Let’s have a look at Egypt. It’s toast. Egypt is breaking down because Hosni Mubarak didn’t create a modern and free economy to propel the 85 million Egyptian people out of abject poverty. And the Muslim Brotherhood, who seized power, will likely do a worse job of stewarding Egypt than Mubarak did.
Egypt has become a bottomless money pit. It has a chronic and unsolvable balance-of-payments problem created by the need to import 50% of its food. Socialist energy subsidies consume a quarter of the national budget. Egypt is a pre-modern Islamic society, with 50% illiteracy and a 90% rate of female genital mutilation.
Marriage between family members has been practiced in Egypt since the time of the Pharaohs, and at 35.3%, it’s still high – especially among first cousins, who make up 86% of the inbreeding couples. As a result, Egypt is flooded with genetic diseases.
Underemployment is another chronic problem. Over 40% of those that are even able to find work are underemployed. It would require at least $20 billion a year to keep this basket case afloat, and no one is going to provide it. According to the World Health Organization, malnutrition already afflicts 25% of Egyptians. The Muslim Brotherhood can pray all it wants for a bumper wheat crop, but even that won’t solve these problems. Egypt is collapsing.
And They’re Not Alone
Right behind Egypt is Syria. Syria is a complex ethnic and religious cauldron that’s mired in a violent civil war. Obama now plans to arm the Sunni jihadists, but this will only increase the bloodshed. It won’t change the situation. Better weapons only mean a more deadly conflict. Slowly, Syria is depopulating via death and out-migration. The Syrian suffering continues.
Of course, such circumstances beg the question… How does this happen?
In 1988, Joseph Tainter wrote the groundbreaking book, “The Collapse of Complex Societies.” It was his attempt to explain how a complex and successful society could collapse in a short time. His book is an academic treatise. I don’t recommend it for light reading, but his conclusions are useful.
Tainter’s goal was to create a theory that explained the decline and fall of societies using a single model. His basic argument is that increasing complexity eventually renders falling marginal returns for the society. Think of it this way… The creative-destructive forces unleashed by capitalism will eventually lead to its demise as a system, as Joseph Schumpeter put it.
To exhibit his construct, Tainter considers three complex societies: The Western Roman Empire, the Maya of the southern lowlands, and the Chacoan Society (Pueblo Indian) of the American Southwest.
Tainter observes that they each suffered significant increased costs not long before collapsing and they inflicted those costs on a population already exhausted by burdens they couldn’t handle. According to Tainter, it wasn’t the challenges that caused the break down; it was a system of rules that became unproductively complex and made it impossible for governing bodies to react. These societies were unable to adapt to change. Think of them as earlier versions of our modern-day Congress in D.C.
Tainter says that the only solution for over complexity is simplification. But at the same time, he didn’t believe that complex societies are able to voluntarily simplify. Collapse, he believed, is nothing more than involuntary simplification. He explains that collapse is “not a fall to some primordial chaos, but a return to the normal human condition of lower complexity…an economizing process.”
Collapse is an Equal-Opportunity Destroyer
Regardless of Tainter’s theories, millions or even billions of people will be displaced or may even die when our current world order collapses. Our interdependence and ability to quickly migrate intensifies local problems across borders. Just ask the Turks. Syrians have been pouring into Turkey, and now their stressed society seems to be coming apart at the seams. Just over the horizon is Greece – another basket case. Across the water is a third stressed society, the island of Cyprus.
Today, political systems require more and more resources to sustain them, but they’re unable to react to challenges in a successful way.
It’s easy to say of collapse, “That could never happen here.” But such statements are arrogant. They ignore how Washington, D.C. has failed to meet the current challenges we face. We no longer enforce many laws. Obama and Congress pass laws and debate issues with no relevance to our lives. They ignore our bigger, more complex budgetary and economic problems.
It’s easy to say that collapse could never come to America, but the reality is that we’re more vulnerable than most of us realize.
Your eyes on the Hill,
This commentary originally appeared at CapitolHillDaily.com and is reprinted here in full with permission.
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