The 1, 2, 3’s….of Empire Collapse

barryAs we breathlessly await President Obama’s plan for dealing with ISIS tomorrow night, the U.S. has been at war now for over 13 years and one can argue we have been at war in some form or fashion since World War II.  It may be a good time to look at what causes the collapse of empires.  The formula seems to be pretty clear cut and history shows there isn’t much deviation from the 11 steps of collapse

History gives dates, battles, squabbles between leaders and tends to point to some “Waterloo Moment” that hastens in the collapse.  The real reason for the collapse of an empire usually aren’t quite that grand or spectacular, they tend to be slow, unseen, unrealized by those in the middle of the collapse, and by the time a “Waterloo Moment” comes the empire had actually been dead for several decades prior.

When I was a young boy, I loved history but was particular drawn to the empires of the past Roman, Persian, Ottoman, Spainsh..,but I only learned about the battles, wars, and conquests of these empires.  Now as a middle aged man, I have been interested in the mechanics that foster these empires eventual collapse.

Here are what I have found to be the 11 steps of collapse, the order can be up for debate, but the pattern seems clear from the Roman Empire thorough the most recent collapse of the Soviet Empire.


  1. The reach of government leaders habitually exceeds their grasp.
  2. Dramatic expansion via warfare is undertaken without a clear plan as to how that expansion is to be financed.
  1. The population is burdened with a growing tax burden as the defense budget expands more and more resources are diverted to the warfare state.
  1. Heavy taxation causes investment by the private sector to diminish as government consumes more and more of the output of the economy for warfare, welfare and other social programs designed to appease the populace causing economic decline to take root.
  1. Costs of goods rise yet wages fail to keep pace with rising costs.
  1. Tax revenue declines as the economy continues to contract. Taxes are increased in the form of fees, fines, sin taxes, energy taxes, sales taxes, etc…., in an attempt to bolster government revenues.
  1. Wealth begins to be isolated at the upper part of the economy and with those connected to the state.
  1. Government accelerates its debt expansion through money expansion and further borrowing to continue the funding for warfare and welfare, with no plan for repayment.
  1. Dramatic authoritarian controls are instituted to assure that the public continues to comply with the taxation of the state, even if the level of taxation cannot be met by the public.
  1. Economic and social collapse begins, often marked by unrest and riots, with the collapse of the economy imminent the exit of the productive class rapidly accelerates
  1. In the final stage, the empire turns on itself, the power of the state is used to protect the state from the people.

So as the President lays out a plan for yet another incursion of the U.S. military, think where is the United States on the ladder of collapse?  I would say somewhere between 8 and 9.  The simple take away is empires collapse under their own weight of debt, obligations, and warfare beyond the resources available in the society; not from some external force seeking to destroy their rein. 

History is cruel in its ability to predict the outcome of mans follies, could point to why humanity seems incapable of learning from the lessons of history, just a thought?


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