One of the reasons I was excited to join Open Philanthropy was the opportunity to support more people to write "living literature reviews", like New Things Under the Sun, my review on social science research about innovation. So I am excited to announce the launch of the first such review, Existential Crunch, by Florian Jehn!
Existential Crunch is about societal collapse, and what academic research has to say about it. The first post takes a tour of the major schools of thought on this topic: Gibbon, Malthus, Tainter, Turchin and more. As the post says in it's closing:
My main takeaway is that this field still has a long way to go. This is troubling, because in our society today we can see signs that could be interpreted as indications of a nearing collapse. There are voices warning that our global society has become decadent (writers like Ross Douthat), that we are pushing against environmental limits (for example, Extinction Rebellion), that we are having a decreasing return of investment for our energy system (for example, work by David Murphy) and that there has been an overproduction of elites in the last decades (writers like Noah Smith). This means we have warning signs that fit all major viewpoints on collapse. Moreover, new technological capabilities pose novel dangers that require us to extrapolate beyond the domain of historical experience. All this means that understanding how collapse really happens is rather urgent.
If we want progress to continue (and I certainly do!), understanding how it dies is vitally important. Check it out, and sign up for the substack here.
More broadly, the newly launched innovation policy program at Open Phil is interested in supporting more living literature reviews, especially for policy relevant topics. For us, a living literature review is an online collection of short, accessible articles that synthesize academic research, updated as the lit evolves, and written by a single qualified individual (for example, Florian has published related academic work). Reach out if you have any questions.
If you're interested, go here for more info.