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Niall Ferguson- Complexity and Collapse

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Empires on the Edge of Chaos


Imperial collapse may come much more suddenly than many historians imagine. A combination of fiscal deficits and military overstretch suggests that the United States may be the next empire on the precipice.

NIALL FERGUSON is Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University, a Fellow at Jesus College, Oxford, and a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. His most recent book is The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World.

Excerpts forming my own summary, since the publisher has requested the article not be reposted in its entirety. Tho the words are Mr. Ferguson’s, I take responsibility for the cut and paste and hope I have stayed true to his intent:

“What if history is not cyclical and slow moving but arrhythmic — at times almost stationary, but also capable of accelerating suddenly? What if collapse does not arrive over a number of centuries but comes suddenly, like a thief in the night?…

Great powers and empires…operate somewhere between order and disorder — on “the edge of chaos,” in the phrase of… Christopher Langton. Such systems can appear to operate quite stably for some time; they seem to be in equilibrium but are, in fact, constantly adapting. But there comes a moment when complex systems “go critical.” A very small trigger can set off a “phase transition” from a benign equilibrium to a crisis…

If empires are complex systems that sooner or later succumb to sudden and catastrophic malfunctions, rather than cycling sedately from Arcadia to Apogee to Armageddon, what are the implications for the United States today? …For now, the world still expects the United States to muddle through… But one day, a seemingly random piece of bad news … will make the headlines during an otherwise quiet news cycle. Suddenly, it will be not just a few policy wonks who worry about the sustainability of U.S. fiscal policy but also the public at large, not to mention investors abroad. It is this shift that is crucial: a complex adaptive system is in big trouble when its component parts lose faith in its viability.”

The entire article  is currently available for free at http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/65987/niall-ferguson/complexity-and-collapse.


8 Responses

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  1. […] is the original post: Niall Ferguson- Complexity and Collapse Tags: chaos, edge, ferguson, foreign, summary […]

  2. […] See the original post: Niall Ferguson- Complexity and Collapse […]

  3. […] David Ignatius is touting a Niall Ferguson article about how America is going to collapse because it’s a complex adaptive system. So […]

  4. This article has generated a surprising amount of interest, and for ideas and catch-phrases other than the ones that interested me.

    Needless complexity is a major risk as I see it today. Just check out Toyota’s misery due to computer modules gone mad.

    But the furor of discussion about “complex adaptive systems” http://www.balloon-juice.com/2010/02/27/complex-adaptive-systems/ left me somewhat perplexed. Isn’t failure to adapt the real challenge?


    February 28, 2010 at 5:18 pm

  5. I’m also focussed on these issues and appreciate your well researched article.

    Perhaps you will find something of interest in a few of my posts on these issues which I believe may lead to some fresh approaches…

    On Social Energy, Enterprise & Expanding the Technology of Money
    http://culturalengineer.blogspot.com/2010/01/on-social-energy-enterprise-expanding.html (Jan ’10)

    How would hunter-gatherers run the world? (Pssst… They Do!) (Nov ’09)

    Civilization, Complexity & Collapse – The Search for Levers (Feb ’09)

    Tom Crowl

    March 1, 2010 at 2:21 am

  6. Dear Rachel: I will remedy the situation immediately. I assumed that since I am a subscriber, Fair Use allowed me to re-post. (There is no advertising on my blog.)

    Please also be aware that my re-posting has generated a lot of attention that might otherwise not have happened. “Scholarly” journals don’t get the traffic that blogs do. I also suspect (but have no way to confirm) that Mr. Ferguson might appreciate having his article be part of the public conversation currently focusing on “Collapse”: Chris Hedges and William Engdahl are writers receiving much attention on this subject.

    Claudia Woodward-Rice


    March 1, 2010 at 8:49 am

  7. The Executive Intelligence Review is a journal of what is, systemically, strategic planning, rather than the edifying commentary which lounge lizards would prefer. Therefore, the presently onrushing world conflict, is to be recognized as an inseparable part of that same, presently continuing strategic history of the world as a whole, since that ouster of Germany’s Chancellor Bismarck, which set two so-called “World Wars” and much more into motion, up to this present moment.

    As I explain this point in other locations, all those who are, actually historians, rather than merely chroniclers, look at each present point in real history as I do, not from the past, but, a view of the present as being efficiently controlled from what can be estimated as an approaching critical point in the intended future. Thus, we have the relevant contrast between the confused, impotent outlook expressed by the romantic, reborn, statistically Keynesian follies of New York’s Paul Krugman, as to be contrasted currently with the shamelessness expressed currently in Foreign Affairs and kindred locations, by Harvard’s Scotsman Niall Campbell Ferguson.

    Prize-winning liberal Paul Krugman dwells, in a dream-world of silly statistics, in contrast to a more realistically unpleasant Scotsman, Niall Campbell Ferguson. Ferguson, like Boito’s creation of the soliloquy Otello’s Iago from Otello, expresses the true spirit of a very wicked world, a world of characters out of the spirit of the perpetual evil which Shakespeare revealed, to similar effect, in the perpetual evil which is the world of MacBeth. It is a world of a clever Devil who is looking toward yesterday from tomorrow, looking toward intended, awful years, yet to come.

    For that reason, here, in the March 23 international webcast, “The Ides of March,” I created an EIR setting of that production which features the inclusion of crucial elements of contributor Rachel Douglas’s detailed documentation on the subject of the presently continuing, “Trojan Horse” role of British-directed asset Chubais and his confederates, such as Mikhail Gorbachev, which was to have been seen now as an echo of an evil already under way already during the early through closing years of the 1980s, and beyond.

    That case, of those circles of Gorbachev, Chubais, et al., then, as now, presents us here with a view of the same kind of evil seem among those exact-same British agents from the 1980s, an evil which was to become the crescendo of treasonous economic rape of Russia since even before the advent of the actual break-up of the former Soviet Union.

    Against that backdrop, British strategist Ferguson’s writings, present an echo of the immediate future , for the world of today, an echo of what the British intelligence services of the 1980s have done to wreck both Russia and the economies of western and central continental Europe since the imposition of the “Euro” policy of the trio of Britain’s Margaret Thatcher, France’ President Francois Mitterand, and the U.S.A.’s President George H.W. Bush, during 1990 and beyond.

    On that account, Ferguson’s forecasting, with all its included flaws, is useful in the respect that he presents a credible representation of a British imperialist’s foresight into what that the ruling oligarchy of the Inter-Alpha combination threatens to do to immediate future of the world, especially the Trans-Atlantic world, as during the course of the weeks and months presently coming upon us now. Any treatment of the problems of Russia at this moment, are to be recognized as problems to be understood as being chiefly products of the state of mind of the British imperialism perceived by such wits as Ferguson today.

    The question to be posed, must therefore be: To what Hell, and where, is Ferguson’s perceived forecast for the presently onrushing, intended to lead the bringing down of the world upon us all today?

    What Ferguson’s efforts represent, should be summed up here in the following terms.

    Although the British imperialists pretend that they actual believe in the version of history and strategy which they have copied from both their creator, Paolo Sarpi, and his lying prophet Adam Smith, actually, the class of actually competent British imperialist policy-shapers, like Boito’s Iago, believe in a fully witting, evil God. Adam Smith was written to confuse the befuddled silly wits of their credulous believers. It is by inducing the hapless to believe Sarpi’s fable, that those in the Delphic tradition of of high priest Plutarch, delude the believers in Liberalism, such as our befuddled Paul Krugman, into assisting in the destruction of their own nation.

    So, it is the essence of the strategic study presented as the main feature of this edition of EIR, “The Ides of March,” that Ferguson’s portrait of the future he presents set before us, has a certain, authentically prophetic resonance, coinciding with a certain, crucial, central strategic feature contained within that webcast.

    I emphasize that treatment of the subject of the crucial quality of the strategic impact which new developments inside Russia will have, and that for a long time to come, on the immediate future’s fate of the planet as a whole.

    However, it must be understood, that Ferguson does not disclose an estimate of the choice of strategic doctrine to be adopted by the British empire; rather, he presents the nature of the situation now being created as a product of British imperial intention, without specifying the actual intention itself.

    What remains to be seen, is the choice of strategic options which the British empire would select as an optional strategy under a condition of world affairs such as that which H.G. Wells follower Ferguson presents today. To find the truth of the matter, consider how, the stated British facts of the matter lie. In any case, British policy is likely to attempt to create the impression of British strategic intention’s reliance upon an intended double-envelopment, a belief intended for dumb leading Americans to believe, whereas, actually, a triple envelopment is intended. Those details, however, are for another day.

    Charles Stevens

    March 20, 2010 at 10:01 am

  8. Death squads and terrorists in the Iraq, under whom superiority are they operating ?

    At the very earlier time of the invasion of Iraq, the death squads were operating under the su-periority of U.S invaders and groups which were empowered as Coalition Provisional Authority by the U.S invaders. Since then the premeditated massive genocides and assassinations had begun.

    The appearance of death squads was first highlighted in May this year, when over a 10-day period dozens of bodies were found casually disposed of in rubbish dumps and vacant areas around Baghdad. All of the victims had been handcuffed, blindfolded and shot in the head and many of them also showed signs of having been brutally tortured. On 5 May 15 bodies were discovered in an industrial area.

    A New Death Squad in Iraq

    “All these guys want to do is go out and kill bad guys all day,” he says,
    laughing. “These guys are shit hot. They are just as good as we are. We trained ’em. They are just like us. They use the same weapons. They walk like Americans.” Although the force is officially controlled by the Iraqi government, popular
    perception in Baghdad is that the ISOF–the dirty brigade–is a covert,
    all-Iraqi branch of the US military.

    Bowden says those “local allies” are often used for covert operations. “The
    United States Special Operations Command cultivates relationships with special forces in other countries because it gives the United States the opportunity of intervening militarily in a covert way,” he says. “The ideal covert op is one that is actually carried out by local forces.”

    Terrorism is led by CIA agent Allawi !

    Ayad Allawi led organization that sent agents into Baghdad in the early 1990’s to plant bombs and sabotage government facilities under the direction of the C.I.A., several former intelligence officials say.The bombing and sabotage campaign, the former senior intelligence official said, “was a test more than anything else, to demonstrate capability.”Allawi is not believed to have ever spoken in public about the bombing campaign. But one Iraqi National Accord officer did. In 1996, Amneh al-Khadami, who described himself as the chief bomb maker for the Iraqi Na-tional Accord and as being based in Sulaimaniya, in northern Iraq, recorded a videotape in which he talked of the bombing campaign and complained that he was being shortchanged money and supplies. Two former intelligence officers confirmed the existence of the videotape.


    Death Squads in Iraq

    Ex-C.I.A. Aides Say Iraq Leader Helped Agency in 90’s Attacks

    Media Disinformation and Death Squads in Occupied Iraq

    Iraq’s New Death Squad

    Mohammed AL-Saedi

    October 19, 2010 at 5:19 am

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