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US now spending 26% of available tax revenue just to pay interest

US now spending 26% of available tax revenue just to pay interest

sovereignmanwhiteSOVEREIGN MAN

DebtBomb

By the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire had become a has-been power whose glory days as the world’s superpower were well behind them.

They had been supplanted the French, the British, and the Russian empires in all matters of economic, military, and diplomatic strength. Much of this was due to the Ottoman Empire’s massive debt burden.

In 1868, the Ottoman government spent 17% of its entire tax revenue just to pay interest on the debt.

And they were well past the point of no return where they had to borrow money just to pay interest on the money they had already borrowed.

The increased debt meant the interest payments also increased. And three years later in 1871, the government was spending 32% of its tax revenue just to pay interest.

By 1877, the Ottoman government was spending 52% of its tax revenue just to pay interest. And at that point they were finished. They defaulted that year.

This is a common story throughout history.

The French government saw a meteoric rise in their debt throughout the late 1700s. By 1788, on the eve of the French Revolution, they spent 62% of their tax revenue to pay interest on the debt.

Charles I of Spain had so much debt that by 1559, interest payments exceeded ordinary revenue of the Habsburg monarchy. Spain defaulted four times on its debt before the end of the century.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that an unsustainable debt burden soundly tolls the death knell of a nation’s economy, and its government.

Unfortunately, it can sometimes take a rocket scientist to figure out what the real numbers are; governments have a vested interest in not being transparent about their debts and interest payments.

In the Land of the Free, for example, the government routinely doesn’t count interest payments that they make to the Social Security Trust Fund.

They’ve managed to convince people that those debts don’t matter ‘because we owe it to ourselves.’

Apparently in their minds, solemn promises made to retirees simply don’t count.

It’s like a person who is in debt up to his eyeballs with both credit card companies and family members has no compunction about stiffing Grandpa.

Obligations are obligations, no matter who they’re owed to.

Taking this into account, total US interest payments in Fiscal Year 2013 were a whopping $415 billion, roughly 17% of total tax revenue. Just like the Ottoman Empire was at in 1868.

Here’s the thing, though– it’s inappropriate to look at total tax revenue when we’re talking about making interest payments.

The IRS collected $2.49 trillion in taxes last year (net of refunds). But of this amount, $891 billion was from payroll tax.

According to FICA and the Social Security Act of 1935, however, this amount is tied directly to funding Social Security and Medicare. It is not to be used for interest payments.

Based on this data, the amount of tax revenue that the US government had available to pay for its operations was $1.599 trillion in FY2013.

This means they actually spent approximately 26% of their available tax revenue just to pay interest last year… a much higher number than 17%.

This is an unbelievable figure. The only thing more unbelievable is how masterfully they understate reality… and the level of deception they employ to conceal the truth.

Non-Participation And Decentralization As Primers For Revolution

Non-Participation And Decentralization As Primers For Revolution.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014 04:16 Brandon Smith

When writing investigative examinations on the corrupt state of American government and American economy, invariably one is met with the same set of ever cycling broken-record questions and assertions. One of the primary responses I have received and I’m sure most Liberty Movement analysts have received is this:

“Okay, now we know what the problem is, but when are YOU going to tell US what the solution is…?”

The question seems “reasonable”, but in reality, everything that is weak minded in our culture today is summed up in its content.

First, the question insinuates that there is no utility in exploring the nature of a crisis without “fixing” the situation right then and there. Often, the most complex problems of our world require years if not decades of thought and action, trial and error, before a single working solution is generated. When the problem involves a criminal government run by corporatist oligarchs bent on total globalization and centralized control of finance, society, and law, you have to expect that there will be some difficulties in finding a remedy. You will never defeat your enemy without knowing your enemy, and our particular fight requires endless analysis.

Second, I wish I could convey the palm-to-forehead agony I feel every time I hear someone begging for myself, or anyone for that matter, to overnight mail them a solution on a silver platter wrapped in perfect little pink bow. Why is it that so many Americans today refuse to offer THEIR OWN solutions to the problems they perceive in the world? Is it laziness, or stupidity, or both? They are so busy waiting for a “white knight” to come and save them they have forgotten to learn how to save themselves. Don’t sit idle expecting analysts to make your life better. Become industrious. Take initiative. Think of something we haven’t thought of yet. Stop being followers and start becoming leaders within your own communities.

Third, the worst of all dilemmas when dealing with the above question is that most of the time, it is being asked by people who already have a preconceived answer they want to hear. Many in our movement today want a silver bullet solution. They want magic and fairy dust. They want to end tyranny with a snap of their fingers, the press of the button, within the span of a day, or perhaps a week. They don’t want to have to work beyond their normal capacity, they don’t want to struggle, they don’t want to sacrifice, and they certainly don’t want to risk their property, livelihood, or life.

They want a civil rights style MLK/Ghandi march on Washington D.C., which has already been done over and over again leading to nothing but ever more corruption (you don’t ask tyrants to police themselves, nor do you ask for their permission to change government). They want an armed march on Washington D.C. (perhaps the most tactically moronic strategy ever to be suggested year after year), leading to nothing more than a bloodbath which would only make the Liberty Movement appear weak, or insane, all in a failed attempt to unseat a bunch of politicians who are merely puppets and middle men for the financial elites. They want Generals grandstanding as purveyors of constitutionalism to initiate a military coup to remove the “evil Muslim” from his seat of power (is Obama a Muslim, or an atheist Communist? These methodologies tend to negate each other…), while the truth is, Obama is nothing more that a minor obstacle compared to the greater evil of central banking and internationalism, and a Neo-Con Republican (or provocateur General) could easily continue Obama’s work without missing a beat.

And, most of all, they want something flashy, something new, something technological and glorious to solve all their woes. How many times have you heard the claim, for instance, that digital currencies like Bitcoin would “bring down” the central banks and turn the globalist empire to dust at our feet? Yet, Bitcoin’s very existence relies on the web, a government dominated networking system which they can remove from our hands any time they wish.

These are not solutions, they are distractions, or worse, con-games. They are designed to fool you into thinking that you can lounge behind your computer, or walk blindly down the street with a sign or a gun, and the nation will attain renaissance without a tear or a drop of blood shed. They are pleasant lies that many people want to have whispered to them.

I have no interest in making people feel comfortable, or safe, or at ease in the nature of the task before us. I’m only interested in the truth, and the truth is, REAL solutions have already been offered to the Liberty Movement. For years we’ve been talking about them, implementing them, and attempting to convince others to implement them. These solutions are not easy. They are not pleasant or quick. They will require much sacrifice, and unimaginable suffering. There is no way around these tasks if we are to succeed and dismantle centralized totalitarianism in our lifetimes…

Non-Participation

This is a simple concept that for some reason tends to confound people. If you march to the steps of the White House motivated by a desire to educate others on the hidden dangers of our political situation, then this is all well and good. But, if you march to the steps of the White House with the expectation that this gesture will somehow impress or frighten the military industrial complex into forsaking its criminal ways and step down from power, then you have fallen into a delusional paradigm.

If you are using a government controlled communications medium like the internet to educate others while the system still exists, then this is practical. But, if you really believe that you are going to exploit that same network as an offensive tool to destroy Big Brother, you are living in techno-geek dreamland.

And, if you still think that the diseased political arena has any merit whatsoever and that the system can be inoculated from the within, or that you can rewrite the rules on a whim (constitutional convention) and have those rules followed, at this point I don’t hold much hope for you.

Now, I want you to imagine, just for a moment, that the government does not exist. The internet does not exist. Corporate banking chains and department stores and grocery outlets do not exist. State law enforcement organizations do not exist. State run schools do not exist. How would you go about living day to day without the bureaucracy, the welfare, the infrastructure, the safety nets? This is how ALL Liberty Movement activists are going to have to start thinking if they want to change anything.

The Non-Participation Principle is best summarized like this:

When facing a corrupt system, provide for yourself and your community those necessities that the system cannot or will not. Become independent from establishment-controlled paradigms. If you and your community do this, the system will have one of two choices:

 

1)  Admit that you do not need them anymore and fade into the fog of history, OR…

 

2)  Reveal its tyrannical nature in full and attempt to force you back into dependence.

In either case, you win. You have taken proactive measures to remove yourself as a cog in the machine. The machine can then of course try to demonize you, or attack you, but ultimately, they will attack from a place of social and moral weakness, and you will defend from a position of logistical and moral strength.

Stop waiting for the system to change, or collapse. Change the way YOU live and survive. Build your own localized systems and walk away.

Decentralization

Learn a vital trade skill, grow your own food, purchase resource rich raw land, learn self defense methods beyond what law enforcement personnel are trained in (which is not too difficult), take EMT training courses so that you can provide general and emergency medical care for your family, get your children out of the state run common core indoctrination centers and homeschool them, build neighborhood watch groups, emergency response groups, barter markets and alternative economies.

Decentralization is about dissolving our unbalanced relationship with the state and taking away their power to dictate how we live. If a core necessity is centralized in the hands of a select few, then we start producing it ourselves and remove that option from their deck of cards. You cannot fight a corrupt system if you are dependent on a corrupt system.

The very essence of globalism is centralized oversight of every aspect of our lives. When we allow ourselves to feed from the government or corporate trough because it’s “easier”, we are essentially volunteering to be herded like animals. It is within the power of every single individual, no matter their age or financial circumstances, to find creative ways in becoming more independent. It is up to you. There are no excuses.

Revolution

We should have no illusions that the criminal elements of our government will simply shrug their shoulders and give up. When we decentralize, we show the world how irrelevant they are. Tyrants must remain relevant to the masses, otherwise, they have no means to dominate except pure force. When that force is eventually applied, the ONLY logical response is revolution. Decentralization is not a means to “avoid” such revolution, it is only a means to strengthen our position in preparation for revolution.

There is no ideal revolutionary model because the unique nature of one’s epoch determines the nature of one’s rebellion. However, I can say that any revolution that does not focus on the foundational culprits behind the offending tyranny is doomed to failure. When I see the overt obsession with Barack Obama as some kind of linchpin in the development of socialism in America, I have to remind people that Obama has merely stood on the legislative efforts of George W. Bush, and so many other globalist presidents before him, in order to bring the U.S. to the current point of catastrophe. And who made these men, these so-called “leaders”? Who financed their campaigns? Who taught them the internationalist methodologies they now implement? Who really controls money, and thus economy, and thus politics in this country?

Revolution must be directed at the oligarchs, not just their mascots, and if anyone asks you to rally around a revolution that does not name central banking and international banking entities and the men who run them as direct culprits, they are probably controlled opposition. We don’t need a French or Bolshevik Revolution to replace old puppets with new puppets, we need to go to the very heart of the cancer that has stricken our nation and remove it. If this means we have to physically fight back, then so be it, but we must be smart in how we fight.

In the end, the average citizen is his own defender, his own governor, his own industrialist, his own “king maker”. He may consciously realize this, or he may be oblivious. All of the solutions, all of the tools, are right there, in his hands, waiting to be used. The saddest truth of all is that the only thing holding him back from legitimate freedom is his own fear. Only when we stop avoiding the pain required to procure independence, will we finally have it.

Bringing the Empire of Debt to its Knees

Bringing the Empire of Debt to its Knees.

Addison Wiggin

Posted Feb 7, 2014.

“The relentless credit deluge in America is beyond belief…” Kurt Richebächer bemoaned in 2005. “Credit growth, financial and nonfinancial, in the United States has effectively run riot in the short time since 2000.”

Fast-forward nearly a decade and we have no doubt Kurt would express himself with even greater discontent if he were with us now. From CNN Money this afternoon:

“The CBO projects that under current policies, public debt will reach $21 trillion — or 79% of GDP — by 2024. That would be its highest level in more than 75 years and would leave debt at nearly double its long-term average of 40% of GDP.”

What would Kurt say if he were here today? Probably that a nation, no less than you or I, should earn its money before spending it. And that the U.S. may very well thrive as its public and private debt climbs ever higher… yet it’s probably in spite of indebtedness, not because of it…

…the size of its interest payments is as likely to bring the empire of debt to its knees as anything.

At writing, the national debt sits at $17.3 trillion. The debt limit will need to be raised, according to Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, lest the U.S. default on some of its obligations. That’s old hat.

What’s more interesting is the interest on the debt. After all, the size of its interest payments is as likely to bring the empire of debt to its knees as anything.

According to the CBO, the U.S. will shell out “only” $233 billion to service its debt this year. That’s a little more than 1% of GDP. At the same time, the federal deficit is set to decline this year and next — to nearly half the amount of 2009′s deficit.

We would humbly posit, however, that digging yourself deeper into a hole isn’t an enviable position… no matter how slowly you dig. This is especially true while interest rates are so low.

What happens when they go back up, as they inevitably will?

The answer, according to the CBO report, is that interest payments will make up the biggest portion of the federal deficit. “By 2024, it will reach $880 billion, or 3.3% of GDP,” reports CNN. That will be 80% of the projected $1.1 trillion deficit a decade from now. That amount rivals what we spend on Medicare alone right now.

It sounds like the end of the road for the ol’ US of A… then again, what do we know? When we produced our film I.O.U.S.A. in 2007, the federal debt was about $9 trillion. Today, it’s nearly double that. If we’ve learned anything, it’s that these things can go on a lot longer than you’d figure. Alas, for all of our uncertainty about the journey’s time frame… the destination is certain.

“For decades,” Dr. Richebächer told us in France two years prior toI.O.U.S.A., “one dollar added to GDP in the United States was tied to $1.40 in additional debt. But all that changed in the 1970s. Since then, the debt-to-GDP growth relationship has skyrocketed. Now for one dollar of additional GDP, there is $4 in additional debt.”

How Much Debt it Takes to Produce $1 of Additional GDP

The good doctor might have been engaging in a bit of hyperbole. Comparing the GDP numbers from the Commerce Department with the total credit market debt as reported by the Federal Reserve, it took $3.20 in debt to produce $1 of additional GDP at the time of that interview. But the acceleration since the 1970s is undeniable.

The good news — if that’s what you can call it — is that the upward spiral reversed as the “official” recession ended in mid-2009. We’re now back to $3.44 — the level where it was when Dr. Richebächer died, in August 2007. It’s bad news when you consider that much of that debt has been frittered away on entitlement programs, which have exacerbated the problems they were created to solve.

Regards,

Addison Wiggin
for The Daily Reckoning

Ed. Note: In the Daily Reckoning email edition, from which this essay was taken, Dr. Marc Faber followed Addison’s musings with an exploration of some specific instances of government failure. Specifically, schemes like the war on poverty… a decades-long mission to flush $20 trillion down a massive toilet. But these essays are just one benefit of reading The Daily Reckoning email editionbefore it hits the Daily Reckoning website… Readers of the email edition are also treated to several chances to discover real, actionable profit opportunities every single day. So don’t wait. Get the full story by signing up for The Daily Reckoning, for FREE, right here.

Addison WigginAddison Wiggin is the executive publisher of Agora Financial, LLC, a fiercely independent economic forecasting and financial research firm. He’s the creator and editorial director of Agora Financial’s daily 5 Min. Forecast and editorial director of The Daily Reckoning. Wiggin is the founder of Agora Entertainment, executive producer and co-writer of I.O.U.S.A., which was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, the 2009 Critics Choice Award for Best Documentary Feature, and was also shortlisted for a 2009 Academy Award. He is the author of the companion book of the film I.O.U.S.A.and his second edition of The Demise of the Dollar, and Why it’s Even Better for Your Investments was just fully revised and updated. Wiggin is a three-time New York Times best-selling author whose work has been recognized by The New York Times MagazineThe EconomistWorthThe New York TimesThe Washington Post as well as major network news programs. He also co-authored international bestsellers Financial Reckoning Day and Empire of Debt with Bill Bonner.

oftwominds-Charles Hugh Smith: Pimping the Empire, Progressive-Style

oftwominds-Charles Hugh Smith: Pimping the Empire, Progressive-Style.

Supporting the central state to protect your favored cartels is simply pimping for the Empire.

The central illusion of both Left (so-called Progressives) and Right (so-called conservatives) is that the Central State’s essentially unlimited powers can be narrowly directed to further their agenda.

(I say “so-called” because the “Progressives” are not actually progressive, and the “Conservatives” are not actually conservative. Those labels are Orwellian double-speak, designed to mask the disastrous consequences of each ideology’s actual policies.)

Let’s begin by stipulating that ideology, any ideology, is an intellectual and emotional shortcut that offers believers ready-made explanations, goals, narratives and enemies without any difficult, time-consuming analysis, study or skeptical inquiry. This is the ultimate appeal of ideology: accepting the ideology relieves the believer of the burdens of analysis, skeptical inquiry, uncertainty/doubt and responsibility: all the answers, goals and narratives are prepackaged and mashed together for easy consumption.

This is one of the core messages of Erich Fromm’s classic exploration of ideology and authoritarianism, Escape from Freedom.

And what is the essential foundation of authoritarianism? A central state. This is not coincidental.

What few grasp is the teleology of the centralized state: by its very nature (i.e. as a consequence of its essentially unlimited powers), the central state is genetically programmed to become an authoritarian state devoted to self-preservation and the extension of its reach and power.

The central illusion of Progressives is that an all-powerful central state will not become a self-serving expansive empire, but will be content to wield its vast powers to protect its favored cartels/monopolies and distribute money skimmed from the citizenry to Progressive constituencies such as public unions, healthcare and education.

This is an absurd fantasy. Once you give a central state essentially unlimited power to stripmine income and wealth from its citizens, create and/or borrow essentially unlimited sums of money, protect private (and politically powerful) cartels from competition and project military, financial and diplomatic power around the globe, the state will pursue Authoritarianism and Empire as a consequence of possessing those powers.

You can’t cede unlimited, highly concentrated powers to the central state and then expect the state not to fulfill its teleogical imperative to protect and extend its powers. The state with unlimited powers will be ontologically predisposed to view any citizen that seeks to limit its expansion of power as an enemy to be suppressed, imprisoned or marginalized.

The state with unlimited powers will be ontologically predisposed to protecting its powers by cloaking all the important inner workings of the state behind a veil of secrecy, and pursuing and punishing any whistleblowers who reveal the corrupt, self-serving workings of the state.

The state with unlimited powers will be ontologically predisposed to view any other nation or alliance as a potential threat, and thus the state will pursue any and all means to distrupt or counter those potential threats.

The state with unlimited powers will be ontologically predisposed to create and distribute propaganda to mask its self-serving nature and its perpetual agenda of extending its powers, lest some threat arise that limits those powers.

Democracy and a central state with unlimited powers are teleologically incompatible.

Progressives worship the central state and cede it essentially unlimited powers because they want that state to be powerful enough to impose their agenda on others and reward their constituencies.

But it doesn’t work that way. Once you cede unlimited, highly concentrated power to the central state, you get an authoritarian empire that is driven to protect itself from any threat at all costs–including democracy, though the state may maintain a facade of carefully managed “democracy” as part of its propaganda machinery.

You cannot have a state with essentially unlimited power and not end up with cartel-capitalism. So-called Progressives defend their favored cartel-fiefdoms of healthcare and education (and the “conservative” banking and defense cartels, too, to insure banks fund their campaigns and to protect their political flank with a “strong on defense” carte blanche to the National Security cartels), yet these cartels are busy bankrupting the nation and destroying the very programs Progressives claim to hold dear.

You can’t have it both ways, Progressives: if you support a central state with essentially unlimited power to protect and fund your constituent cartels, you end up with self-liquidating cartel-capitalism, a state bent on protecting itself from the uncertainties/risks of democracy and a global Empire that is teleologically driven to expand its reach and power by any and all means available.

Once you choose to cede essentially unlimited powers to the central state, all decisions after that are made in service of the state. The idea that the state can be limited to helping the needy is illusory.

The only legitimate duties of the state are limited: 1) protect the commons from destruction and exploitation; 2) protect the citizenry from exploitation or oppression by those with superior power or resources; 3) maintain transparency in all governance and 4) maintain a system of sound money.

The so-called Progressives will learn what the teleology of the state means in the real world when the state comes after them. Once you cede unlimited power to the central state, any attempt to limit that power marks you as an enemy.

War at Home: Covert action against U.S. activists.

Supporting the central state to protect your favored cartels and protect your political power over the state’s tax revenues is simply pimping for the Empire. You can call it “progressive,” but it’s still pimping for the Empire.

They’re Coming For Your Savings

They’re Coming For Your Savings. (FULL ARTICLE)

Another of history’s many lessons is that governments under pressure become thieves. And today’s governments are under a lot of pressure.

Before we look at the coming wave of asset confiscations, let’s stroll through some notable episodes of the past, just to make the point that government theft of private wealth is actually pretty common.

• Ancient Rome had a rule called “proscription” that allowed the government to execute and then confiscate the assets of anyone found guilty of “crimes against the state.” After the death of Julius Caesar in 44 BC, three men, Mark Anthony, Lepidus, and Caesar’s adopted son Octavian, formed a group they called the Second Triumvirate and divided the Empire between them. But two rivals, Brutus and Cassius, formed an army with which they planned to take the Empire for themselves. The Triumvirate needed money to fund an army of its own, and decided the best way to raise it was by kicking the proscription process into overdrive. They drew up a list of several hundred wealthy Romans, accused them of crimes, executed them and took their property.

• In the mid-1530s, English king Henry VIII was short of funds, so he seized the country’s monasteries and claimed their property and income for the Crown. As historian G. J. Meyer tells it in The Tudors: The Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty:

“By April fat trunks were being hauled into London filled with gold and silver plate, jewelry, and other treasures accumulated by the monasteries over the centuries. With them came money from the sale of church bells, lead stripped from the roofs of monastic buildings, and livestock, furnishings, and equipment. Some of the confiscated land was sold – enough to bring in £30,000 – and what was not sold generated tens of thousands of pounds in annual rents. The longer the confiscations continued, the smaller the possibility of their ever being reversed or even stopped from going further. The money was spent almost as quickly as it flooded in – so quickly that any attempt to restore the monasteries to what they had been before the suppression would have meant financial ruin for the Crown. Nor would those involved in the work of the suppression … ever be willing to part with what they were skimming off for themselves.”…

 

The Conspiracy is Systemic and Legalized. | Collapse of Industrial Civilization

The Conspiracy is Systemic and Legalized. | Collapse of Industrial Civilization. (FULL ARTICLE)

If you are a person who gets their news solely from mainstream media and forms a worldview from that information, then this website would perhaps strike you as radical, off-base, and conspiratorial. But what if nearly everything you listen to and read has been filtered through the monied interests of the most powerful entities on the planet? And what if those entities quite literally control the government by way of a revolving door, campaign contributions, and lobbyists who unduly influence the crafting of legislation in favor of big business while ignoring the needs of the common citizenry? What if you are merely a pawn in the machinations of such a system — a consumer for the all-important world market and a disposable human resource in its labor pool? What if the wealth created by such an economy is amassing at the very tip of this pyramid scheme while leaving those below to fend for themselves in a world depleted of its resources and poisoned by industrial waste. Would such a grim reality be considered a conspiracy theory? In other words, would the previously described outcome of such a socio-economic system necessarily have to be the plan of a secret cabal of powerful people? If corporations must compete to survive and are legally bound to look after the financial interests of their shareholders, then protecting and growing profits must in the end override all other concerns — environmental and social. The gross wealth disparity, environmental destruction, and political disenfranchisement created by capitalism is not the byproduct of a conspiracy; it’s simply the end-result of a system operating as intended. Concentration of wealth, a characteristic result of capitalism, inevitably leads to a near total corruption of journalism and democracy. Of course the corporate elite may collude to price-fix, bribe regulators or heads of state, and cover up environmental damage and dangers to public health, amongst many other devious activities, but it is invariably done in the interest of gaining dominance in the market place and protecting profits. Capitalism and democracy are not compatible. In fact, life on Earth is ultimately not compatible with capitalism….

The punctuated collapse of the Roman Empire

The punctuated collapse of the Roman Empire.

The punctuated collapse of the Roman Empire

by Ugo Bardi, originally published by Cassandra’s legacy  | JUL 15, 2013

 

I defined as the “Seneca Cliff” the tendency of some systems to collapse after having peaked. Here I start from some considerations about whether the collapse could be smooth or an uneven process that we could define as “punctuated.” I am taking the Roman Empire as an example and showing that it did decline much faster than it grew. But the decline was surely far from smooth. 

The idea of an impending collapse of our civilization is already bad enough in itself, but it has this little extra-twist that collapse may be given more speed by what I called the “Seneca Cliff,” from the words of the Roman Philosopher who had noted first that, “Fortune is slow, but ruin is rapid“. The concept of the Seneca Cliff seems to have gained some traction over the Web and many people have been discussing it. Recently, I found an interesting comment on this point by Jason Heppenstall on his blog “22 billion energy slaves”. He summarizes the debate as:

“In the fast-collapse camp are the likes of Dmitry Orlov (who bases his assessment on his experience of seeing the USSR implode) and Ugo Bardi, who expects a ‘Seneca’s Cliff’ dropoff. James Kunstler, Michael Ruppert and any number of others can probably also be added to the fast-collapse camp.

By comparison, the likes of John Michael Greer reckon we are in for a drawn-out era of terminal decline punctuated by serious crises which, at the time, will seem rather severe to all involved but which will give way to plateaux of relative stability, albeit at a lower level of energy throughput.”

Actually, the two camps may not be in such a radical disagreement with each other as they are described. The idea of the fast (or Seneca-like) collapse does not necessarily mean that collapse will be continuous or smooth. The model that describes the Seneca effect does give that kind of output, but models are – as usual – just approximations. The real world may follow the curve in a series of “bumps” that will give an impression of recovery to the people who will experience the painful descent period.

So, collapse may very well be “punctuated: a series of periods of temporary stability, separated by severe crashes. But it may still be much faster than the previous growth had been. I discussed this point already in my first post on the Seneca Effect, but let me return on this subject and let me consider one of the best known cases of societal collapse: that of the Roman Empire.

First of all: some qualitative considerations. Rome’s foundation goes back to 753 BC; the end of the Western Empire is usually taken as 476 AD, with the dethroning of the last Western Emperor, Romulus Augustus. Now, in between these two dates, a time span of more than 1200 years, the Empire peaked. When was that?

The answer depends on which parameter we are considering but it seems clear that, whatever choice we make, the peak was not midway – it was much later. The Empire was still strong and powerful during the 2nd century AD and we might take the age of Emperor Trajan as the peak (he died in 117 AD) as “peak empire.” We may also note that up to the time of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (who died in 180 AD), the empire didn’t show evident signs of weakness, so we could take the peak as occurring in mid or late 2nd century AD. In the end, the exact date doesn’t matter: the Empire took around 900 years to go from the foundation of Rome to the 2nd century peak. Then, it took just 400 years – probably less than that – for the Empire to wither and disappear. An asymmetric, Seneca-like collapse, indeed.

We also have some quantitative data on the Empire’s cycle. For instance, look at this image from Wikipedia.

It shows the size of the Roman military over the Empire’s span of existence. WIth all the uncertainties involved, also this image shows a typical “Seneca” shape for both the Western and the Eastern parts of the Empire. Decline is faster than growth, indeed.

There are other indicators that we can consider about the collapse of the Roman Empire. In many cases, we don’t have sufficient data to say much, but in some, we can say that collapse was, indeed, abrupt. For instance, you can give a look to a well known image taken from Joseph Tainter’s book “The Collapse of Complex Societies

The figure shows the content of silver in the Roman “denarius” which by the 3rd century AD, had become pure copper. Note how the decline starts slow, but then goes on faster and faster. Seneca himself would have understood this phenomenon very well.

So, the Roman Empire seems to have been hit by a “Seneca collapse” and that tells us that the occurrence of this kind of rapid decline may be commonplace for the entities we call “civilizations” or “empires”.

It is also true, however, that the Roman collapse was far from being smooth. It went through periods of apparent stability, interrupted by periods of extremely fast descent. The chroniclers of the time described these periods of crisis, but none of them seem to have connected the dots: they never saw that each crisis was linked to the preceding one and leading to the next one. Punctuated collapse seemed to be invisible to the ancient Romans, just as it is for us, today.

 

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