It is possible that the United States government collapses under its own weight. Though many scoff at the idea of the U.S. government collapsing, it would actually be stranger if it didn’t. We need look no further than the collapse of Rome in 476, which fell due to many of the same conditions which affect the U.S. today.
But the U.S. has 50 states to pick up the pieces. Because of the unique setup of the United States, these 50 states could cushion the blow of an immediate collapse, stopping another strongman from taking over the whole landmass in the turmoil. Instead, we may see 50 competing countries emerge, which would give free markets, and eventually a stateless society a fighting chance.
But first, let’s quickly review why Rome fell, and how America is in a similar place.
The Writing on the Wall for Rome and America
History.com summarizes eight main reasons why Rome fell, which I would suggest checking out. But the main reasons were, 1) “Invasion by barbarian tribes,” 2) “Economic troubles and over reliance on slave labor,” 3) “The rise of the Eastern Empire” or splitting in two of the Roman empire, 4) “Over expansion and military overspending,” 5) “Government corruption and political instability,” 6) “The arrival of the Huns and the migration of the barbarian tribes,” 7) “Christianity and the loss of traditional values,” 8) “Weakening of the Roman legions.”
Without getting into a long discussion about the similarities between the current United States and Rome just before it collapsed, I would like to just point out a few highlights. Towards the end, Rome was “crumbling from within thanks to a severe financial crisis. Constant wars and overspending had significantly lightened imperial coffers, and oppressive taxation and inflation had widened the gap between rich and poor.”
That quotation applies unaltered directly to the United States government. The United States is over $18 trillion dollars in debt, and while Bernie Sanders might have you believe the widening wealth gap is because of capitalism, the truth is that the government directly causes large wealth gaps by confiscating money through taxation and inflation, and upwardly redistributing it.
“At its height, the Roman Empire stretched from the Atlantic Ocean all the way to the Euphrates River in the Middle East, but its grandeur may have also been its downfall. With such a vast territory to govern, the empire faced an administrative and logistical nightmare…As more and more funds were funneled into the military upkeep of the empire, technological advancement slowed and Rome’s civil infrastructure fell into disrepair.” Again, I struggle to add anything. This very same situation grips the United States today. The endless wars and military expansion in the middle east could be the United States’ downfall. It has become more profitable to be a government contracted bomb maker than to invent new standard-of-living-raising technology.
“If Rome’s sheer size made it difficult to govern, ineffective and inconsistent leadership only served to magnify the problem…As the situation worsened, civic pride waned and many Roman citizens lost trust in their leadership.” I don’t think many Americans trust their leadership right now, but they just don’t know what to do to fix it! We have been scared into thinking government is the only way, somehow still better than markets, even as the empire crumbles under the inmates running the asylum from DC.
After the Hun invasion forced many Germanic tribes to flee their land, “[t]he Romans grudgingly allowed members of the Visigoth tribe to cross south of the Danube and into the safety of Roman territory, but they treated them with extreme cruelty.” I find this interesting as some have called for illegal immigrants to earn their citizenship through military service. This would seem to fit with the Roman plan, as many displaced Germanic tribes ended up fighting for Rome as mercenaries, and then eventually sacking Rome twice.
America also has refugees to deal with, caused by the wars which the U.S. created and escalated. This also leads to a loss of traditional values, which I am not saying is necessarily bad, but will certainly add to the troubles of keeping the American Empire afloat. For instance, a predominantly Spanish speaking area of the U.S. might want to split off to form its own little society.
But the Collapse of the American Empire Could Do More Good than Harm
This is the thing: saying all these things pose problems for the empire does not mean all these things pose problems for the American people. In fact, the American Empire is the biggest risk to our life, liberty, and property. The fear is that things will devolve into chaos in the absence of mammoth government. Now lessons from after the Roman fall might seem to suggest this is true.
The Dark Ages did indeed follow Rome’s fall. But these were conquered lands, which have historically felt turmoil when an invading empire departs. I would start by suggesting the actual United States territory would not devolve the same way conquered lands did under Rome. State governments would probably pick up the slack. It seems there may be a mixture of competition between states and rich landowners who may become like modern feudal lords.
Since the government and military broke down, people began searching for protection and access to resources. Rich landholders provided a respite for the desperate. The rich allowed the poor onto their lands and provided protection. In return, the poor worked the lands for the landowner and provided a portion of the crop to pay rent. This was the beginning of the feudal system.
At the time, peasants would seem to have had little options in terms of which Lord to work for. But these days, moving to gain protection from a better more fair “Lord” would be easier. Also, “as a result of several factors, the European economy degraded to barter,” which means it was hard to aggregate capital as a peasant, without a way to protect it. Today things like bitcoin give the opportunity to use alternative currencies in the event of a U.S. dollar collapse. Since these currencies would not be centralized and controlled by government or one corporation, it would be that much harder to hold economic power over others. If an entity with a lot of one type of currency became aggressive, simply refusing to accept or use that currency would take their power away.
This could cause an equilibrium between government and industry, with people choosing who they think can do a better job of providing security and other services. If the government ended up oppressing people, powerful corporations could offer protection, and vice versa. Since companies, at their base level, offer a valuable product and must compete to attract customers, it would seem that they would be likely to outcompete government. This is because government is inherently violent, forces you to accept their services, and steals your money to fund them, meaning you cannot defund bad services.
Without a monolithic state to back up the aggression, smaller states would have to ease up on their oppression, allowing people the viable alternative of not participating in the government system. Without a centralized United States Currency (because it would almost certainly be one of the causes of collapse, or at least collapse with the rest of the government) it would be harder for government to have control over corporations, and corporations would have less to gain from taking control of a government.
Since people would be using voluntary currencies, this would make it more difficult for one state or corporation to aggregate vast amounts of wealth that allow them to monopolize with the same ease that the United States government does today. Using force would cost them more than they could gain from it.
What do you think? Is my assessment naive and overly hopeful? Or would this collapse lead to the regrowth of the economy into the conditions depicted in my fiction novel, “Anarchy in New England”?