The Opaque Process Of Collapse

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Charles Hugh-Smith of OfTwoMinds blog,

The ultimate cost of protecting the privileges of the few at the expense of the many is the dissolution of the social order that enabled the rule of the privileged few.

When I write about the demise of unsustainable systems, readers often ask me to describe the collapse I see as inevitable. This is a tough assignment, as there are as many kinds of collapse as there are systems: fragile ones can collapse suddenly, and resilient ones can decay for years or even decades before finally imploding or withering away.

Another way of describing collapse is: complex systems become much less complex.

Certain features of modern life could collapse without affecting everyday life much--for example, the derivatives markets could stop working and the impact would be enormous on those playing financial games and those who entrusted money to the gamblers, but the consequences would be extremely concentrated in the gambler/speculator class. Despite the usual cries that financial losses in the gambler/speculator class will destroy civilization, the disruptions and losses would be widely dispersed for the economy as a whole.

Other collapses--in food or energy distribution, digital communications, etc.--would have immediate and severe impacts on daily life.

My three primary models of decay and collapse are:

1. Historian David Hackett Fischer's masterwork The Great Wave: Price Revolutions and the Rhythm of History (given to me by longtime correspondent Cheryl A.)

2. Thomas Homer-Dixon's The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization

3. The decline of the Western Roman Empire (the process, not Edward Gibbon's epic 6-volume history). My recommended book on the topic (a short read): The Fall of the Roman Empire

Fischer's primary thesis is that society and the economy expand in times of plentiful resources and credit, and this increased demand eventually consumes all available resources. When demand exceeds supply and excesses of credit reach extremes, inflation and social disorder arise together.

Though we have yet to see inflation on a global scale, it is inescapable that demand will soon outstrip supply of essential resources and that the global credit bubble will pop, depriving the economy of the means to buy resources regardless of cost.

The Upside of Down describes the process of increasing complexity adding fixed costs to the system, and the way in which this diminishes returns: more and more labor, capital and resources must be devoted to maintain production. At some point, the yield is negative--costs are higher than the output.

At that point, systems start unraveling, and people simply abandon costly complex systems because the means to support them no are no longer readily available.

This is similar to John Michael Greer's process of catabolic collapse, in which costly complex systems go through a re-set to a much lower energy consumption and less complexity. The system stabilizes at that level for a time, and then as costs rise and resources dwindle, it goes through another downsizing.

The Western Roman Empire (along with the Tang Dynasty in China) is the premier historical template for slow decline/decay leading to an eventual collapse. (Recall that the Eastern Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, endured for another 1,000 years.)

Depending on how you slice it, Western Rome's Imperial decline took a few hundred years to play out. Unusually competent and energetic leaders arose at critical junctures in the early stages, and these leaders managed to stem the encroachment of other empires and "barbarian" forces and effectively re-order Rome's dwindling resources.

By the end, The Western Roman Empire was still issuing a flood of edicts to the various regions, but there was no one left to follow the edicts or enforce them: the Roman legions existed only on parchment. The legion had a name and a structure, but there were no longer any soldiers in the field.

A number of real-world examples of decline/collapse are playing out in real time. Venezuela is one; Greece is another. Both demonstrate the opacity of the process of collapse; it is not as clear as we might imagine. A recent first-hand account of a sympathetic visitor to Venzuela captures the flavor and despair of slow-moving, uneven collapse:

Venezuela: Is There A Driver At The Wheel? (via Arshad A.)

"A dollar traded in the bank officially, or pulled out of an ATM machine, however, is worth about six bolivars only. This is how big the gap is between the black market rate (600-700 to the USD) and the official rate.

Despite the fact that the price of petrol is incredibly cheap, the government has not raised the prices even a slight amount, although this would create revenue for the state and despite the health risks of pollution.This suggests that the government is engaging in populism by refusing to take a step demanded by common sense due to its need to get reelected in December when parliamentary elections will take place.

One can easily get assassinated, as Venezuela has one of the highest homicide rates in Latin America and there are enough people who would not mind killing someone for the fee of $200.

However, when there is massive violence in the streets and many in the government seem to be corrupt, while a sense of anarchy prevails and it seems that the government turns a blind eye to violence when it takes place by local bandits, preferring to continuously blame outsiders, then there is indeed a source for concern."

Reports out of Greece demonstrate the dynamics of decline and collapse: medicines are unavailable, pensions have been slashed and many households are now below the EU poverty level in income.

But we also hear that life goes on; the social order does not appear to have broken down into anarchy.

Clearly, the Greek economy has contracted, and millions of households have less income than they did before. But has daily life broken down? Have the institutions of public order collapsed?

Perhaps not, but what is collapsing is public trust in these institutions' ability and willingness to manage the financial crisis and the political disorder that follows.

There is no good solution to the multiple crises in Greece, and the small circle of financial and political elites that benefited from Greece's entry into the Eurozone remains largely untouched by the crisis. When the status quo is rigid and unbending, the odds of sudden collapse rise: what doesn't bend will snap.

The process of collapse is thus heavily dependent on how the financial and political elites respond to the decline of resources and credit. If they manage the contraction skillfully and absorb their share of the inevitable losses, then the re-set will likely be successful and the pain short-lived.

If however the ruling elites cling to every scrap of their power and wealth, and begin fighting over the spoils while forcing the underclasses to absorb the losses of the re-set, then the fragility of the system rises in direct proportion to the policy extremes being pursued by vested interests focused on protecting their privileges regardless of cost.

The ultimate cost of protecting the privileges of the few at the expense of the many is the dissolution of the social order that enabled the rule of the privileged few.

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stinkhammer's picture

come on baby eat the rich

NidStyles's picture

come on baby eat the Tribe

Far more accurate about what needs to happen.

Soul Glow's picture

Are you talking about the Tribe of WASPs that own New York City, Brussels and Londontown?  Or the Catholics that own Rome?  Or the Jews.  You're talking about the Jews aren't you.

NidStyles's picture

They are all a part of the Tribe.


Do you think I would hide what I meant and not just siad Jews if that was what I meant? As if I were too scared to name the Jews after all of the times when I pointed out when it was a Jew behind it.


You pathetic wastes should stop projecting your fear and weakness onto me. I've never displayed any fear or weakness anywhere, and most of you likely know or have a good idea who I am already. I've never hidden it, and I never will. I am all over the place, my screen name is well known. I only have two alias's. The Tribe already know's who I am....

lasvegaspersona's picture

Don't kid yourself folks. This cannot be laid at the feet of 'the jews'. Most Jewish people I know are cardiologist, not bankers.

The problems of our current monetary system are the result of the actions of the USA (Bretton Woods with the approval of most of the victors of WW2) and Richard Nixon. After that Congress took full advantage of the reserve currency status (egged on by the public who enjoyed more benefits with lower taxes.) Now that the chickens are coming home to roost we are loking for someone to blame.

This mess is not the fault of the central banks...they serve at the pleasure of the government. To believe otherwise is just simplistic thinking. At ZH there are a few favorite scapegoats like Boomers, jews, politicians, political parties and the FSA. In truth we Americans have lived higher on the hog than any other nation. In a big way this was do to our ability to print dollars and spend them into the economy without 'the pain of work'. The recycling of the dollars we spent by the world's central banks , as they sent our dollars back to us to buy treasuries, insured that the government could continue to spend yet not raise taxes. This worked for half a century but is now breaking down.

Not to understand what is actually happening, blaming the wrong groups and believing in incorrect models will only lead to personal bankruptcy and punishment of innocent people. Behaving with clear thinking is hard when the whole world is suffering but we will get a much better outcome if we do.

VWAndy's picture

Yep dickheads come in every form. Black,white and brown. Every religion too. These are tools used to keep us all devided and we eat it up. The moment we decide on what group we want to be in we simply ignore everything our group does thats bad.

 Ds simply ignore all their own faults. As do the Rs. Blacks look the other way as do whites.

 We really need to focus our collective pissed off at the dickheads in our own groups first.

 My group is honest human from earth.

NidStyles's picture

We have to be honest with ourselves as well. This system did come out of the mind of the "Jews", the Pharisees. They are very complicate in the debauchery and enslavement of many. Their "usury" was the bane of the ancient world, just as it is the bane of us today. They use their phony money system to prop up Israel with free-subsidies and weaponry. To create free loans for themselves to buy up entire industries. Cerberus buying up everything in the major gun manufacturing a great example. Cerberus is a Jewish investment firm.

Their manipulation of the world to get them privileged status has lead to the creation of the Tribe. It is their child. They bought visa free access to every nation on the planet and actively promote the destruction of nationalism and nationalities around the world. They are responsible for the force acceptance of refugees in Europe, the US, and Australia. It is their philosophy that has promoted the thought police mindset of the SJW's and the hard left. Even as Putin himself stated, it was they who were behind the Soviet revolt that took over Russia and dominated all of Eastern Europe and murdered 60+ million Europeans.


Their lies about the Germans are the worst, and they use it to subjugate the only people that have ever stood up to them. All the while they ignore that they killed tens times as many as they wish to claim in the inverse.


So while the whole Tribe is complicate, it's the Jews that created it. The whole Tribe is guilty though. The Tribe being anyone whom is complicate and supports their agenda.


VWAndy's picture

Yep the worst lies are the ones we tell ourselves. That is the best place to start.

NidStyles's picture

Like Vegas up there saying that it's not due to the Jewish activities, while ignoring that it's been the Jews in charge of the Fed for decades now, and blaming the Fed's policies set by those same Jews.


This while ignoring that they have openly spoke about them taking advantage of our gullibility and them openly talking about how much they hate us. How much more obvious does it have to get before everyone wakes up???


They actively speak openly about destroying us completely and breeding us out of existence FFS. It's open genocide.

GhostOfDiogenes's picture
GhostOfDiogenes (not verified) NidStyles Feb 4, 2016 2:04 PM

Nothing new about jews, they have been a satanic tribe since before babylon.

Kicked out of 110 countries in 2000 years?

Its the goyims fault!

Mr. Universe's picture

Just looking around at the state of the world and it's hard to believe with so many people working for "the good of mankind" that things could be so close to the apocalypse. Unless of course it's all part of some eternal battle.  

"I know about your suffering and your poverty--but you are rich! I know the blasphemy of those opposing you. They say they are Jews, but they are not, because their synagogue belongs to Satan.  Revelations 2:9

For the historically minded that would be the "altar of Zeus" which resided in the city of Pergamum. The city is now in ruins, but the Germans by 1930 managed to excavate the altar and rebuild it stone for stone in it's own museum in Berlin.  

Just for fun, answer the question, what is the jewish faith? from where does it come from, what do they believe and what is their Holy book. The answers are not what most Americans think. It is more akin to Islam than Christianity for sure.

Pairadimes's picture

System thinking is the correct approach to understanding this process, but the author misses one aspect of the process which is an aid to comprehension. Systems in a state of disequilibrium (like the one we are encompassed by) owe this status to a series of dynamics which are driving the change in the system's state. In the US, these primary drivers in no particular order are the rise of the welfare state, the debt-based fiat money system structure, the accumulation of stolen wealth by the leaders who have commandeered and now run the monetary system, the leviathan federal government's continued growth, hostility to and bureaucratization of the economy, the deep factionalization of domestic politics in the face of a monolithic internal threat, and the affluence-driven abandonment of most of the cultural virtues which have historically promoted stability in America.

From these dynamics, certain trends can be identified and gamed to their likely outcomes. For instance, the decline in the standard of living of the average American is now structural, and therefore guaranteed. This decline will accelerate while the culture deeply fractures between the value systems of statism and all others. Due to generations of national wealth and relative peace, large segments of the population will be discovered to be profoundly unready for the strife that overtakes them. Factions determined to address these dynamics will coalesce around their shared perception of the enemies. These coalitions will begin to employ increasingly aggressive tactics including violence, resulting in deep political stress as the government response to these trends makes the problems worse. 

Civil war is one possible outcome, but it seems more likely that the US becomes the disunited states of America, with states aggregating like with like and abandoning the involvement of the federal government in an effort to correct the decline. This may begin with states repudiating federal programs and regulations wholesale, and progressing to things like local currencies intended to escape future federal capital controls and bail-ins.

This process could take years, or decades. This does not happen in isolation from world events, which could accelerate the local timeline. There is a large contingent of individuals, primarily the denizens of flyover country, who by their culture, faith and mindset may well correctly identify the problem and organize to address it. America's history renders it likely to follow a different path than much of China or Europe under these circumstances, given the political histories of these regions in comparison with the US. This sets up the US for an increasingly disruptive trip into the future, where wealth, health, liberty and safety all decline beyond the imagination of most of us.

True Blue's picture

This mess is not the fault of the central banks...they serve at the pleasure of the government.

They facilitate the whole thing -for a profit. And who serves whom? Goldman Sachs (with how many sitting Fed members?) actually PAYS EMPLOYEES A BONUS TO 'QUIT' AND ENTER THE GOVERNMENT. Seems the Government acts at the Banks pleasure, with the tax-donkey serfs to pick up the tab.

Living 'high on the hog' is hardly how I would describe a country with a tax rate more than double that of Russia.

insured that the government could continue to spend yet not raise taxes

Only because people are either too stupid or miseducated to realize that inflation IS a TAX.

"By a continuing process of inflation, governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens. By this method they not only confiscate, but they confiscate arbitrarily; and, while the process impoverishes many, it actually enriches some. The sight of this arbitrary rearrangement of riches strikes not only at security but [also] at confidence in the equity of the existing distribution of wealth." -John Maynard Keynes

nofluer's picture

"This mess is not the fault of the central banks...they serve at the pleasure of the government."

Sorry. You have that backwards. Does the government control the Vampire Squid? Or does the Vampire squid control the government? Sorry to say, the latter case is true.

And the Central Banks are run by the Vampire Squids around the world.

Marco's picture

Cardiologists ay, well if any of your loved ones is ever really hard up for a heart transplant you know who to ask (global illegal organ trade is run mostly by and mostly for Jews).

Between their tribal allegiancse, their (self-)destructive liberalism and their use of their religiously inspired ethinc supremacism and holocaust persecution complex as an excuse to exploit everyone around them (or frequently worse in the case of the organ trade) they are exceedingly dangerous even without some grand conspiracy. Jews are what Roma would be if they somehow all got 120 IQ.

VWAndy's picture

I dont know who you are. Though I do agree with you rather often. I dont get why people feel they need to hide. Never been one to hide myself. TPTB know who we are but we dont know each other. Thats one mistake that holds us back. Maybe we are far stronger than we ever thought?

 This is me.


NidStyles's picture

We out number the Tribe billions to one. Their only power is their banking system.

Everything else is what we do to ourselves in the name of getting access to their fradulent banking system that they use to enrich themselves with and buy us off to attack each other.




peddling-fiction's picture

You are right, all of us outnumber them, but I would subtract the sheeple from "us".

They outsmart and brainwash the sheeple and know how to use them against us to protect themselves.

NorthernPike's picture

Get rid of "Them" of whomever is desired to be blamed at the moment;someone else will have to step in.
Human Natures requires a "Them". The often nebulous "Them" is an ecological feature of Human Society not an anomaly.

Then of course someone needs to shear the Sheeple and tell them what to do.

Without a big daddy or momma telling folks what to do why people would be wandering around aimlessly bleating for forever.

VWAndy's picture

Ssshh grown ups are talking.

nofluer's picture

I find that "Them" never equates to "me". The "thems are always someone else. But if everyone is a "them" - how then can there BE a them unless some of the "we" also belongs to "them?"

If you want to see the creator and originator of "them, look in a mirror.

bamawatson's picture

Andy; thanks for your link

there is no hiding, only the illusion thereof

my screen name is my name

VWAndy's picture

Good stuff. I always wanted to master music. Sadly its not in me. Music is one of the most powerfull things in the human world. I learned more good from songs than schools.

Looney's picture

There will be no collapse this time around. PROLAPSE is comin'. ;-)


doctor10's picture

an oligarchy running a criminally organized government always collapses society and that govenrment around them in their attempts to avoid the reality of prosecution.


that process describes the Soviet Union from 1945-1990; it describes the USA from at least  11/22/63 to the present


What nobody pays attention to is that the criminals running those governments into the ground are the patsies for the bankerz

hedgeless_horseman's picture



The process of collapse is thus heavily dependent on how the financial and political elites respond to the decline of resources and credit. If they manage the contraction skillfully and absorb their share of the inevitable losses, then the re-set will likely be successful and the pain short-lived...

...and would look something like this.

Except that the Federal Reserve System is specifically designed for "The Elite" to privatize gains, and socialize losses, and to NEVER, "absorb their share of the inevitable losses."

Father Thyme's picture
Father Thyme (not verified) hedgeless_horseman Feb 4, 2016 11:59 AM


The ol' hedonic treadmill is a bitch.

Soul Glow's picture

I heard collecting unicorn piss was how Bernanke made QE!

KnuckleDragger-X's picture

History is full of civilizations collapsing with the elites always proclaiming "it's different this time!" though it never is. The big difference this time is the information age with news moving across the globe at the speed of light instead of weeks to months on horseback or afoot. It will fall apart quickly, and once again it will be a complete 'surprise'......

Fuku Ben's picture

Excellent points. I would also add the system was purposely created for maximum theft of currency by fraudulently trapping everyone in debt enslavement. And as you very accurately point out the only way the whole global mess is going to be fixed is a unified effort including those that created and benefited most making significant contributions to correct it. Otherwise things are going to get ugly for everyone.

Kirk2NCC1701's picture

Dammit HH, when you're right, you're right.

To slow and delay the repeat of the same in the next Super Cycle (60-100 years), there needs to be a Reconning, a la French Revolution of German Revolution (1930s).  

Long 'Pitchforks' (Mussolini Pinatas and Banskter woodchippers). 


p.s. I am reminded that Moses and Joshua wiped out an entire Tribe, down to the last infant.  Even so, or perhaps precisely because of it, they managed to build an Organized Religion (with all dissenters removed from gene pool), which even that conjuring, hippie Rabbi, Jeshua of Nazaret seems to have approved.  Seems that the Clerical Editors (Council of Nicaea) in 325 AD overlooked that bit of Forensic/CSI discrepancy.  Oops!  

(See, I call out BS wherever I see it -- be it Jewish, Christian or Muslim, be it US, Russian or Chinese, be it MSM or ZH.  Cause BS needs to be weeded out wherever it occurs).

Father Thyme's picture
Father Thyme (not verified) Feb 4, 2016 11:52 AM

The necessities of life are easy to get, as the Tetrapharmakos states:


Don't fear god,
Don't worry about death;
What is good is easy to get,
What is terrible is easy to endure.


Kirk2NCC1701's picture

"Unlike most people, who seem dependent on some flavor of Organized Religion, I do not need the 'Bribe of Heaven or the Blackmail of Hell' to (1) act like a decent human being, (2) to create healthy and productive relationships, (3) to be part of something bigger, (4) or to give my life purpose and meaning." -Kirk2NCC1701

"I no longer need a pre-processed, nicely packaged, hand-me-down 'Worldview-for-Rent'.  Like any evolved sentient being, after stripping the lies, illusions and delusions of Organized Religion (in a process lasting many years), I too 'Shall seek my own council', after having examined a multitude of views" -Kirk2NCC1701.


I sincerely hope that others will also strip away all Illusions, Delusions and Pretenses of man-made Organized Religions -- which benefit the Power Elite much more than they benefit their Sheeple Subjects of every region and era of human history.

VWAndy's picture

Bravo! Think for yourself. Thats one of those things we all should be doing.

GhostOfDiogenes's picture
GhostOfDiogenes (not verified) Kirk2NCC1701 Feb 4, 2016 2:02 PM

So cap'tain, you are an atheist supremecist jew?

Makes sense.

VWAndy's picture

Kirk you had a glossary of terms that was great. Would you do me the favor of putting it into your pinned topics list. Maybe elaborate on key ones a bit more? Please it might help lots of good poeople to grock all the BS?

4 wheel drift's picture

wanna fix the ongoing....


need to destroy it first and start new...

can't see any other way...  but it will hurt

Father Thyme's picture
Father Thyme (not verified) 4 wheel drift Feb 4, 2016 12:00 PM

<--Destructive Creation

<--Creative Destruction

Chuckster's picture

If however the ruling elites cling to every scrap of their power and wealth, and begin fighting over the spoils while forcing the underclasses to absorb the losses of the re-set, then the fragility of the system rises in direct proportion to the policy extremes being pursued by vested interests focused on protecting their privileges regardless of cost.

This has already been done IE: AIG and the big banks and investment firms.

NoDebt's picture

"The process of collapse is thus heavily dependent on how the financial and political elites respond to the decline of resources and credit."

Sorry, but I have no idea what CHS is talking about here.  NONE of what's going on is a shortage problem.  

Dickweed Wang's picture

 NONE of what's going on is a shortage problem.


I had the same thoughts when I read his statement regarding a shortage of resources.  Right now there is an incredible glut in every resource you can think of so when is he predicting this, 2050, 2150, 2250??? It makes his statement pretty irrelevant in the current context.

Sages wife's picture

I read 'decline', not 'shortage'. He might be talking about profit and not availability.

Dickweed Wang's picture

I read 'decline', not 'shortage'.


He actually said neither although I guess I can see how you might interpret it that way.  Here's the sentence I based my comment on:

". . . and this increased demand eventually consumes all available resources."

When I see a statement like "consumes all available resources" that implies a shortage of resources, and of course there would be a decline to get to that point.  Again, this is nothing close to reality in the current context.

Cloud9.5's picture

There are shortages; you just have to know where to look.  As the system collapses, there are supply chain problems.  There is abundance in some areas and shortages in others.  The shortages first appear on the periphery and then they migrate to the core.  There are shortages in Greece.  There are shortages in Venezuela.  We can blame these shortages on poor political choices, but we cannot escape the fact that rising debt used to contain contracting economic activity is at the core of these shortages.  The contracting economic activity is in no small way connected to the declining net extraction we are seeing in the energy sector.  

Dickweed Wang's picture

If I could summarize I think what you are really saying is that the shortages that are now appearing are related to a break-down in global trade and are not really related to a scarcity of resources.  This is born out by recent reports of empty shelves at places like Lowes and Home Depot where the cheap power tools made over-seas are missing and all that is left is the more expensive units made in the USA.  This problem is only going to get worse as the USA dollar is rejected for settlement of trade with places like China.

SelfGov's picture

Everything that is going on is related to the depletion petroleum resources. It powers everything.

And yes depletion IS an issue.

If it weren't an issue the shale bubble would have never been blown.

NoDebt's picture

By that logic we wouldn't have pincushioned Saudi Arabia with oil wells after WWII unless there was a depletion problem.  Before Saudi, the US was far and away the largest source of crude oil.

If this is a shortage of oil it's taking it's sweet ass time to reach the breaking point.

And, by the way, shortages rarely come in only one commodity.  Are we lacking in copper, aluminum.... food?  None of these things are in short supply.  Are we lacing in credit, given that we now poof currency out of the air with a computer?  You could make an argument MAYBE for clean, potable water being in short supply but not in anything vaguely resembling a developed country (Flint, MI is not a developed country).

If you are looking at this as a shortage issue you've completely missed the point and, fankly, bought into the fear-based bullshit that's peddled regularly by our government, media and other state institutions.

This is NOT about shortage, friend.  This is about THEFT.  Theft of money, theft of liberty, theft of sovereignty.

edifice's picture

Better to use other nations' resources, before your own. The national bird is a predator.

Kprime's picture

back in the day, Flint was a developed country.  Now it's just far N.E. Africa.