How Empires Die
By Charles Hughes Smith
February 7, 2022
When the state / empire loses the ability to recognize and solve core problems of security and fairness, it will be replaced by another arrangement that is more adaptable and adept at solving problems.
From a systems perspective, nation-states and empires arise when they are superior solutions to security compared to whatever arrangement they replace: feudalism, warlords, tribal confederations, etc.
States and empires fail when they are no longer the solution, they are the problem. As the book The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization explains, when the dissolution of the state / empire becomes the pain-reducing solution, the inhabitants withdraw their support and the empire loses its grip and expires.
As I explain in my new book, Global Crisis, National Renewal, states and markets are problem-solving structures. These structures solve problems by optimizing adaptability and beneficial synergies that reinforce one another as evolutionary advances.
The rise of the middle class is an example of beneficial synergies: as this new class gains access to credit, expertise, trade, enterprise and pricing power for their labor, they have the means to transform their labor into capital by saving earnings and investing the capital in assets, new enterprises, etc. which then generate income from capital which fuels synergistic increases in credit, expertise, assets and income from investments.
States / empires fail and expire when they elevate the fatal synergies created by self-serving elites. Rather than encourage the dynamics of adaptation–competition, transparency, accountability, experimentation and dissent– the elites suppresses these forces as threats to their monopolies, cartels and wealth.
Stripped of adaptability and beneficial synergies, the state / empire is no longer able to solve problems. It becomes the problem which cannot be resolved.
A key dynamic fueling fatal synergies is the hubristic confidence that low-cost abundance is a birthright bestowed by the state /empire, so resources can be endlessly squandered on excess and extremes of consumption and waste. The state / empire no longer focuses on securing the material sources of security (food, energy, etc.) or the accountability, competition, dissent and transparency required to solve systemic problems.
Instead, the state / empire dissolves into divisive camps seeking to protect their petty fiefdoms and expanding their wealth at the expense of the populace. The super-wealthy build $500 million yachts and palaces, politicians trade on their positions to accumulate fortunes, and corruption replaces governance.
Markets spiral into fatal synergies as low quality products and services, speculative excess, extremes of grotesque consumption and blood-soaked entertainment become “growth industries” while blackouts dim electrical grids and store shelves empty of essentials.
The market solution to everyone already owning everything is to engineer planned obsolescence into every product and form service-sector cartels that then strip services to the bone to juice profits, a.k.a. the crapification of all goods and services.
The state / empire also fails to maintain basic security and functions such as tax collection and a fair enforcement. Petty crimes are exploited by those in power (civil forfeiture) while resistance to the state is severely punished. There are two legal systems, one for the commoners and another for the elite.
The state / empire protects those profiting from the status quo and then calls this profiteering a “solution.” But this profiteering doesn’t solve any problems; it is the problem, as self-serving profiteering protects its privileges by corrupting the state, finance and the economy.
For its part, the market seeks to maximize profits in excesses of consumption, predatory lending (student loans), the wholesale destruction of quality by monopolies and cartels and extremes of speculation. Maximizing profits by any means available has no moral foundation; predatory student loans are profitable, obscure medical billing is profitable, selling products designed to fail is profitable, declaring software outdated is profitable, deceiving consumers is profitable, and so on, in an endless array of shoddy, unhealthy products, rapacious services, fraudulent overcharges, etc.
Since problems go unresolved, things fall apart and the masses veer into extremes of derangement and magical thinking: fanaticism is substituted for friendship, cults abound, common ground vanishes and all the failures of the system are papered over with Bread and Circuses, free money, gaudy entertainments and lifeless displays of conspicuous consumption that reveal the decay and degradation.
Protecting the few stripmining the system at the expense of the many is not problem-solving. It adds a layer of problems that the state /empire is incapable of resolving. Ossified, sclerotic, self-serving, corrupt, focused on virtue-signaling and the appearance of tackling problems rather than actually solving problems because some sacred cow would lose its privileges and income stream, the state / empire is the problem, not the solution.
When the state / empire loses the ability to recognize and solve core problems of security and fairness, it will be replaced by another arrangement that is more adaptable and adept at solving problems. Artifice, fantasy, magical thinking, excuses and absurd cover stories are not part of problem-solving. Problems can only be solved if reality is faced directly.
When reality is unacceptable because it negatively impacts those stripmining the system for private gain, the state / empire is already on its fatal spiral to collapse.
My new book is now available at a 20% discount this month: Global Crisis, National Renewal: A (Revolutionary) Grand Strategy for the United States (Kindle $8.95, print $20)
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Charles Hugh Smith on Why Many are Resigning From Their Jobs (35 minutes, with Richard Bonugli)
My recent books:
Global Crisis, National Renewal: A (Revolutionary) Grand Strategy for the United States(Kindle $9.95, print $25) Read Chapter One for free (PDF).
A Hacker’s Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet (Kindle $8.95, print $20, audiobook $17.46) Read the first section for free (PDF).
Will You Be Richer or Poorer?: Profit, Power, and AI in a Traumatized World
(Kindle $5, print $10, audiobook) Read the first section for free (PDF).
Pathfinding our Destiny: Preventing the Final Fall of Our Democratic Republic ($5 Kindle, $10 print, ( audiobook): Read the first section for free (PDF).
The Adventures of the Consulting Philosopher: The Disappearance of Drake $1.29 Kindle, $8.95 print); read the first chapters for free (PDF)
Money and Work Unchained $6.95 Kindle, $15 print) Read the first section for free
Become a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com.
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