Well thought out, reasoned, factual assessment of the next 15 years. He doesn’t seem to know about the Fourth Turning, but his scenarios fit. The important takeaways for me were how rapid a collapse can be and on a day where hackers are causing havoc, how cyber war is how wars will be fought in the future. Carrier groups and troops on the ground will be like the French relying on the Maginot Line. China will use their strong financial position to bankrupt America in an arms buildup, just as Reagan did to the Soviet Union. The similarities are striking.

The synergy of collapse for an empire is: overextension of troops, huge and increasing debt, hubris, educational decline, and poor leadership. All the ingredients are there for the Decline of the American Empire. I don’t think it will take until 2020. The cracks will become fissures before 2015.

Monday, Dec 6, 2010 15:01 ET

How America will collapse (by 2025)

Four scenarios that could spell the end of the United States as we know it — in the very near future

How America will collapse (by 2025)

This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch.

A soft landing for America 40 years from now? Don’t bet on it. The demise of the United States as the global superpower could come far more quickly than anyone imagines. If Washington is dreaming of 2040 or 2050 as the end of the American Century, a more realistic assessment of domestic and global trends suggests that in 2025, just 15 years from now, it could all be over except for the shouting.

Despite the aura of omnipotence most empires project, a look at their history should remind us that they are fragile organisms. So delicate is their ecology of power that, when things start to go truly bad, empires regularly unravel with unholy speed: just a year for Portugal, two years for the Soviet Union, eight years for France, 11 years for the Ottomans, 17 years for Great Britain, and, in all likelihood, 22 years for the United States, counting from the crucial year 2003.

Future historians are likely to identify the Bush administration’s rash invasion of Iraq in that year as the start of America’s downfall. However, instead of the bloodshed that marked the end of so many past empires, with cities burning and civilians slaughtered, this twenty-first century imperial collapse could come relatively quietly through the invisible tendrils of economic collapse or cyberwarfare.

But have no doubt: when Washington’s global dominion finally ends, there will be painful daily reminders of what such a loss of power means for Americans in every walk of life. As a half-dozen European nations have discovered, imperial decline tends to have a remarkably demoralizing impact on a society, regularly bringing at least a generation of economic privation. As the economy cools, political temperatures rise, often sparking serious domestic unrest.

Available economic, educational, and military data indicate that, when it comes to U.S. global power, negative trends will aggregate rapidly by 2020 and are likely to reach a critical mass no later than 2030. The American Century, proclaimed so triumphantly at the start of World War II, will be tattered and fading by 2025, its eighth decade, and could be history by 2030.

Significantly, in 2008, the U.S. National Intelligence Council admitted for the first time that America’s global power was indeed on a declining trajectory. In one of its periodic futuristic reports, Global Trends 2025, the Council cited “the transfer of global wealth and economic power now under way, roughly from West to East” and “without precedent in modern history,” as the primary factor in the decline of the “United States’ relative strength — even in the military realm.” Like many in Washington, however, the Council’s analysts anticipated a very long, very soft landing for American global preeminence, and harbored the hope that somehow the U.S. would long “retain unique military capabilities… to project military power globally” for decades to come.

No such luck. Under current projections, the United States will find itself in second place behind China (already the world’s second largest economy) in economic output around 2026, and behind India by 2050. Similarly, Chinese innovation is on a trajectory toward world leadership in applied science and military technology sometime between 2020 and 2030, just as America’s current supply of brilliant scientists and engineers retires, without adequate replacement by an ill-educated younger generation.

By 2020, according to current plans, the Pentagon will throw a military Hail Mary pass for a dying empire. It will launch a lethal triple canopy of advanced aerospace robotics that represents Washington’s last best hope of retaining global power despite its waning economic influence. By that year, however, China’s global network of communications satellites, backed by the world’s most powerful supercomputers, will also be fully operational, providing Beijing with an independent platform for the weaponization of space and a powerful communications system for missile- or cyber-strikes into every quadrant of the globe.

Wrapped in imperial hubris, like Whitehall or Quai d’Orsay before it, the White House still seems to imagine that American decline will be gradual, gentle, and partial. In his State of the Union address last January, President Obama offered the reassurance that “I do not accept second place for the United States of America.” A few days later, Vice President Biden ridiculed the very idea that “we are destined to fulfill [historian Paul] Kennedy’s prophecy that we are going to be a great nation that has failed because we lost control of our economy and overextended.” Similarly, writing in the November issue of the establishment journal Foreign Affairs, neo-liberal foreign policy guru Joseph Nye waved away talk of China’s economic and military rise, dismissing “misleading metaphors of organic decline” and denying that any deterioration in U.S. global power was underway.

Ordinary Americans, watching their jobs head overseas, have a more realistic view than their cosseted leaders. An opinion poll in August 2010 found that 65 percent of Americans believed the country was now “in a state of decline.”  Already, Australia and Turkey, traditional U.S. military allies, are using their American-manufactured weapons for joint air and naval maneuvers with China. Already, America’s closest economic partners are backing away from Washington’s opposition to China’s rigged currency rates. As the president flew back from his Asian tour last month, a gloomy New York Times headline  summed the moment up this way: “Obama’s Economic View Is Rejected on World Stage, China, Britain and Germany Challenge U.S., Trade Talks With Seoul Fail, Too.”

Viewed historically, the question is not whether the United States will lose its unchallenged global power, but just how precipitous and wrenching the decline will be. In place of Washington’s wishful thinking, let’s use the National Intelligence Council’s own futuristic methodology to suggest four realistic scenarios for how, whether with a bang or a whimper, U.S. global power could reach its end in the 2020s (along with four accompanying assessments of just where we are today). The future scenarios include: economic decline, oil shock, military misadventure, and World War III. While these are hardly the only possibilities when it comes to American decline or even collapse, they offer a window into an onrushing future.

Economic Decline: Present Situation

Today, three main threats exist to America’s dominant position in the global economy: loss of economic clout thanks to a shrinking share of world trade, the decline of American technological innovation, and the end of the dollar’s privileged status as the global reserve currency.

By 2008, the United States had already fallen to number three in global merchandise exports, with just 11 percent of them compared to 12 percent for China and 16 percent for the European Union. There is no reason to believe that this trend will reverse itself.

Similarly, American leadership in technological innovation is on the wane. In 2008, the U.S. was still number two behind Japan in worldwide patent applications with 232,000, but China was closing fast at 195,000, thanks to a blistering 400 percent increase since 2000. A harbinger of further decline: in 2009 the U.S. hit rock bottom in ranking among the 40 nations surveyed by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation when it came to “change” in “global innovation-based competitiveness” during the previous decade. Adding substance to these statistics, in October China’s Defense Ministry unveiled the world’s fastest supercomputer, the Tianhe-1A, so powerful, said one U.S. expert, that it “blows away the existing No. 1 machine” in America.

Add to this clear evidence that the U.S. education system, that source of future scientists and innovators, has been falling behind its competitors. After leading the world for decades in 25- to 34-year-olds with university degrees, the country sank to 12th place in 2010. The World Economic Forum ranked the United States at a mediocre 52nd among 139 nations in the quality of its university math and science instruction in 2010. Nearly half of all graduate students in the sciences in the U.S. are now foreigners, most of whom will be heading home, not staying here as once would have happened. By 2025, in other words, the United States is likely to face a critical shortage of talented scientists.

Such negative trends are encouraging increasingly sharp criticism of the dollar’s role as the world’s reserve currency. “Other countries are no longer willing to buy into the idea that the U.S. knows best on economic policy,” observed Kenneth S. Rogoff, a former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund. In mid-2009, with the world’s central banks holding an astronomical $4 trillion in U.S. Treasury notes, Russian president Dimitri Medvedev insisted that it was time to end “the artificially maintained unipolar system” based on “one formerly strong reserve currency.”

Simultaneously, China’s central bank governor suggested that the future might lie with a global reserve currency “disconnected from individual nations” (that is, the U.S. dollar). Take these as signposts of a world to come, and of a possible attempt, as economist Michael Hudson has argued, “to hasten the bankruptcy of the U.S. financial-military world order.”

Economic Decline: Scenario 2020

After years of swelling deficits fed by incessant warfare in distant lands, in 2020, as long expected, the U.S. dollar finally loses its special status as the world’s reserve currency. Suddenly, the cost of imports soars. Unable to pay for swelling deficits by selling now-devalued Treasury notes abroad, Washington is finally forced to slash its bloated military budget. Under pressure at home and abroad, Washington slowly pulls U.S. forces back from hundreds of overseas bases to a continental perimeter. By now, however, it is far too late.

Faced with a fading superpower incapable of paying the bills, China, India, Iran, Russia, and other powers, great and regional, provocatively challenge U.S. dominion over the oceans, space, and cyberspace. Meanwhile, amid soaring prices, ever-rising unemployment, and a continuing decline in real wages, domestic divisions widen into violent clashes and divisive debates, often over remarkably irrelevant issues. Riding a political tide of disillusionment and despair, a far-right patriot captures the presidency with thundering rhetoric, demanding respect for American authority and threatening military retaliation or economic reprisal. The world pays next to no attention as the American Century ends in silence.

Oil Shock: Present Situation

One casualty of America’s waning economic power has been its lock on global oil supplies. Speeding by America’s gas-guzzling economy in the passing lane, China became the world’s number one energy consumer this summer, a position the U.S. had held for over a century. Energy specialist Michael Klare has argued that this change means China will “set the pace in shaping our global future.”

By 2025, Iran and Russia will control almost half of the world’s natural gas supply, which will potentially give them enormous leverage over energy-starved Europe. Add petroleum reserves to the mix and, as the National Intelligence Council has warned, in just 15 years two countries, Russia and Iran, could “emerge as energy kingpins.”

Despite remarkable ingenuity, the major oil powers are now draining the big basins of petroleum reserves that are amenable to easy, cheap extraction. The real lesson of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico was not BP’s sloppy safety standards, but the simple fact everyone saw on “spillcam”: one of the corporate energy giants had little choice but to search for what Klare calls “tough oil” miles beneath the surface of the ocean to keep its profits up.

Compounding the problem, the Chinese and Indians have suddenly become far heavier energy consumers. Even if fossil fuel supplies were to remain constant (which they won’t), demand, and so costs, are almost certain to rise — and sharply at that. Other developed nations are meeting this threat aggressively by plunging into experimental programs to develop alternative energy sources. The United States has taken a different path, doing far too little to develop alternative sources while, in the last three decades, doubling its dependence on foreign oil imports. Between 1973 and 2007, oil imports have risen from 36 percent of energy consumed in the U.S. to 66 percent.

Oil Shock: Scenario 2025

The United States remains so dependent upon foreign oil that a few adverse developments in the global energy market in 2025 spark an oil shock. By comparison, it makes the 1973 oil shock (when prices quadrupled in just months) look like the proverbial molehill. Angered at the dollar’s plummeting value, OPEC oil ministers, meeting in Riyadh, demand future energy payments in a “basket” of Yen, Yuan, and Euros. That only hikes the cost of U.S. oil imports further. At the same moment, while signing a new series of long-term delivery contracts with China, the Saudis stabilize their own foreign exchange reserves by switching to the Yuan. Meanwhile, China pours countless billions into building a massive trans-Asia pipeline and funding Iran’s exploitation of the world largest percent natural gas field at South Pars in the Persian Gulf.

Concerned that the U.S. Navy might no longer be able to protect the oil tankers traveling from the Persian Gulf to fuel East Asia, a coalition of Tehran, Riyadh, and Abu Dhabi form an unexpected new Gulf alliance and affirm that China’s new fleet of swift aircraft carriers will henceforth patrol the Persian Gulf from a base on the Gulf of Oman. Under heavy economic pressure, London agrees to cancel the U.S. lease on its Indian Ocean island base of Diego Garcia, while Canberra, pressured by the Chinese, informs Washington that the Seventh Fleet is no longer welcome to use Fremantle as a homeport, effectively evicting the U.S. Navy from the Indian Ocean.

With just a few strokes of the pen and some terse announcements, the “Carter Doctrine,” by which U.S. military power was to eternally protect the Persian Gulf, is laid to rest in 2025. All the elements that long assured the United States limitless supplies of low-cost oil from that region — logistics, exchange rates, and naval power — evaporate. At this point, the U.S. can still cover only an insignificant 12 percent of its energy needs from its nascent alternative energy industry, and remains dependent on imported oil for half of its energy consumption.

The oil shock that follows hits the country like a hurricane, sending prices to startling heights, making travel a staggeringly expensive proposition, putting real wages (which had long been declining) into freefall, and rendering non-competitive whatever American exports remained. With thermostats dropping, gas prices climbing through the roof, and dollars flowing overseas in return for costly oil, the American economy is paralyzed. With long-fraying alliances at an end and fiscal pressures mounting, U.S. military forces finally begin a staged withdrawal from their overseas bases.

Within a few years, the U.S. is functionally bankrupt and the clock is ticking toward midnight on the American Century.

Military Misadventure: Present Situation

Counterintuitively, as their power wanes, empires often plunge into ill-advised military misadventures. This phenomenon is known among historians of empire as “micro-militarism” and seems to involve psychologically compensatory efforts to salve the sting of retreat or defeat by occupying new territories, however briefly and catastrophically. These operations, irrational even from an imperial point of view, often yield hemorrhaging expenditures or humiliating defeats that only accelerate the loss of power.

Embattled empires through the ages suffer an arrogance that drives them to plunge ever deeper into military misadventures until defeat becomes debacle. In 413 BCE, a weakened Athens sent 200 ships to be slaughtered in Sicily. In 1921, a dying imperial Spain dispatched 20,000 soldiers to be massacred by Berber guerrillas in Morocco. In 1956, a fading British Empire destroyed its prestige by attacking Suez. And in 2001 and 2003, the U.S. occupied Afghanistan and invaded Iraq. With the hubris that marks empires over the millennia, Washington has increased its troops in Afghanistan to 100,000, expanded the war into Pakistan, and extended its commitment to 2014 and beyond, courting disasters large and small in this guerilla-infested, nuclear-armed graveyard of empires.

Military Misadventure: Scenario 2014

So irrational, so unpredictable is “micro-militarism” that seemingly fanciful scenarios are soon outdone by actual events. With the U.S. military stretched thin from Somalia to the Philippines and tensions rising in Israel, Iran, and Korea, possible combinations for a disastrous military crisis abroad are multifold.

It’s mid-summer 2014 and a drawn-down U.S. garrison in embattled Kandahar in southern Afghanistan is suddenly, unexpectedly overrun by Taliban guerrillas, while U.S. aircraft are grounded by a blinding sandstorm. Heavy loses are taken and in retaliation, an embarrassed American war commander looses B-1 bombers and F-16 fighters to demolish whole neighborhoods of the city that are believed to be under Taliban control, while AC-130U “Spooky” gunships rake the rubble with devastating cannon fire.

Soon, mullahs are preaching jihad from mosques throughout the region, and Afghan Army units, long trained by American forces to turn the tide of the war, begin to desert en masse. Taliban fighters then launch a series of remarkably sophisticated strikes aimed at U.S. garrisons across the country, sending American casualties soaring. In scenes reminiscent of Saigon in 1975, U.S. helicopters rescue American soldiers and civilians from rooftops in Kabul and Kandahar.

Meanwhile, angry at the endless, decades-long stalemate over Palestine, OPEC’s leaders impose a new oil embargo on the U.S. to protest its backing of Israel as well as the killing of untold numbers of Muslim civilians in its ongoing wars across the Greater Middle East. With gas prices soaring and refineries running dry, Washington makes its move, sending in Special Operations forces to seize oil ports in the Persian Gulf. This, in turn, sparks a rash of suicide attacks and the sabotage of pipelines and oil wells. As black clouds billow skyward and diplomats rise at the U.N. to bitterly denounce American actions, commentators worldwide reach back into history to brand this “America’s Suez,” a telling reference to the 1956 debacle that marked the end of the British Empire.

World War III: Present Situation

In the summer of 2010, military tensions between the U.S. and China began to rise in the western Pacific, once considered an American “lake.” Even a year earlier no one would have predicted such a development. As Washington played upon its alliance with London to appropriate much of Britain’s global power after World War II, so China is now using the profits from its export trade with the U.S. to fund what is likely to become a military challenge to American dominion over the waterways of Asia and the Pacific.

With its growing resources, Beijing is claiming a vast maritime arc from Korea to Indonesia long dominated by the U.S. Navy. In August, after Washington expressed a “national interest” in the South China Sea and conducted naval exercises there to reinforce that claim, Beijing’s official Global Times responded angrily, saying, “The U.S.-China wrestling match over the South China Sea issue has raised the stakes in deciding who the real future ruler of the planet will be.”

Amid growing tensions, the Pentagon reported that Beijing now holds “the capability to attack… [U.S.] aircraft carriers in the western Pacific Ocean” and target “nuclear forces throughout… the continental United States.” By developing “offensive nuclear, space, and cyber warfare capabilities,” China seems determined to vie for dominance of what the Pentagon calls “the information spectrum in all dimensions of the modern battlespace.” With ongoing development of the powerful Long March V booster rocket, as well as the launch of two satellites in January 2010 and another in July, for a total of five, Beijing signaled that the country was making rapid strides toward an “independent” network of 35 satellites for global positioning, communications, and reconnaissance capabilities by 2020.

To check China and extend its military position globally, Washington is intent on building a new digital network of air and space robotics, advanced cyberwarfare capabilities, and electronic surveillance. Military planners expect this integrated system to envelop the Earth in a cyber-grid capable of blinding entire armies on the battlefield or taking out a single terrorist in field or favela. By 2020, if all goes according to plan, the Pentagon will launch a three-tiered shield of space drones — reaching from stratosphere to exosphere, armed with agile missiles, linked by a resilient modular satellite system, and operated through total telescopic surveillance.

Last April, the Pentagon made history. It extended drone operations into the exosphere by quietly launching the X-37B unmanned space shuttle into a low orbit 255 miles above the planet.  The X-37B is the first in a new generation of unmanned vehicles that will mark the full weaponization of space, creating an arena for future warfare unlike anything that has gone before.

World War III: Scenario 2025

The technology of space and cyberwarfare is so new and untested that even the most outlandish scenarios may soon be superseded by a reality still hard to conceive. If we simply employ the sort of scenarios that the Air Force itself used in its 2009 Future Capabilities Game, however, we can gain “a better understanding of how air, space and cyberspace overlap in warfare,” and so begin to imagine how the next world war might actually be fought.

It’s 11:59 p.m. on Thanksgiving Thursday in 2025. While cyber-shoppers pound the portals of Best Buy for deep discounts on the latest home electronics from China, U.S. Air Force technicians at the Space Surveillance Telescope (SST) on Maui choke on their coffee as their panoramic screens suddenly blip to black. Thousands of miles away at the U.S. CyberCommand’s operations center in Texas, cyberwarriors soon detect malicious binaries that, though fired anonymously, show the distinctive digital fingerprints of China’s People’s Liberation Army.

The first overt strike is one nobody predicted. Chinese “malware” seizes control of the robotics aboard an unmanned solar-powered U.S. “Vulture” drone as it flies at 70,000 feet over the Tsushima Strait between Korea and Japan. It suddenly fires all the rocket pods beneath its enormous 400-foot wingspan, sending dozens of lethal missiles plunging harmlessly into the Yellow Sea, effectively disarming this formidable weapon.

Determined to fight fire with fire, the White House authorizes a retaliatory strike. Confident that its F-6 “Fractionated, Free-Flying” satellite system is impenetrable, Air Force commanders in California transmit robotic codes to the flotilla of X-37B space drones orbiting 250 miles above the Earth, ordering them to launch their “Triple Terminator” missiles at China’s 35 satellites. Zero response. In near panic, the Air Force launches its Falcon Hypersonic Cruise Vehicle into an arc 100 miles above the Pacific Ocean and then, just 20 minutes later, sends the computer codes to fire missiles at seven Chinese satellites in nearby orbits. The launch codes are suddenly inoperative.

As the Chinese virus spreads uncontrollably through the F-6 satellite architecture, while those second-rate U.S. supercomputers fail to crack the malware’s devilishly complex code, GPS signals crucial to the navigation of U.S. ships and aircraft worldwide are compromised. Carrier fleets begin steaming in circles in the mid-Pacific. Fighter squadrons are grounded. Reaper drones fly aimlessly toward the horizon, crashing when their fuel is exhausted. Suddenly, the United States loses what the U.S. Air Force has long called “the ultimate high ground”: space. Within hours, the military power that had dominated the globe for nearly a century has been defeated in World War III without a single human casualty.

A New World Order?

Even if future events prove duller than these four scenarios suggest, every significant trend points toward a far more striking decline in American global power by 2025 than anything Washington now seems to be envisioning.

As allies worldwide begin to realign their policies to take cognizance of rising Asian powers, the cost of maintaining 800 or more overseas military bases will simply become unsustainable, finally forcing a staged withdrawal on a still-unwilling Washington. With both the U.S. and China in a race to weaponize space and cyberspace, tensions between the two powers are bound to rise, making military conflict by 2025 at least feasible, if hardly guaranteed.

Complicating matters even more, the economic, military, and technological trends outlined above will not operate in tidy isolation. As happened to European empires after World War II, such negative forces will undoubtedly prove synergistic. They will combine in thoroughly unexpected ways, create crises for which Americans are remarkably unprepared, and threaten to spin the economy into a sudden downward spiral, consigning this country to a generation or more of economic misery.

As U.S. power recedes, the past offers a spectrum of possibilities for a future world order. At one end of this spectrum, the rise of a new global superpower, however unlikely, cannot be ruled out. Yet both China and Russia evince self-referential cultures, recondite non-roman scripts, regional defense strategies, and underdeveloped legal systems, denying them key instruments for global dominion. At the moment then, no single superpower seems to be on the horizon likely to succeed the U.S.

In a dark, dystopian version of our global future, a coalition of transnational corporations, multilateral forces like NATO, and an international financial elite could conceivably forge a single, possibly unstable, supra-national nexus that would make it no longer meaningful to speak of national empires at all. While denationalized corporations and multinational elites would assumedly rule such a world from secure urban enclaves, the multitudes would be relegated to urban and rural wastelands.

In “Planet of Slums,” Mike Davis offers at least a partial vision of such a world from the bottom up. He argues that the billion people already packed into fetid favela-style slums worldwide (rising to two billion by 2030) will make “the ‘feral, failed cities’ of the Third World… the distinctive battlespace of the twenty-first century.” As darkness settles over some future super-favela, “the empire can deploy Orwellian technologies of repression” as “hornet-like helicopter gun-ships stalk enigmatic enemies in the narrow streets of the slum districts… Every morning the slums reply with suicide bombers and eloquent explosions.”

At a midpoint on the spectrum of possible futures, a new global oligopoly might emerge between 2020 and 2040, with rising powers China, Russia, India, and Brazil collaborating with receding powers like Britain, Germany, Japan, and the United States to enforce an ad hoc global dominion, akin to the loose alliance of European empires that ruled half of humanity circa 1900.

Another possibility: the rise of regional hegemons in a return to something reminiscent of the international system that operated before modern empires took shape. In this neo-Westphalian world order, with its endless vistas of micro-violence and unchecked exploitation, each hegemon would dominate its immediate region — Brasilia in South America, Washington in North America, Pretoria in southern Africa, and so on. Space, cyberspace, and the maritime deeps, removed from the control of the former planetary “policeman,” the United States, might even become a new global commons, controlled through an expanded U.N. Security Council or some ad hoc body.

All of these scenarios extrapolate existing trends into the future on the assumption that Americans, blinded by the arrogance of decades of historically unparalleled power, cannot or will not take steps to manage the unchecked erosion of their global position.

If America’s decline is in fact on a 22-year trajectory from 2003 to 2025, then we have already frittered away most of the first decade of that decline with wars that distracted us from long-term problems and, like water tossed onto desert sands, wasted trillions of desperately needed dollars.

If only 15 years remain, the odds of frittering them all away still remain high. Congress and the president are now in gridlock; the American system is flooded with corporate money meant to jam up the works; and there is little suggestion that any issues of significance, including our wars, our bloated national security state, our starved education system, and our antiquated energy supplies, will be addressed with sufficient seriousness to assure the sort of soft landing that might maximize our country’s role and prosperity in a changing world.

Europe’s empires are gone and America’s imperium is going. It seems increasingly doubtful that the United States will have anything like Britain’s success in shaping a succeeding world order that protects its interests, preserves its prosperity, and bears the imprint of its best values.

  • Alfred W. McCoy is the J.R.W. Smail Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author of A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, “From the Cold War to the War on Terror.” Later this year, “Policing America’s Empire: The United States, the Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State,” a forthcoming book of his, will explore the influence of overseas counterinsurgency operations on the spread of internal security measures here at home. More: Alfred W. McCoy

33 thoughts on “SYNERGIES OF COLLAPSE”

  1. LLPOH, don’t stay under your bed, just do what you have been and get informed and ready. The United States will suffer economic collapse well before 2020. My bet is late 2011. After all, once the Euro implodes and the bondholders are forced feet first through a woodchipper as a result, how many would be willing to lend Trillions of dollars to a United States Congress that seems INCAPABLE of managing it’s finances at any level above a 5 year old. “Mummy, I want it, I want it , MWAAAAAA!”.
    The US spends 40% more than it earns and must raise $1.3 trillion a year. It already pays $240 billion at CURRENT RATES of ~ 1.5%. Now imagine rates jumping to 6%, just like Ireland and the PIIGS. What is stoping them going higher?. Especially as those who panic and bailout first will eat the least amount of loss compared to those who wait.

  2. Extremely China-Centric extrapolation IMHO. A key here to some of the flaws in Alfred’s projection of China as the emerging Superpower comes here”

    “One casualty of America’s waning economic power has been its lock on global oil supplies. Speeding by America’s gas-guzzling economy in the passing lane, China became the world’s number one energy consumer this summer, a position the U.S. had held for over a century. Energy specialist Michael Klare has argued that this change means China will “set the pace in shaping our global future.”

    Now, on the one hand Alf argues that the FSofA’s reliance on Oil is a weakness, but then he argues that because China now consumes MORE Oil than the FSofA, they will be running the show. Exactly how they will use a mercantilist economy and more exports to maintain world hegemony when nobody can afford to buy their exports isn’t explained.

    The impressive High Tech War scenario is interesting, but if the Chinese go about unleashing Viruses to disable networks and miitary hardware, FSofA cyber hackers will do the same, not to mention any number of unaffiliated Hackers attacking both sides. Such an attempt at outrageously complex warfare while energy supplies are dwindling won’t last long for either side, even if it is attempted.

    His “Neo-Westphalian” scenario is the most likely medium term outcome, but this one itself is limited because in such a situation global movement of Oil will be impossible, and the localized neo-Feudal armies will rapidly run outta gas.

    Anyhow, none of his specualtion is reay new to the pages of TBP, we have been through all of this stuff quite a few times already. It really doesn’t matter that much what the precise trajectory is here of the collapse, anymore than it is that important whether it is Hyperinflation or Deflation that renders the monetary system dysfunctional. The outcome regardless is the end of Industrial Civilization, which is much more the important collapse here than the role of the FSofA as leader of this civilization for the last Century.

    China is no more going to remain an industrial powerhouse than Japan is or Germany, and they will collapse as everyone else will from a lack of water resource and a shrinking supply of food as the industrialied food apparatus goes offline. Instead of worrying about who is filing for the most Patents and who is training the most Scientists, the better question is who will power down most effectively, who has the most available water supplies accessible without Pumping Stations and who has a decent still functioning nearby offshore fisherie. Whose environment is least polluted and will still produce enough to feed the remaining population without poisoning them? On all these levels, the Chinese are TOAST.

    Far as his timeline goes for the Collapse, its relatively Conservative. 2025? The real fun beigns on 12/21/2012.


    1. RE

      I’d have to agree that in whatever scenario is headed our way, there won’t be any winners. The winner will be he who loses the least.

  3. fun read, space wars in 2025 seem unlikely since it would imply holding a collapsing money system in place for a decade longer then it could possibly last unless quadtrillion dollar deficits are allowed…

    could global jubilee be coming? if so we’d endup with a mostly clean slate and it would, hopefully, take more then a decade to consentrate money again. although we’re pretty sheeplefied people so it’s possible.

    oil of course is the kicker, while i believe we’ll have “plenty” of oil in 2025 i believe it will be cripplingly expensive. abundant but unaffordable.

    except for the downward direction it’s hard to say how it might look in 2025. people are unpredictible and could react badly or less badly and i don’t doubt complete insanity by billions for a sustained period isn’t possible.

    our complex food system is our biggest risk i think. but then again i think this collapse is needed and a better outcome then the worlds described above. by 2025 there could be a lot less humans around and that would change everything beyond even imagining.

    how can this not end badly? global jubliee is the only way i can imagine. anyone?

    hard medicine, but a quick die off of 3-4 billion people is probably more humane then most alternative outcomes.

    does jubliee even have a 1% chance? how about when things are really bad say december 2012 will jubliee ever be considered? who decides?

  4. Add to this litany of misery the uncomfortable truth that Obama is buiding the largest welfare class in history – countless millions who want the government to supply their every need, an army of drones growing at a breathtaking pace. He just sold everybody out with the exception of the ultra rich and the permanent unemployed – for the rest of us , a hearty Fuck You! from our president.

  5. Lack of clean water, too small of a middle class, and lots of poor mouths to feed, China will not control the world. China will become a great power with large limitations, it needs a navy to protect supply lanes as it rapes Africa resources.

    Food, Water, and Energy have peaked. Get ready for your living standard to evaporate. Learn to take care of yourself and family, and get away from high density population centers were the FSA roams.

    I can follow RE line of thinking most of the time, but this article makes my eyes cross. Mr. McCoy needs to start gardening and get real. Very James Bond, and hell, it is Christmas time.

  6. Hope we make it to 2025, that seems like a long time away given the speed with which stuff seems to be happening these days. John

  7. Look, we are creating plenty of jobs and the economy will recover shortly!

    Taiwan’s Quanta Computer will assemble Apple’s iPad when the US giant releases the second generation of the popular tablet next year, local media reported Thursday.

    Foxconn is currently the sole supplier of the iPads, but that will change when Quanta — already the leading manufacturer of Apple’s MacBook series — gets a share of the coveted contract in 2011, the Economic Daily News said.

    Neither Quanta nor Hon Hai Precision, the Taiwan mother company of Foxconn, would comment on the report.

    You just have to move to Taiwan and call yourself a communist.

  8. Weird isnt it. The pundit defenders of big business absolutely hate, or so they say, communism, while promoting offshoring of jobs here AND claiming how patriotic they are!

    Bizarro People World.

  9. Excellent but very scary article. People with Wisdom will prepare.

    Len Bias, the next Michael Jordan from the U. of Maryland, celebrated his multi-million dollar contract with the Boston Celtics by partying with his brother. Just a little cocaine. He died.

    “Pistol” Pete Maravich, in good health in his 40’s, was playing a game of pickup basketball with James Dobson and suddenly dropped dead of a heart attack.

    Ms. Freud woke up one day and felt a lump on her breast. Cancer!

    The point? I have never seen a slow collapse. Collapse is sudden and destructive. But not all Collapse — as with Ms. Freud — is Final. The USofA collapse will be sudden and destructive.

    People with Wisdom will prepare. For those people, it will not be Final.

  10. Looks like the American empire will go the way of the British Empire. The collapse is already upon the USA but too many simpletons are caught up in the propaganda of “recovery” and “our best days are ahead of us”.

  11. The collapse is imminent. It is not a question of will it happen but when will it happen. We have had the luxury of enjoying an artificial standard of living because we have the world’s reserve currency. Everyone is catching on to our ponzi scheme and a lower standard of living will be the result for the US. Those who are prepared for this currency crisis will lose the least but those who don’t will suffer tremendously. Fortunately, TBP followers are loaded up with gold and silver so we will be able to weather the storm.

  12. Whatever the scenario I offer an accurate way to measure the decline.

    Just count the amount of QE 100%-Ben issue. The more he issue, the more the decline.

    Total net decline = total federal debt + total consumer debt + total QE issued x dollar inflation. This measure has been “100%” tested by history. See, the Fed can be some use after all. An accurate measure of national decline and imperial retrenchment.

  13. “So is there any hope of turning all this around?”


    “Is the decline of America inevitable?”


    However, don’t feel alone, the rest of the industrialized world will decline right along with you.


  14. RE,

    You make me all warm and fuzzy, knowing that I will have lots of company during the last Holiday Season in the near future.

  15. We will see some form of major crises well before 2020.
    I don’t see the world economy holding together even to 2015.
    My best guess is that problems begin to go exponential some time late 2011 or early 2012.

  16. Crash porn a la carte. Tasty.
    I would like a double helping of economic collapse on top of crushing energy prices with a side of religious extremism please. To drink? I’ll take fracking fluids.

    Out of that? 6 billion people ordered that!? Damn, I was really looking forward to that. I’ll have go with the asteroid throwing gravity trough formed during the Galactic alignment with a side magnetic pole reversal, then. Plenty of fracking fluids, you say? Great.

  17. Serendiipity is a hoot. My son Joel and his partner Teila decided to come up on Thanksgiving weekend for a traditional family dinner. Bonus: they brought me the DVD box set of the original Terry Nation “Survivors”, UK TV series from the 70s. It started on free-to-air TV about the time I arrived. Been hoping to find it for a long time.

    So, it fits right in with this post — positing a pandemic and following the ensemble cast through many episodes. One of the characters says, We’ll have to reinvent all the old skills. Right now, we couldn’t make an iron spear point. Each week was a different style of social organization. Some worse than others.

    I haven’t seen the remake, not sure I want to.

  18. I’ve been going “back in time” here and taking a look at articles from a few years ago and comparing some of the predictive elements with what has actually occurred.

    This one, in particular, strikes me as relevant.

  19. About the only thing that seems certain will be that looking back afterwards it will certainly appear to have been designed to collapse- from the unpayable debt to the dismantling of US industry to the wholesale arming of our enemies, to the sale of our government bonds to foreign interests to the flooding of our population with hostiles to enstupidating and pharma-neutering the existing citizenry, it would appear that this is all well thought out, planned and executed for some as yet unknown reason. You simply could not have made that many bad calls for this long with such a deleterious effect if you hadn’t wanted it to turn out this way.

  20. There’s a quote, that I think is attributed to LBJ, that goes roughly like this:

    In politics, if anything happens, it’s because it was designed to happen that way. Or something to that effect.

    In other words, I’ve become convinced that all that we see today IS by design. Anybody can see what I can see. The entire blogosphere is full of things that “should” happen to correct this or that problem. But the “shoulds” will never happen.

    Hell, Pres Obummer could just read ZeroHedge or TBP or any number of other websites and follow the “shoulds” laid out. He should do this or that. They should do the other thing. Hillary should do this. Trump should do that.

    None of that shit will happen. What will happen, though, is that they’ll continue to keep us distracted while they fuck us, rape us, and destroy us, one little inch at a time. Death by a thousand paper cuts.

    The only logical conclusion is they DID want things to turn out the way they have. There’s no other logical conclusion one can draw. Name me one other scenario plausible that they didn’t plan it exactly that way. Gross incompetence? Well, maybe, but I doubt it.

    Just heard an news story about the new Canadian Prime Minister just welcomed the first planeload of 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada, with open arms. “You’ve found a new, safe home here in Canada.” He said.

    Bully for Canada. I guess we’ll see the news stories, soon enough, to know how that works out for them.

    Clusterfuck Nation, indeed.

  21. 5 year old zombie thread gets resurrected..


    “Give us your shiiiiiiitttt…. uuuurrgghhh…. muuuuuuuhhhhhh…. bleeeehhhhh…. yoooouuuu beeee raaaayyyycissss… moooaaaarrrr freeeee shiiiiittt…. soooocialll juuuuuustice… muuurrrrhhhh… saaaaafe spaaaace…. bleeeehhhhh…. freeeee shiiiiittttt…. “

  22. Well, Billy (I hope my faux pas of mixing you and the little toad up has faded, if not, call me names and get it over with), I’ve gotten interested in looking up old articles that relate to current events and comparing the tone and content. I don’t resurrect them all, but I found this one particularly interesting.

    I’ve never watched any of those Zombie shows. But, I’m up here in the hills and I’ve seen a few of those types. I think the “disability” rate amongst locals is pretty darned high and I’m pretty sure most of the conditions are intellect related because the parents are all related, if you know what I mean.

    Smartest thing we did was put our home smack dab in the middle of the 40 acres with a good fence and sturdy gate. Our neighbor’s beagles have discovered I have rabbits. I may open the back yard gate and let them discover I also have two 130 lb Pyrenese who don’t like them around here. They say that good fences make good neighbors, but when one of those neighbors rent and draws disability and their only livestock is “beagles” they hope to train and sell, my good fence makes for one annoyed husband (mine.) I don’t want a war, but the damned dogs are tracking my rabbits and it is pissing me off.

  23. @ Mags,

    It’s all good. No harm, no foul.

    Aside from the “inbred redneck” remarks that I’m not going to deal with right now, one of the families who lives near us has…. issues.

    I do not doubt they are good people. Just… strange.

    Yes, some folks live in trailers. But, they own their own land and their shit is paid for – which is a damn sight better than most of the Ungrateful Mob of Yoofs can say… Not gonna bash on any man who buys what he can afford and provides for his family. Being poor ain’t a crime – plenty of folks not 45 minutes east of here are dirt floor poor. One pair of shoes poor. “What’s a flush toilet?” poor… God forbid we ever get like that. I would sell my bone marrow, a kidney and at least half my liver if it meant we didn’t have to live like that…

    But all that being said, these folks are a bit different.

    13 cars on the property. I know. I counted them. 4 trailers. One boat. And at least two tractors.

    All of them different makes, models, years, styles… I can bet you ain’t but three of them licensed and insured for the road…

    Now, owning multiple cars isn’t a crime, either. But in my world, some things should make sense. If you have an old tractor and keep one or two others of the same make, model, year, displacement, etc, as a rolling stock of spare parts, well that just makes sense. Sometimes shit breaks and it’s right handy to have another vehicle to thief a part off of instead of paying some yokel online to do the same thing and ship it to me…

    Same thing with vehicles. No secret I own an old Ford F250. It’s over 40 years old, so some shit – like window cranks and radio knobs – are right scarce on the ground. You have to hunt them down – and it costs. So buying another truck – just an undrive-able shitbox – and throwing it behind the barn where nobody can see it makes sense.

    But not these folks. I can see no rhyme or reason to what they’re doing… an old 80’s Jeep Cherokee next to a clapped out 70’s Chevy C20 next to a 90’s flatbed Ford F350 next to a BOAT next to a… makes zero sense to me…

    Still, good fences do make good neighbors… ‘cept when your neighbor’s horses stage a jailbreak and come over to your place to see what’s up…

    “Hey Husband? There’s horses in the driveway…”
    “Oh? That’s interesting… being as we don’t own any…”

    Turns out Douchebag, Jimgoddamnit (one word) and Twitchy went Off The Reservation and took a field trip… I was nice enough to allow them to stay till our neighbor fixed his fence…. not a small order, given the damage (tree down and crushed the fence)… but they are welcome as long as he needs me to horse-sit them… Jimgoddamnit can be a pain in the ass, but Douchebag is nice… Twitch is, well… twitchy… but he likes our apples just fine…

    Be well, Mags…

  24. Mags —> “But, I’m up here in the hills and I’ve seen a few of those types. I think the “disability” rate amongst locals is pretty darned high and I’m pretty sure most of the conditions are intellect related because the parents are all related, if you know what I mean.”

    Mags –> “I did NOT use either word: Inbred nor Redneck.”

    Nope. You sure didn’t.

    But you can’t bullshit a bullshitter, Mags… 🙂

    You know what you meant. I know what you meant. Let’s just drop the coy act and get down to brass tacks, shall we?

    1. Who are “those types” who live “up there in the hills” in a rural area in America?

    Eskimos? Kuna Indians? Wait, wait… I got this… Hindus!!

    Yep.. those Sikh folks are thick on the ground up in them hills…

    Just what I’d expect to see driving through the rural US….


    2. “…parents are all related, if you know what I mean”….

    Why no, Mags… I DON’T know what you mean… I mean, if “inbred” doesn’t apply and you’re completely denouncing the use of the word, then I’m absolutely positive I’m clueless as to what you’re getting at…


    You’re so much fun, Mags…


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