Register

Peak Oil is You


Donate Bitcoins ;-) or Paypal :-)


Page added on December 19, 2010

Bookmark and Share

Peak Empire

Peak Empire thumbnail

As far as the speed of imperial collapse, it varies: Rome took five centuries to collapse but USSR took just a couple of years. Alfred W. McCoy, Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, recently wrote: “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.” My hunch is that McCoy’s 22-year estimate is overly generous, and that the collapse of the USA will set a speed record, unfolding over just a handful of very strange days. When will this happen? According to Chris Hedges, it could happen any time now.]

Predicting Collapse

In February, 2009 Dmitry Orlov said the following about predicting the collapse of the US empire: “I have learned from experience – luckily, from other people’s experience – that being a superpower collapse predictor is not a good career choice. I learned that by observing what happened to the people who successfully predicted the collapse of the USSR. Do you know who Andrei Amalrik is? See, my point exactly. He successfully predicted the collapse of the USSR. He was off by just half a decade. That was another valuable lesson for me, which is why I will not give you an exact date when USA will turn into FUSA (“F” is for “Former”). But even if someone could choreograph the whole event, it still wouldn’t make for much of a career, because once it all starts falling apart, people have far more important things to attend to than marveling at the wonderful predictive abilities of some Cassandra-like person.”

As far as predicting the collapse of the US empire, Russian academic Igor Panarin has been predicting it for 2010, and Johan Galtung has predicted it will collapse before 2020. Hubbert predicted in 1974 that global peak oil was incompatible with constantly growing money, triggering a cultural crisis (See Exponential Growth as a Transient Phenomenon).

Andrei Amalrik died in a car crash in 1980 at the age of 42. Nevertheless, at the risk of making a poor career choice, I will attempt to offer a methodology for determining peak US empire, if not a prediction for its demise. Now that global peak oil is history perhaps it’s time to work on predicting peak empire instead. If you followed the work of Joseph Tainter, he offered the theory of diminishing and eventually negative marginal return to territorial growth and complexity of societies. (See The Collapse of Complex Societies) He offered the following graph to illustrate:

From: Tainter, posted at Dieoff.org

As a result he expected complex societies to reach a peak in size and then begin to decline, similar to an oil peak.

From: http://sunhomedesign.wordpress.com/category/carrying-capacity/

He offered the following examples to demonstrate the principle with historical examples of defunct empires:

From: Tainter, The Collapse of Complex Societies

Shown above are the territorial areas of the Roman, Ottoman, Russian, and US Empires. The curve for the Russian Empire ends abruptly at 1917 where the curve for its heir—the USSR—takes off. The main point is that empires follow a typical bell curve type of shape.

US Empire

In the case of the US empire, it has not continued to expand by territorial acquisition. The last territory acquired was the Marshall Islands in 1947, which then became a UN Trust Territory, followed by Independence in 1986. What has continued to expand is the presence of US military installations all over the world. As the recently deceased analyst Chalmers Johnson explained, the US is an “empire of bases”, not an empire of colonies. The US has 800-1000 foreign military bases and 4-5000 bases in the US. Colonies are so passé these days. Why bother with colonies when you can impose your will with a few bases, and you don’t have to manage the whole country. Besides you can outsource most everything to contractors, so you don’t even need the consent of the governed. All you need is their tax money, which the sheeple continue to provide with barely a bleat.

Looking at the DOD Base Structure reports it is possible to graph the total acreage owned by the US military both in the US, in foreign countries, and in US foreign territories. Since both foreign countries and territories are occupied, I will lump them together. It is also valid to use total military acreage including the US, since the 50 states of the US are essentially occupied territory of the US military as well.

I was unable to find data before 1957, but total acreage under management by the US military had a recent peak in 2007, while foreign acreage peaked in 2004. This data is from official US DOD base structure reports, which according to Chalmers Johnson leaves out quite a bit, but from a relative point of view over time, it is probably adequate. I have included the excel sheet data, and others are welcome to add to the data and do a more thorough job graphing this data.

Military spending

Looking at US military spending below, it has continued to rise, despite the recent decline in acreage under management. This is entirely consistent with Tainter’s theory of declining marginal utility to expanding empires, as imperial overstretch becomes more and more expensive, and returns to expenditures begins to decline, and even become negative. It would be entirely consistent for the expenditures to continue to rise as the empire attempts to hold onto its existing level of military acreage, until interest on the debt causes a default, and then expenditures also collapse.

From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_budget_of_the_United_States

Imperial Reserves

Like oil, the empire has reserves to continue fueling the military machine. It has its AAA bond rating in order to continue deficit spending by selling Treasury bonds to foreign countries, although the rating agencies have taken somewhat of a hit on their credibility after the financial crisis. Foreign governments may also be thinking twice about the future viability of the dollar. It has the Federal Reserve to continue creating money out of thin air by key strokes on a computer, and engaging in open market operations like “quantitative easing” and purchasing existing treasuries, or even monetizing the debt by buying treasury bonds directly from the US government, giving it more money to play with. Finally they have the credulous and supplicant taxpayers who continue to fund their own demise by turning their tax dollars over to an empire, which throws it down three rat holes simultaneously: The $1 trillion dollar annual military budget, the Afghanistan War, and the bankster bailouts. Like the oil reserve/production ratio, the empire has a reserve/territorial expansion ratio which is declining rapidly. If interest rates increase adequately, the interest on the debt is going to swallow up all of tax revenues, such that a tax increase might be required. Will the sheeple rebel then? We’ll see. In any case, I welcome others to comment on the viability of military acreage as a measure of peak empire, and to expand on the analysis.

Club Orlov



3 Comments on "Peak Empire"

  1. Rick on Mon, 20th Dec 2010 4:47 am 

    Good article. As for when the collapse arrives, it won’t take another 15 years, and I agree, more like any day now. Though, things have been in downward spiral for sometime. As for the sheeple, I happen to know quite a few. They just don’t have clue what is going on. And they like to say, we’d had tough times before in the US, we’ll come out of this too. Sorry, not this time.

  2. R Mann on Mon, 20th Dec 2010 8:24 am 

    Yep, most of the sheeps are cluless about the big picture. Many are just too caught up in their day to day existance and that which has a direct, today inpact on their life. If you bring up subjects such as depletion of oil, Islamic movement to crush the west, or any of what they would consider “negative”, they don’t want to hear it. I think that deep down, everyone knows that some thing really bad is coming this way, but maybe it won’t be today, or tomorrow, or next week, or it their life time. Many just don’t want to think about it.

  3. James Johnson on Mon, 20th Dec 2010 3:59 pm 

    A lot of people seem to be saying “things could get worse but we’ll come out of it, things will be better…” I don’t thinks so. More people x fewer resources = a lot fewer resources per person. What don’t these people understand about limited resources on a finite planet?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *