The Long Wave

Donella Meadows
01 Juli 1998

Dozens of people are eager to explain the collapse of the Asian Tiger economies. Few of them predicted it. Other economic implosions, from the 1995 failure of Britain’s venerable Barings Bank to the 1987 dive in the US stock market, have been explained primarily after the fact.

Few if any explanations for these phenomena postulate any connection between the rightward political slide and the edgy financial markets. I know of only one group that has not only connected them and explained them, but predicted them.

Twenty years ago, a scattered, committed, largely ridiculed group of “long wave” scholars told us to start watching for:

  • Stagnation in the real economy and volatility in the money economy
  • Social distrust, selfishness, isolationism, scapegoating
  • Deflation of real asset values
  • Retreat to “basic values” and yearning for the strict imposition of law and order
  • Cutthroat economic competition globally, erosion of social compassion locally.

This social and economic pattern has occurred before, they said. It happens every fifty to sixty years.

Whole Earth, summer 1998