gold collapseBefore an empire collapses, it first erodes from within. 
The collapse may appear sudden, but the processes of internal rot hollowed out the resilience, resolve, purpose and vitality of the empire long before its final implosion.
This is how empires collapse: one complicit participant at a time.


By Charles Hugh Smith, Of Two Minds:

What are these processes of internal rot? Here are a few of the most pervasive and destructive forces of internal corrosion:

1. Each institution within the system loses sight of its original purpose of serving the populace and becomes self-serving. This erosion of common purpose serving the common good is so gradual that participants forget there was a time when the focus wasn’t on gaming the system to avoid work and accountability but serving the common good.

2. The corrupt Status Quo corrupts every individual who works within the system. Once an institution loses its original purpose and becomes self-serving, everyone within either seeks to maximize their own personal share of the swag and minimize their accountability, or they are forced out as a potentially dangerous uncorrupted insider.

The justification is always the same: everybody else is getting away with it, why shouldn’t I? Empires decline one corruptible individual at a time.

3. Self-serving institutions select sociopathic leaders whose skills are not competency or leadership but conning others into believing the institution is functioning optimally when in reality it is faltering/failing.

The late Roman Empire offers a fine example: entire Army legions in the hinterlands were listed as full-strength on the official rolls in Rome and payroll was issued accordingly, but the legions only existed on paper: corrupt officials pocketed the payroll for phantom legions.

Self-serving institutions reward con-artists in leadership roles because only con-artists can mask the internal rot with happy-story PR and get away with it.

4. The institutional memory rewards conserving the existing Status Quo and punishes innovation. Innovation necessarily entails risk, and those busy feathering their own nests (i.e. accepting money for phantom work, phantom legions, etc.) have no desire to place their share of the swag at risk just to improve sagging output and accountability.

So reforms and innovations that might salvage the institution are shelved or buried.

5. As the sunk costs of the subsystems increase, the institutional resistance to new technologies and processes increases accordingly. Those manufacturing steam locomotives in the early 20th century had an enormous amount of capital and institutional knowledge sunk in their factories. Tossing all of that out to invest in building diesel-electric locomotives that were much more efficient than the old-tech steam locomotives made little sense to those looking at sunk costs.

As a result, the steam locomotive manufacturers clung to the old ways and went out of business. The sunk costs of empire are enormous, as is the internal resistance to change.

6. Institutional memory and knowledge support “doing more of what worked in the past” even when it is clearly failing. I refer to this institutional risk-avoidance and lack of imagination as doing more of what has failed spectacularly.

Inept leadership keeps doing more of what once worked, even when it is clearly failing, in effect ignoring real-world feedback in favor of magical-thinking. The Federal Reserve is an excellent example.

7. These dynamics of eroding accountability, effectiveness and purpose lead to systemic diminishing returns. Each failing institution now needs more money to sustain its operations, as inefficiencies, corruption and incompetence reduce output while dramatically raising costs (phantom legions still get paid).

8. Incompetence is rewarded and competence punished. The classic example of this was “Good job, Brownie:” cronies and con-artists are elevated to leadership roles to reward loyalty and the ability to mask the rot with good PR. Serving the common good is set aside as sychophancy (obedient flattery) to incompetent leaders is rewarded and real competence is punished as a threat to the self-serving leadership.

9. As returns diminish and costs rise, systemic fragility increases. This can be illustrated as a rising wedge: as output declines and costs rise, the break-even point keeps edging higher, until even a modest reduction of input (revenue, energy, etc.) causes the system to break down:


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A modern-day example is oil-exporting states that have bought the complicity of their citizenry with generous welfare benefits and subsidies. As their populations and welfare benefits keep rising, the revenues they need to keep the system going require an ever-higher price of oil. Should the price of oil decline, these regimes will be unable to fund their welfare. With the social contract broken, there is nothing left to stem the tide of revolt.

10. Economies of scale no longer generate returns. In the good old days, stretching out supply lines to reach lower-cost suppliers and digitizing management reaped huge gains in productivity. Now that the scale of enterprise is global, the gains from economies of scale have faltered and the high overhead costs of maintaining this vast managerial infrastructure have become a drain.

11. Redundancy is sacrificed to preserve a corrupt and failing core. Rather than demand sacrifices of the Roman Elites and the entertainment-addicted bread-and-circus masses to maintain the forces protecting the Imperial borders, late-Roman Empire leaders eliminated defense-in-depth (redundancy). This left the borders thinly defended. With no legions in reserve, an invasion could no longer be stopped without mobilizing the entire border defense, in effect leaving huge swaths of the border undefended to push back the invaders.

Phantom legions line the pockets of insiders and cronies while creating a useful illusion of stability and strength.

12. The feedback from those tasked with doing the real work of the Empire is ignored as Elites and vested interests dominate decision-making. As I noted yesterday in The Political Poison of Vested Interests, when this bottoms-up feedback is tossed out, ignored or marginalized, all decisions are necessarily unwise because they are no longer grounded in the consequences experienced by the 95% doing the real work.

This lack of feedback from the bottom 95% is captured by the expression “Let them eat cake.” (Though attributed to Marie Antoinette, there is no evidence that she actually said Qu’ils mangent de la brioche.)

The point is that decisions made with no feedback from the real-world of the bottom 95%, that is, decisions made solely in response to the demands of cronies, vested interests and various elites, are intrinsically unsound and doomed to fail catastrophically.

How does an Empire end up with phantom legions? The same way the U.S. ended up with ObamaCare/Affordable Care Act. The payroll is being paid but there is no real-world feedback, no accountability, no purpose other than private profit/gain and no common good being served.

That’s how empires collapse: one corrupted, self-serving individual at a time, gaming one corrupted, self-serving institution or another; it no longer matters which one because they’re all equally compromised. It’s not just the border legions that are phantom; the entire stability and strength of the empire is phantom. The uncorruptible and competent are banished or punished, and the corrupt, self-serving and inept are lavished with treasure.

This is how empires collapse: one complicit participant at a time.

  1. Love it, our nakedness or duality of mind has left us wanting, as we wonder about in this wilderness in search of that which we have lost, only to fall prey to pride and vanity, which give birth to greed, or a life lived for the selfish  gain thereof.

  2. Whenever a People lose their resolve to exert first-hand control over their institutions, ‘it’s all down hill from there’. The Peoples of the different countries are the ultimate Sovereigns of them. They have a responsibility to ‘take the throne’ to instill confidence in the realm. When they rather choose to lay about or leave their duty to others, usurpers will take their throne, it is certain.

    • In the greater Spiritual picture, this world being a shadow thereof, this  battle which plays out within all men, being an indifference/warfare/reasoning  of the soul ruled over by our flesh/carnal mind of duality, and this unholy matrimony {abomination} ultimately brings us to an expected end, which is a desolating or an end of our divided reasoning, both individual and collective.
         “So when you see the abomination that causes desolation, spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place” (let the reader understand), Matthew 24:15

  3. It’ll be far easier to pin the date when the USSA empire began than when it ends.   Conjecture on the first and second date would be appreciated.   I’d say 1913 was the start of our empire building.

    • Bearing in mind that since 1862, Congress never did Constitutionally re-convene after having adjourned sine die, I have to put the ‘set-up’ at the creation of the ‘Government for the District of Columbia’, in 1871, closely followed by silver’s de-monetization with the infamous ‘Crime of 1873’, assuming central banking’s keystone ‘gold standard’. That’s the period where I’d say the presidents became Imperial Caesars.

    • AGXIIK,
      I’d say 1913 was the death of the USA and the birth of the USSA. In that year the FED was created, income taxes imposed and popular vote for senators implemented. That set the stage for the inevitable fall of the US and it changed the relationship between the government and the people forever from one of service to the people to one of subservience by the people; the US system was broken and irreparable. 

      However, like zombie banks, the patient wasn’t dead yet. Entrenched systems don’t go down without a fight, but when they do go down, they do so asymptotically.

      I personally believe that we are quite a bit past the bend in the hockey stick. I am more worried about how I will feed my family during the next crisis than how I will spend my stack (which fell into the river just last week…)

    • “which fell into the river just last week…”
      There seems to be a lot of that going around, yet I haven’t heard of any canoe recalls that would justify it.  😉

    • Agreed, Woolly.  At its very core, an empire collapses when its citizens reject the personal discipline and sacrifice necessary to maintain that empire.  An empire cannot be held together at its top but only at its bottom.  When life in an empire becomes so soft, so comfy, and so assured, no one wants to give all that up in order to keep it going, its days are most certainly numbered.  This is when their military draft ends and mercenaries are hired.  Many mercenaries are highly trained and skilled warriors but their raison d’être is not the glory and continuance of the empire but the gold and silver (or its modern day equivalent) they are paid and can pillage.  It is an interesting historical note that the US military now depends heavily on hired mercenaries, such as those provided by Blackwater Security and other private companies, for many of its activities.

    • In this case, empire was built upon a house of cards to begin with. (fiat) 
      Leadership failed before We the People by doing this and other things. 
      “The fish rots from the Head down…”

  4. brainpowerinuse  your post handle tells me that you are thinking.  My prepper post in the SD Hall of Fame(right side of the page) has some good ideas on prepping   there is a wealth of material out there that can, at least, assuage your concerns to the degree that you can prep up for the coming crises.  While it’s impossible to be 100% ahead of the curve, being 75-80% ahead may be what it takes.  And as for that stack at the bottom of the lake, it’s pretty secure.  just get a set of fins snorkel and mask when it comes time to retreive it
    I live near by Lake Tahoe.  
    My stack sunk to about 750 feet so I am working hard to be able to hold my breath for about 30 minutes and dive dive dive.

    • @AGXIIK
      “My stack sunk to about 750 feet so I am working hard to be able to hold my breath for about 30 minutes and dive dive dive.”
      No problem, AG.  Just budget in a lung transplant from a dolphin.  😉

  5. Ed_B   One sign of empire in decline was the matter of phantom legions on the books, with the overseer taking the cash and pocketing it
    The Phoenix VA has created paper lists of wounded and ill veterans, making their numbers look good and pocketing the bonuses.  The real list of these veterans got no treatment for months and even years, dying from their wounds and illnesses while waiting for treatment. The sclerotic criminal administrators need to be put before a firing squad with members of the suffering families comprising the firing squads

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