sudden change

Some economists have recently begun working on why there are sudden changes — sudden changes in markets, sudden changes in politics, and sudden changes in social networks. Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point is a fairly recent (2000) exemplification of the interest in this empirical question.

Of course, my interest in this question mainly has to do with politics. Are sudden changes in the political landscape these days than in the past? I think there might be reason to think so. First, the number of moderates in congress has been pretty steadily shrinking, and the increase in the use of the fillibuster makes it rarer to have partisan control over congress and thus more likely that periods of partisan control will involve more radical policy changes.

There are two reasons this question interests me. One, can the growing cynicism people feel toward politics possibly be explained by the replacement of incremental change with sudden more radical change. Total policy change might be constant, but people might perceive it to be changing less if policy change requires long wait times punctuated by broad swings in policy. Second, if incremental change is self reinforcing, then political change might be stifled by a shift toward sudden policy changes. What I mean is a given political goal might be able to attract more support if progress can be made regularly on it. On the other hand, if progress requires a long wait time, then supporters may become frustrated and abandon the issue or cause.


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