America is highly unlikely to avoid national collapse. By 2060 the Federal government will almost certainly have lost control over at least some of its territory, for at least some period of time. However, systemic collapse is not an entirely inevitable outcome. Significant reforms addressing the five main trends threatening national stability (Economic Decay, Systematic Corruption, Rejection of Reality, Tribalized Divisions, and Global Overstretch) could delay or possibly even prevent collapse.
There are two general scenarios in which national collapse may be kept at bay. The first is one in which America adequately acknowledges and addresses the root causes of our systemic rot through a process of Evolutionary Change. The other is a scenario of our privileged elites perpetuating key elements of the current system via Techno-Autocratic Stagnation.
Under the dynamic of Evolutionary Change, political realignment and a repositioning of national priorities allows America to adequately acknowledge and respond to our interlinked crises. Evolutionary Change could happen via the replacement of the current power structures in the United States, a drastic shift in their priorities, or some combination of the two factors. Some form of worsening conditions and upheaval short of outright collapse may spur our electorate to force a realignment of national political priorities.
Due to the ossification and inherent division in our current political duopoly, Evolutionary Change would most likely need to be preceded by a growth in national electoral power of a “third party”. For example, a serious and sustained economic crisis could see a third party candidate elected to the Presidency. This electoral outcome would not only grant the upstart party direct power via the presidency, but it would also force Democrat and Republican lawmakers to shift their political outlooks and provide much-needed transformative energy to the national political system.
The Federal government has enormous economic power over our country. In 1929 Federal spending accounted for around three percent of GDP, as opposed to roughly 30% in 2021. Since currentFederal spending occurs along deteriorating economic conditions, it is likely at least a contributing factor to economic decay.
There are two different overall approaches a movement seeking Evolutionary Change could take to address the economic decay and systematic corruption that contributes to our accelerating collapse. One approach would be to drastically cut Federal government spending, in the hopes that the reduction in wasteful and often corrupt programs could spur revitalization and economic growth. Another possible approach would be to significantly redirect Federal spending to make more rational investments which could directly benefit the Americans whose living standards have declined.*
Either of the potential evolutionary approaches to fundamental economic problems arising from current Federal spending priorities require imposing significant costs on powerful and wealthy segments of our population. Such efforts would therefore be subject to significant resistance. Whether an economic reform effort succeeds or fails would largely be determined by the relative political strength of the reformers and those seeking to perpetuate the corrupt system. Most key aspects of America’s systematic corruption could similarly be addressed through reform efforts that either reduced the scale of Federal government economic activity, or dramatically realigned government spending to become more rational, more beneficial to common Americans, and less profitable for already-entrenched, privileged interests. Meanwhile, incremental legal reforms – for example, ending criminal prohibitions on drug possession – could help alleviate entrenched disparities in the criminal justice system.
Dealing with our national rejection of objective reality would be even more difficult than addressing our issues of economic stagnation and corruption. Top-down approaches are limited in the degree to which they could address this failure, though some actions would certainly help. Most obviously, national authorities could restore some degree of popular trust simply by refraining from directly lying to the American people on a regular basis. Imposing “truthful” coverage on corporate media is a much more troublesome task, as no authorities can or should be trusted to establish exactly what is true. However, breaking up traditional and social media monopolies may help. A dramatic reduction or realignment in Federal spending could also indirectly address lack of a common reality by, for example, decreasing the economic and media influence of the military industrial complex and its adjacent “former officials” and paid-for think tanks. Shifting education to focus more on critical thinking may also help in this area. More fundamentally, Americans must take some degree of personal responsibility to listen and think outside their media (including social media) echo chambers and the confines of their various biases.
Reducing America’s tribalized internal divisions is perhaps the greatest challenge any movement intent on evolutionary change would face. Entrenched interests benefiting from our current corrupt system would almost certainly attempt to harness one “side” or the “other” (or both) to stall or roll back major reforms. One potential approach may be to focus on populist, anti-establishment reforms that could appeal to individuals on both the left and the right. Ending the War on Drugs, reducing foreign military interventionism, and efforts to curtail domestic spying could be useful starting points. Direct messaging from multiple fronts telling Americans that, regardless of their real ideological differences, they are being purposefully divided in order to perpetuate a corrupt duopoly may also help. Another possible approach would be to generally decrease the economic and political power of Washington DC.Increasingly intense contests for national political power would ease simply by reducing the power of the Federal government.
Of all the fundamental factors driving America towards accelerating national collapse, global overstretch is probably the easiest to address. The US simply needs to accept the reality that it cannot remain the world’s unchangeable power in every region of the globe forever and adjust its stances accordingly. This doesn’t necessarily mean a return to “isolationism”. America’s treaty alliances with NATO, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Australia are probably basically sustainable. However, Washington should absolutely refrain from excessive military posturing and conflicts of choice outside the territory of the United States and its treaty allies. America also needs to realize that other global and regional powers are able to resist, and in some cases, challenge, American dominance. Washington DC must stop seeking to impose its will on others by force. An America that leads by example and uses positive influence to foster its position is almost certainly better and more sustainable for the world, and America itself.
Evolutionary change is mostly likely to take place in one of two sub-scenarios: Populist Technocracy or National Decentralization. In the first, America is governed by a generally rational, benign, and (initially) anti-establishment leadership which attracts sufficient popular support to reform the basic functioning of the Federal government. A Populist Technocracy would successfully reduce the power of the corrupt and inefficient institutions that have thrived under our two party duopoly.
A second possibility for avoiding collapse through Evolutionary Change is to merely reduce the economic and political power of the Federal government. National Decentralization would increase the relative influence of individual states, and reduce Federal power down to a level similar to its role prior to the First World War – national defense, regulating trade between the US and other countries, and managing a national currency. This dynamic would inevitably create relative winners and losers, but among the main losers would be the bureaucracies and corporate interests surviving off the teat of generous Federal spending. A sufficiently dramatic reduction in Federal power could refocus the attention of the body politic towards local and state issues, lessening the intensifying drive to secure Federal power and use such power to promote ideological pursuits from the left or the right. National Decentralization is a more viable alternative to “National Divorce” along left-right lines,as such a process of National Divorce would be extremely messy, potentially violent,and delineated across unclear geographic fronts.
Unfortunately, Techno-Autocratic Stagnation is another plausible scenario in which our system staves off collapse. Under this scenario, the existing power structures remain intact. Rather than addressing the fundamental problems that incline America towards collapse, government agencies and corporate behemoths cement their control via technological surveillance and mass psychological manipulation.
How could a system of techno-autocratic stagnation keep collapse at bay? Its leader would need to address economic decay either through halting the decrease in average standards of living, or stopping the perception of decreased standards of living. While some sort of new division of economic spoils may be needed, it is easier for entrenched government and corporate interests to manage the message and the perception of reality by downplaying or outright hiding unfavorable economic data. Popular perception of the American economy is largely based on stock market performance, unemployment rates, and inflation. Powerful institutions could artificially support the stock market (possibly in collusion with intelligence agencies). A combination of corporate and government cooperation can also generally keep official unemployment numbers low. Inflation is much harder to control, though it can be underreported.
Similarly, a techno-autocratic regime intent on indefinitely perpetuating itself would need to focus more on the appearance of systemic corruption instead of corruption itself. Corrupt practices could be outright hidden, or otherwise legitimized, formalized through the legal system and downplayed by system-serving official and corporate media. Occasionally, courts may make a very public display of punishing a powerful lawbreaker, while maintaining a disparity in favor of the rich and well-connected.
Widespread rejection of a common objective reality may not be a major threat to a techno-autocracic America, so long as it is able to sufficiently control the perception of enough of its citizens. Convincing the population to reject reality in favor of government narratives could, in fact, bea key goal of such a regime. The main threat of disconnect from objective reality comes from the possibility of leaders and government functionaries internalizing their own propaganda meant for public consumption, and thereby making dangerous mistakes in their analysis and planning.
Similarly, our tribalized internal divisions could work to the benefit of techno-autocracy, so long as they remain under careful control and balance. Divide-and-rule is a time-honored method for maintaining power. If the balance of division did get out of control – if extremists on “one side” became too militant and too opposed to the system - a techno-autocratic government could take advantage of the situation to co-opt the “mainstream”, along with individuals on the opposing ideological spectrum, to its desired ends. Indeed, a scenario of justifying increased control and reducing established rights by citing a real threat would be a perfect situation for a techno-autocracy to take power, or at least tighten its grip.
Global overstretch, if rationally managed, could also work to the benefit of a hypothetical techno-autocracy. If divide-and-rule is the oldest trick in the book, surely the second oldest is using external threats to justify increased control and decreased freedoms. When a crisis (real, staged, exaggerated or otherwise) emerges, techno-autocratic officials may say “We must disqualify these candidates because intelligence agencies say they are supported by the Chinese” or “IDs are required for purchases over $100 to defend ourselves against Islamist terrorists.” Nevertheless, a techno-autocratic Washington DC would still need to maintain a realistic balance so as to avoid actual nuclear war and conflicts that could imperil the global economy. A sustainable techno-autocracy is only sustainable if it realistically accounted for the interests and retaliatory capabilities of other major global powers.
By this point the reader has probably realized that many of the features of an American techno-autocracy outlined above seem strikingly familiar. Indeed, there is every reason to believe that this is the general path favored by our entrenched elite interests to avoid national collapse. However, as our various structural failures have intensified in recent years, it appears our would-be techno-autocrats suffer from a lack of sufficient rationality, self-awareness, control, and long-term planning ability. There may be amoral elements in American power centers capable of steering our country in a certain direction, but on the surface our wealthiest and most influential decision makers simply cannot plan beyond the next election cycle or two (or perhaps three or four quarterly profit reports). Our internal divisions are deepening too quickly, the official narrative is too unbelievable, US posturing abroad is too unstable, and economic decay is becoming too noticeable. Perhaps most importantly, our leaders themselves seem to have embraced their own system-justifying propaganda, and appear increasingly disconnected from the reality they inhabit. Many people – to a degree understandably – explain the current state of our nation as the result of nefarious efforts to guide America towards a crisis and a more blatant imposition of unchangeable perpetual power. However, it is far more likely that the leaders of our system are simply stupid.
Regardless of the likelihood of success, Americans should be vigilant for efforts by our privileged elite to permanently cement their positions. Individuals and organizations intent on such an outcome are probably moving slowly, and perhaps to some degree intentionally, towards techno-autocratic stagnation. However, any such groups would still require an obvious trigger, in the form of some sort of crisis, to more fully cement their efforts and perpetual control.
Maybe It’s All Screwed Anyway
Environmental catastrophe could doom even apparently successful and rational attempts at stabilizing America through Evolutionary Change or Techno-autocratic Stagnation. I have not addressed this threat specifically. It is outside the scope of my particular analytical expertise and focus. However, there is a rich catalog of studies, reports, and analysis indicating that a combination of climate change and the increased global scarcity of nonrenewable resources may well doom essentially all our of species’ main economic and political structures. Additionally, climate change and competition for scarce natural resources could simply add to the fundamental catalysts driving American national collapse, especially economic decay and global overstretch.
A quick note to my more skeptical and conspiracy-minded fellow Americans here: there is a difference between fabricating and taking advantage of a crisis. Officials could use climate change or resource shortages to help impose autocratic controls. They may even exaggerate such threats for their own purposes. However, any such exaggeration or opportunism does not necessarily mean that climate change and resource shortages are entirely fabricated.**
* Some form of Universal Basic Income, for example, may stave off widespread economic discontent, and may even spur consumption-led growth (if the funds could be raised from less-productive, or even generally harmful,economic activity).
** Note, the same logic applies to competition with foreign powers, domestic extremism, terrorism, violent crime, diseases, ect.
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