure fluctuations in the “longue durée” of the world system: the shadow of the past upon the future

David Wilkinson

Subjects: economics and finance, game theory, international economics, politics and public policy, international politics, international relations, public policy


The subject of my research enterprise is fluctuations in the political consolidation of world systems, in the remote to recent past, say 3500 BC to yesterday. What can this study offer to those who wish to illuminate the shadow of the future? It can offer a hypothesis about what they will find there. Based on what I find for the world systems of the past, I would propose that we would be wise to assume that the contemporary global system has, and will continue more or less indefinitely to have, two biases: a “stickiness,” a tendency to remain for some while in whatever power configuration it inhabits at any given moment; and in the longer run, an inclination, a tendency to prefer some fairly distinct subset of all its possible power structures (as will be elaborated in this chapter), which I think we can discern by examining its long past. This approach is different from, but complementary to, an approach which would seek to predict the near-future state of the system from the present distribution of capabilities within it, and present trends in those capabilities.

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