Social Cycles: An Example

by Gene Callahan

Earlier, I posted some preliminary thoughts on the idea of a general theory of social cycles. Today, I’d like to expand upon one of my examples a bit.

If you recall, I mentioned merging onto a highway as an illustration of adjustments and displacements — which I will henceforth call “disruptions,” by the way, since I think that is a better term.

Let us now imagine a busy highway with entrances and exits every mile. The entrances are not well-designed: there is no lane for smoothly merging into traffic while getting up to speed, but a stop sign at the end of the entrance ramp. (This, in fact, is pretty much a description of the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut as of 30 years ago.) What this means is that every time traffic nears an entrance, there occurs a cluster of disruptions, as people enter traffic at a slow speed.

These disruptions will produce a cascade of further disruptions, as the adjustments made by drivers breaking for merging automobiles thwarts the plans of other drivers who wish to continue at a steady speed. Thus we get a logjam around the entrance ramp. This is the “bust” phase of our cycle. (We need a better, more general term here. Any ideas?) Continue reading