The United States will experience systemic collapse no later than 2060. Our country may dissolve into competing fiefdoms, bifurcate into warring halves, or sleepwalk into a totalitarian nightmare. Regardless of the specific form of collapse, our current system will not be able to perpetuate itself in a recognizable form. While this forecast is shocking, dire, and perhaps to some readers overly-dramatic, it is also an inescapable conclusion arising from objective examination of the current state of our nation.
Social, political, and economic conditions in the United States are deteriorating. So far we have experienced a gradual decline. However, the dynamic of slow decay is extremely unlikely to continue. Instead, more generalized and rapid collapse, with attendant poverty, chaos, and violence will occur at some point in the coming years or decades.
Preventing collapse would require a dramatic reshuffling of our political, economic, and social priorities. Avoiding the worst case scenarios would require many of the key beneficiaries of our current system to give up some of their power and wealth. Unfortunately, these entrenched interests effectively control nearly all avenues of change within the current system, they are largely blinded to the growing danger of systemic failure, and they apparently lack the ability or inclination to engage in long-term strategic planning. They will therefore try to perpetuate the broken system for as long as possible.
The decline in our average quality of life is, at least for the time being, gradual, somewhat localized, and very unevenly distributed. Conditions vary significantly by profession, region, state, city, county, and even neighborhood. Select regions, neighborhoods, and industries continue to thrive, while others stagnate, and many fall increasingly behind. Based on purely financial metrics, the rich, along with the top twenty percent or so of our most prosperous, are wealthier than ever. Nevertheless, the overall national trend is one of stagnation and decay.
Since conditions are worsening gradually, much of our society is in the position of the proverbial “frog in a pot”, not realizing that the water we are sitting in has subtly shifted from comfortably warm to becoming dangerously hot. Normalcy bias clouds our ability to see the crisis at hand. Generations of instilled faith in the inevitability of American progress and advancement obscures the reality of decay. Some members of our society – especially the privileged elite* who effectively decide media and political discourse – are economically insulated from the worst and most obvious impacts of our collective decline. Their in-group bias and blatant self-interest leads them to promote a narrative of specific challenges to be overcome on the path to inevitable progress; they refuse to acknowledge the fundamental, and in some cases apparently unresolvable, nature of our systematic failures. Meanwhile many normal Americans, influenced by pride and understandable patriotism, simply don’t want to acknowledge the deeply unpleasant reality of the deteriorating conditions that surround them.
Self-interested efforts by the political and economic beneficiaries of our current system to downplay the severity of our decline are increasingly ineffective. Our compatriots increasingly feel a sense of palpable unease. As of 2022, Americans who believe the country is overall headed in the wrong direction outnumber their more optimistic counterparts by more than two to one. Trust in most public institutions is at or near record lows, with only 12 % of the population having “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of faith in the United States Congress – the main body meant to represent the will of the national electorate. In early 2020, only 40% of respondents reported confidence in the honesty of elections. In late 2021, only seven percent of young adults thought the US has a healthy democracy, and over a third believed they’d see a civil war within their lifetimes. Two-thirds of the population believes children will be worse off financially than their parents.
What Is Collapse?
For the purposes of this work, collapse is defined as the failure of the national government to impose effective control over its territory. This definition is the basis for the key prediction: before 2060, the Federal government of the United States of America (in its current form) will no longer control some, or possibly all, of the territory and population in our country for at least some period of time. Collapse could take many shapes. It does not necessitate a total devolution into complete anarchy, although such a scenario is very much possible. Collapse could be localized and temporary; it could “merely” take the form of a civil war in which the government destroys an armed uprising.
As general conditions deteriorate, one or more states, or parts of states, may, either singularly or in various groupings, separate themselves from central authority. Independence from Washington DC could be declared formally, or it may occur gradually through a process wherein the Federal government slowly loses its ability to impose its will and is supplanted by local forces. National collapse could also take the form of a political revolution that replaces or dramatically alters the current Federal Constitution. The collapse of US Federal authority, whether it occurs nationwide or within specific areas, does not necessarily entail a major armed conflict; however, an entirely peaceful collapse is extremely unlikely.
History abounds with precedents wherein once-powerful governments collapsed under the increasingly unsustainable burden of their systemic failures. Political deadlock, foreign pressures, social divisions, and economic crisis have caused stagnation and then collapse at various points throughout history. Examples include the breakup of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, along with the collapse of the Roman, Qing, and Ottoman empires. Of course, American collapse will be unique. Nevertheless, various historical antecedents are nevertheless useful for examining the various contours, triggers, and outcomes of systemic collapse.
While many Americans struggle to imagine systemic collapse in their own country, the historic record indicates collapse has already occurred twice in our society. Revolutionaries, led primarily by the local economic elite, successfully overthrew the control of the world’s strongest empire over the course of an eight-year war. Significant infighting, retreats, forced population transfers, major economic upheaval, and the direct intervention of three European powers upon American soil accompanied the rebellion against British rule.
Roughly three generations later, nearly half the territory of the young country broke apart from Federal control. The rebels maintained their effective independence in many areas over four years of intense conflict that resulted in the deaths of roughly two percent of the pre-war population. The Union eventually defeated the Confederacy and the Federal government ultimately remained intact. However, in addition to the establishment of a rival government, the Civil War dramatically reshaped social and economic conditions throughout the country, especially in the South, and even more especially for the roughly 10 percent of the total antebellum population that was enslaved.
While neither the American Revolution nor the Civil War completely upended all existing social, political, and economic institutions, they did result in widespread violence, and they dramatically altered the realities of daily life in the country. British reign over the original 13 colonies collapsed. Federal authority over the South collapsed for years and total collapse of the Union was a very real possibility for most of the conflict. Ultimately, the system of race-based chattel slavery in the South collapsed, though its poisonous legacy was not erased.
Any form of collapse that takes place in the United States in the relatively near future may very well be more disruptive and violent than the American Revolution and our 1860-64 Civil War. Our political and economic systems are far more complex than they were during those two conflicts. Information spreads at the speed of light. Our weapons are significantly deadlier.
America’s political, economic, and regional divides, which once ran along fairly clear lines of “Tories vs Patriots” and “North vs South” are far murkier today. There are no vast expanses of land populated by relatively isolated and poorly-armed Indians offering convenient avenues for national expansion. The United States is far more economically intertwined with foreign economies in systems that are as complex as they are vulnerable to disruption. Our geography no longer affords protection (or at least extensive notice)of attack by foreign powers. Russia, China, and North Korea all have the technical capabilities to destroy American cities if they felt their own security was sufficiently threatened.
During the American Revolution, roughly 90% of the population lived on farms or in small agriculturally-oriented communities. During the Civil War, well over half of Americans still relied on farming for their primary livelihood.In areas removed from the front lines, many people could ride out the conflicts with near self-sufficiency in terms of immediate necessities. Although our modern farms produce massive harvests, they do so with the direct work of only around two percent of the population. Our food system is now dependent on fossil fuel and chemical fertilizers inputs, which may be severely disrupted by any number of factors. Rural self-sufficiency would not be an option for the vast majority of our population in a contemporary scenario of internal conflict. If our systems fail, vast numbers of people could be forced to compete for dwindling resources, in a self-perpetuating dynamic of increased want, decreased stability, and escalating violence.
Collapse usually entails a crisis point from which the system experiences a rapid and accelerating breakdown. Psychology is a key component of collapse – when people no longer believe in a system, the system breaks down. The Emperor loses power once the people openly admit to each other that he is, in fact, completely naked. However, the various proximate causes of collapse are often linked to a specific economic, political, or natural disaster, such as war, extreme drought, mass unemployment, or hyperinflation. Various plausible tipping points that could bring about American collapse will be discussed further in Escalation Triggers.
Forecasting American collapse brings me no joy. I was born in this country, and, as of the time of writing, I live on the soil of one of the original thirteen states. I love America. I recognize its many strengths and unique advantages. Without a United States in which to find refuge, many of my ancestors may have died of starvation. Birth in this country has brought me numerous economic, social, and even political opportunities. In many countries I could not safely write and distribute my sincere analysis forecasting the impending doom of the reigning system in which I live. Despite the frustrations I have felt at the failures, injustices, and inefficiencies brought about by our political and economic system, I fully recognize that collapse almost certainly entails a far greater scale of human suffering. Even beyond the dangers of immediate instability, national collapse is likely to introduce a system (or systems) that are more brutal, oppressive, inefficient, and unjust than the current dynamic.
Despite the unpleasantness of the task, a sense of duty compels me to write this forecast. Ideally – though unrealistically – it could awaken powerful individuals and institutions within our current system to make the steps needed to prevent our national collapse. More likely, readers can increase their understanding of the current dynamics inclining America towards systemic failure, and take actions to better prepare themselves, their families, and their communities. American collapse will have global repercussions, so leaders and common people outside of the US (especially our Canadian and Mexican neighbors) should also take note of the signs, triggers, and scenarios of our impending implosion. Most importantly, readers must remember there is life after collapse, especially for those who pay attention, prepare, adapt, and have a bit of luck on their side.
* The terms “elite” and “privileged” are defined as the main decision makers and beneficiaries of our current economic and political system – influential politicians, top Federal government officials, and individuals with at least ten million dollars in assets.
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