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How States/Empires Collapse in Four Easy Steps

How States/Empires Collapse in Four Easy Steps

The promises cannot be met, and so society decays into warring elites and competing constituencies.

There is a grand, majestic tragedy in the inevitable collapse of once-thriving states and empires: it all seemed so permanent at its peak, so godlike in its power, and then slowly but surely, too many grandiose, unrealistic promises were made to too many elites and constituencies, and then as growth decays to stagnation, the only way to maintain the status quo is to appear to meet all the promises by creating money out of thin air, i.e. debauching the currency.

This political expediency works most wonderfully for a time: people don’t realize the silver content of their coinage is being cut to near-zero, or there’s nothing holding up the value of their currency but trickery and vague allusions to past glory.

Trust in the state/empire’s currency suddenly collapses in a phase shift: all seems well until the moment the avalanche sweeps it all away.

It’s a simple progression: during the permanent-growth-is-our-birthright phase of self-reinforcing virtuous cycles, when everything is expanding rapidly–credit, resources, jobs, capital, profits, state tax revenues, etc.–promises are made to elites and constituencies that look easy to meet as the economy is projected to expand rapidly essentially forever.

But virtuous cycles decay to unvirtuous cycles of bureaucratic sclerosis and corruption, systemic friction, declining productivity and resource depletion, and the rise of parasitic elites who contribute nothing but skim plenty saps the surplus available for productive reinvestment.

Every elite under pressure to satisfy the demands of those who were over-promised in the good times reverts to the same two financial fixes: debt and currency debasement. 

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Recipe for Collapse: Rising Military and Social Welfare Spending

Recipe for Collapse: Rising Military and Social Welfare Spending

Leaders faced with unrest, rising demands and dwindling coffers always debauch their currency as the politically expedient “solution.”

Whatever you think of former Fed chair Alan Greenspan, he is one of the few public voices identifying runaway entitlement costs as a structural threat to the economy and nation. We can summarize Greenspan’s comments very succinctly: there is no free lunch. The more money that is siphoned off for entitlements, the less there is for investment needed to maintain productivity gains that are the foundation of future income generation: Greenspan: Worried About Inflation, Says “Entitlements Crowding Out Investment, Productivity is Dead” (via Mish)

Many people look to the rising costs of the U.S. military as the structural problem, and they have a point: there is no upper limit on military spending, and the demands (by the civilian leadership of the nation) on the services and the Pentagon’s demands for new weaponry are constantly pushing budgets higher.

But the truth is entitlement spending now dwarfs military spending:entitlements are more than $1.75 trillion, half of all Federal spending, while the Pentagon, VA, etc. costs around $700 billion annually.

We have a model for what happens when military and social welfare spending exceed the state’s resources to pay the rising costs: the state/empire collapses. The Western Roman Empire offers an excellent example of this dynamic.

As pressures along the Empire’s borders rose, Rome did not have enough tax revenues to fully fund the army. Hired mercenaries had become a significant part of the Roman army, and if they weren’t paid, then the spoils of war became their default pay.

This erosion of steady pay also eroded the troops’ loyalty to Rome; their loyalties switched to their commanders, who often decided to take his loyal army to Italy and declare himself Emperor.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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