Ferguson: The Nasty Fiscal Arithmetic of Imperial Decline

With over 143,000 views, Harvard historian Niall Ferguson’s recent video, on empires on the edge of chaos, has at least a lot of social proof going for it that it’s worth a gander. He gave his lecture to the Centre for Independent Studies, a public policy think tank within Australasia, and addresses questions such as: What if history isn’t cyclical and slow moving? And, what if collapse doesn’t amicably settle in over centuries, but instead comes quickly, or overnight?

With these questions in mind, about the true nature of complex systems, he considers implications for the United States. He portrays the US as a complex system, which appears to be stable, or in equilibrium, but is constantly evolving and mutating. Just a small trigger can lurch its seemingly benign system into an abrupt collapse… at a scale that’s impossible to anticipate.

Here are a few of his thoughts, paraphrased:

  • The US fiscal numbers are bad, but perception may be even more crucial… because imperial crises are about expectations of future power, for the empire itself and, more importantly, in the eyes of its enemies.
  • Right now, the impression is that the Western world expects the US to muddle through, the normalcy bias we have discussed before, and that’s a pretty strong incentive for congressmen to do nothing and leave the problem for the next generation.
  • Finally, Ferguson asks: Are we ready for a dramatic change in the global balance of power? Drama lies ahead, and soon… as the nasty fiscal arithmetic of imperial decline drives yet another great power over the edge of chaos.

Just the introduction is found below, while what are among the most intriguing sections can be found here:

Chapter 4: Complexity Theory

Chapter 7: Failure of Perception

Chapter 8: Debt Payment Overtaking Defense Spending