Niall Ferguson: Empires Fall Quickly and Without Warning
from SeekingAlpha.com: Home Page by Michael Panzner
In an article for the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs, "Complexity and Collapse: Empires on the Edge of Chaos," due out later this week, author and historian Niall Ferguson posits that the life cycles of great powers might not follow the long-accepted pattern of gradual rise and fall. Rather, he says, "it is possible that this whole conceptual framework is, in fact, flawed," and that empires fall quickly and without warning. With that in mind, Ferguson explores what it might mean for the geopolitical status quo.
If empires are complex systems that sooner or later succumb to sudden and catastrophic malfunctions, rather than cycling sedately from Arcadia to Apogee to Armageddon, what are the implications for the United States today? First, debating the stages of decline may be a waste of time—it is a precipitous and unexpected fall that should most concern policymakers and citizens. Second, most imperial falls are associated with fiscal crises. All the above cases were marked by sharp imbalances between revenues and expenditures, as well as difficulties with financing public debt. Alarm bells should therefore be ringing very loudly, indeed, as the United States contemplates a deficit for 2009 of more than $1.4 trillion—about 11.2 percent of gdp, the biggest deficit in 60 years—and another for 2010 that will not be much smaller. Public debt, meanwhile, is set to more than double in the coming decade, from $5.8 trillion in 2008 to $14.3 trillion in 2019. Within the same timeframe, interest payments on that debt are forecast to leap from eight percent of federal revenues to 17 percent.
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