Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Empire is a pyramid scheme

This is one of those articles, from The Automatic Earth, that sums up the history of civilization in a nice tidy package--why empires grow and then collapse, and why America is where it is today. You've heard of Bernie Madoff. Well, maybe he didn't think he was doing such a bad thing, since pyramid schemes are basically what our economy of constant growth is at its core. Here is the whole article shortened to its key parts, but really, read the whole thing:

Everyone has heard of pyramid, or Ponzi, schemes....What most do not realize, however, is that Ponzi dynamics are far more pervasive than people think. There are many human systems that ultimately rest on the buy-in of new entrants, and every one of them will ultimately meet the same fate, although it can take far longer for complex constructions than for simple pyramid frauds....

....At the largest scale, empires are also grounded in pyramid dynamics, which is why they too have a limited lifespan. They grow by assuming control, either politically or economically, of new territories, positioning themselves to cream off surpluses from an ever-expanding geographical area in a form of involuntary buy-in. In the past political control through invasion or physical colonization was more common, but latterly globalization has enabled the development of a sophisticated system of economic control based on international debt slavery, supplemented with economic colonization for the purpose of resource extraction....We are living through the collapse of the final - and all-consuming - economic bubble at the end of the American empire.

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