Is Society caught up in a Death Spiral? Modelling Societal Demise and its Reversal

22 Pages Posted: 10 Feb 2023

See all articles by Michaéla Schippers

Michaéla Schippers

Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) - Department of Technology and Operations Management

John P. A. Ioannidis

Stanford University - Meta-Research Innovation Center at Stanford (METRICS)

Matthias Luijks

Faculty of Philosophy, University of Groningen

Date Written: February 9, 2023

Abstract

Just like an army of ants caught in an ant mill, individuals, groups and even whole societies are sometimes caught up in a death spiral, a vicious cycle of self-reinforcing dysfunctional behavior characterized by continuous flawed decision making, myopic single-minded focus on one (set of) solution(s), denial, distrust, micromanagement, dogmatic thinking and learned helplessness. We propose the term Death Spiral Effect to describe this difficult to break downward spiral of societal decline. Specifically, in the current theory-building review we aim to: (1) more clearly define and describe the death spiral effect; (2) model the downward spiral of societal decline as well as an upwardspiral; (3) describe how and why individuals, groups and even society at large might be caught up in a death spiral; and (4) offer a positive way forward in terms of evidence-based solutions to escape the death spiral effect. Management theory hints on the occurrence of this phenomenon and offers turn-around leadership as solution. On a societal level strengthening of democracy may be important. Prior research indicates that historically, two key factors trigger this type of societal decline: (1) rising inequalities creating an upper layer of elites and a lower layer of masses, and (2) dwindling (access to) resources. Important issues that we aim to shed light on are the behavioral underpinnings of decline, as well as the question if and how societal decline can be reversed. We explore the extension of these theories from the company/organization level to the society level, and make use of insights from both micro-, meso-, and macro-level theories (e.g., collapsology, the study of the risks of collapse of industrial civilization) to explain this process of societal demise. Our review draws on theories such as Social Safety Theory, Conservation of Resources Theory, and management theories that describe the decline and fall of groups, companies and societies, as well as offer ways to reverse this trend.

Keywords: Death Spiral Effect, Societal Collapse, Income Inequalities, Dysfunctional Behavior, Elite and Masses, Turnaround Leadership, Strengthening of Democracy

Suggested Citation

Schippers, Michaela and Ioannidis, John P. A. and Luijks, Matthias, Is Society caught up in a Death Spiral? Modelling Societal Demise and its Reversal (February 9, 2023). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4352765 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4352765

Michaela Schippers (Contact Author)

Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) - Department of Technology and Operations Management ( email )

RSM Erasmus University
PO Box 1738
3000 DR Rotterdam
Netherlands

John P. A. Ioannidis

Stanford University - Meta-Research Innovation Center at Stanford (METRICS)

Stanford, CA
United States

Matthias Luijks

Faculty of Philosophy, University of Groningen ( email )

Groningen
Netherlands

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