Niall Ferguson- Complexity and Collapse
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.