The Late Great United States: The Decline and Fall of the United States of America

By Joseph George Caldwell

Max: You know, one thing I can’t figure out is whether these girls are real smart or just real, real lucky. Hal: You know, Max, brains will only get you so far, and luck always runs out.
-- Thelma and Louise (A Ridley Scott film, 1991, MGM United Artists)

The United States Is Already Dead, and Just Doesn’t Know It

In the 1990s, I wrote the book, Can America Survive?, in which I analyzed the current situation of the United States and the world. I started writing the book in 1994, revised it a couple of times, completed it in late 1998 and posted it on the Foundation website in 1999. My brief answer to the question posed in the title was, “No, – not in its current form for very long, and perhaps not in any form at all for very long.”

In the years since I wrote this book, nothing has changed to modify my prognosis. The problems that I described and analyzed have not been resolved, and not even addressed. They have, in fact, gotten much worse.

It is my opinion that the United States, as a society, is in the final stages of disintegration. The country has allowed the invasion of 12-20 million illegal aliens. The financial system is bankrupt, and the government is now in the process of “selling the furniture” (i.e., selling its infrastructure, corporations and land to foreign interests). The country’s culture is fragmented. The government has alienated the citizens – it now serves the wealthy, not the middle class. The nation has lost its sovereignty to “globalization.” All that lies between its current status and total collapse is the “tipping point” – the proverbial “last straw” that breaks the camel’s back.

When I was a boy, we were taught that dinosaurs were so stupid that even though they were mortally wounded, they would thrash around for minutes before their small brains finally realized that they were dead, and they collapsed. I believe that this perception of dinosaurs is no longer held, but the analogy is an apt one to describe the present state of the United States. Its economic “engine” is so large and powerful that it has a large amount of “inertia” or “momentum,” that carries it along even though its vital essence, its spirit, has died. It is like an airplane that is about to crash into a mountain.

Everything seems fine at the moment, but disaster is imminent and there is absolutely nothing that can be done to avert it.

Am I predicting a date for the collapse of the United States? No. In my view, the real collapse has already occurred – there is nothing of significance to predict. As Ariel Durant once remarked, “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.” The United States has destroyed what made it great. It has abandoned the concepts and principles on which the Founders established the Republic. It has lost its vitality, its life force, its direction, its purpose. The government has turned against the middle class, and, without the support of the people, the country is in the final stages of dissolution. It may continue operation for a while, but it is no longer a vibrant entity in control of its destiny. The car is running out of gas, and the joy ride is almost over.

Reasons Why the US Will Collapse Soon

There is not just a single symptom or sign of the United States’ moribund condition. (By the way, in medical parlance a “symptom” is a subjective indicator, and difficult to measure quantitatively, such as a feeling of nausea or anxiety, or a headache; a “sign” is a measurable indicator, such as a temperature or blood pressure or red blood cell count.) There are many. In Appendix A are listed a large number of specific indicators that suggest why the US is in trouble and will soon collapse. The major sections of this book were determined simply by arranging that long list into groups, or categories, containing related indicators. The following is a list of these categories. In the remainder of the book, I will present a brief chapter discussing each category. The categories are listed in order of my assessment of their importance.

Destruction of the Biosphere. Global industrialization is destroying the planet’s biosphere (global warming, deforestation, mass species extinction). All countries will soon perish. (Note on “global warming”: I am not going to get into the argument concerning whether global warming is happening, or what causes it. With the imminent breakup of ice at the North Pole for the first time in human history, it seems pretty clear that something is happening (although some people point to volcanoes as the cause). It doesn’t really matter very much whether global warming is happening or not, when large human numbers and global industrialization are causing the extinction of an estimated 30,000 species per year – that is a real threat to our existence, quite independent of global warming.)
The passage of Peak Oil. Global production of oil is peaking, and will start to decline. Our society is oil-based, we are running out of oil, and there is not a comparable substitute. All countries will fail as the petroleum age comes to an end and the era of global industrialization with it.
Overpopulation. The world and US populations are far higher than the current-solar-energy carrying capacity. When global oil production starts to decline, a global die-off will begin, concurrent with massive political upheavals.
Fractionated Culture. Because of mass immigration and little assimilation, the country’s culture has become highly fractionated. It is held together only by extreme wealth, rather than by race, religion, language, culture and ethnicity. As soon as global oil production starts to decline, the wealth (glue) holding US society together will dissolve, and the society will disintegrate.
Decline in US Culture. To an increasing degree, US culture has become soft, undisciplined, greedy, selfish, egocentric, hedonistic and materialistic. Through mass immigration from third-world countries, many of which are corrupt and inimical to traditional US culture, US culture is being overwhelmed by those cultures and reflecting them more and more.
Loss of Spirituality and “Manifest Destiny.” Many of the US middle class see no future, no hope.
Globalization. Globalization is destroying the hegemony of the US relative to other major world powers and the nation’s sovereignty.
Low Security: With open borders and massive international free trade, the US is very vulnerable, both on the national and individual levels.
The Politics of Envy. Both within the US and outside of it. (The “politics of greed” is the motivation for people to use political power to accumulate wealth for themselves; the “politics of envy” is the motivation for poor people to destroy those who have wealth.)
Oppression. The US government has adopted systems, programs and policies that have made economic slaves of the US middle class. Debt is a major tool of the government in this system.
Decline in Freedom. Each year, Americans have reduced freedom. Increased crowding from mass immigration and the “War on Terror” are the two principal causal factors.
Alienation of the US People from the US Government. The US government is no longer for the people. The government is waging war on the middle class. Its policies to vastly increase the riches of the wealthy elite have the direct effect of reducing the quality of life and discretionary income of the middle class, and subjugating it. The US government has become the enemy of the people. It is doing to the middle class exactly the same thing that the developed nations, through the international lending agencies, are doing to the third-world countries – miring them so deep in debt (through compound interest and debt-based money) so that they can never escape, are under total control, and are paying all of their discretionary income as interest.
Quality of Life Is Declining for the US Middle Class. It is now necessary for both parents to work in the competitive (paid, formal) labor market to support a family, whereas one person could support a family 50 years ago. Children are in “industrial” day care. Most young people today cannot hope to own their own home. Long commutes; high housing costs; high energy costs; diminished access to natural land; high medical costs; epidemics of disease and obesity caused by the system, stress, and poisoned food. Lower expectations for children. The current system is designed to enrich the wealthy, not protect the middle class. The goal and function of the present US political and economic system of US government is to “privatize the costs and socialize the benefits,” transferring much wealth from the middle class to the wealthy (e.g., via use of “eminent domain” and tax credits for the wealthy for major economic development projects; payment of interest on the national debt using income taxes, most of which come from the middle class; and “bailouts” of the wealthy when their financial schemes fail, also using income taxes).
Increasing Income Gap. Tremendously increasing income gap between top management and average workers, conspicuous consumption and flaunting of wealth. Increasing media attention to conspicuous consumption and flaunting of income. Instant billionaires. The ratio of the pay of top management has skyrocketed from about 40 to 1 a half-century ago to over 500 to 1 today. Heightened sense of economic class (wealthy versus poor). Increased dissatisfaction, politics of envy. Government policies and systems (income tax, the health care system and massive debt based on compound interest) transfer much wealth from the middle class to the wealthy.
Technical Reasons. (Factors involved in the collapse of complex societies, carrying capacity, economics.)
Political Incompetence. Just as King George III, US political leaders have failed to follow the dictums of Machiavelli, Sun Tsu, Liddell-Hart and others, and have lost the country.

This book is a summary. It is simply an annotated taxonomy of the items listed in Appendix A. It states my views and highlights my reasons for holding them, and presents a brief discussion of each reason why I believe that the US is finished. Most of the points that I make have been made many times before by others, in much greater detail than I present here. In a number of sections, when discussing very important concepts, I will include quotations from works of others, simply to show that I am not the only one making these points.

As part of the discussion, I cite references that provide additional detail. For convenience, the references are also categorized, but the categories used for the references are not at all the categories used to summarize the categories of reasons for my view, since people write books on general topics and those topics are not the categories of reasons for my view. The reference categories are not mutually exclusive. For example, a book on the history of warfare might be placed in “war” or “history.” A book on religion and ecology could be placed in either “religion” or “environment.”

Within each category of reference, I have sorted the items (mainly books) in approximate order of my assessment of their importance relative to the category. Just because a reference is included does not necessarily mean that I recommend it or endorse it. A number of references are included to illustrate views that I consider wrong, or to illustrate examples of bad predictions or poor methodologies. (The references on predictions and prophecies are included simply for interest. None of the information contained in any of those works has any bearing on the views presented in this work – in fact, a review of almost any of the older ones will quickly reveal how wrong and useless most of them are. In general, I am loath to make predictions, and certainly any involving dates – this book is a discourse on the current state of the US, not a prediction of a specific year in which it falters or collapses. Everything in the physical universe eventually dies – in the long run, there is nothing to predict.)

All of the references cited are books or other documents in my personal library. For this reason, they should not be considered to be a bibliography – they are just a list of selected references and sources. I have acquired these books over the years, in a casual way. My views on the fall of the United States are my own, but they have certainly been tempered by what I have read.

One of the principal tools of intelligence analysis is “content analysis,” which is the scanning of documents, such as newspapers or periodicals, in the attempt to identify and understand significant situations or trends. In a sense, this book may be viewed as a “content analysis” of the books in my library, with respect to the status and direction of the US. If the list of references were a bibliography, it would include many “seminal” works, such as Malthus’ essay on population.

Except for a few examples of technical works, all of the references are non-technical, and many of them are “trade” publications (low-cost, popular editions of mass-produced works, such as paperbacks and soft-cover editions). Most of the sources are from the past two decades, since most of the works dealing with topics relevant to the subject of this book were written during this time period.

Almost all of the references cited are “hardcopy” documents (books and pamphlets). With the explosion of the Internet, there are many websites containing information relevant to the thesis of this book. There are two reasons why I refer mainly to hardcopy sources: (1) most of the world does not have access to the Internet; and (2) relatively few books relevant to this work are available from the Internet in their entirety.

The major sections of this book refer to major readily identifiable indicators – symptoms and signs – of the US’ moribund condition. These symptoms and signs are not root causes. In addition to discussing these indicators and the current problems facing America (and the world) attention is focused on the reasons underlying these problems (such as growth-based economics, debt-based money, interest, and globalization) and their causes and nature.

To a degree, each section has been written essentially independently of others. Since there is some overlap of the content of the sections, this means that there is occasional redundancy among the sections.
Destruction of the Biosphere

The main reason why the United States will collapse soon is that the entire system of large human numbers and global industrialization will soon collapse. In the wake of the global collapse, all of the world’s individual nations will collapse. The current system of human society is completely unsustainable, the principal reason being that it is destroying the biosphere on which we depend for our existence. Global industrialization is generating massive amounts of waste that are not readily decomposed by geological or biological processes. It is causing the extinction of an estimated 30,000 species per year. It is causing severe pollution of the land, seas and atmosphere. The pollution of the atmosphere is believed by many to be causing global warming to occur, which is likely to accelerate the mass human-caused species extinction now underway.

Throughout the planet’s existence there have been a number of mass extinctions. This is the first one that is human-caused. The first major book on this extinction is The Sixth Extinction, by Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin (1995). Mankind’s destruction of the biosphere has been going on for quite some time (since the dawn of the industrial revolution), but began to increase exponentially with the advent of the industrial revolution and the tapping of fossil fuels. The “wake-up” book on mankind’s destruction of the biosphere was Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962). The publication of her book opened the floodgates to publication of books on mankind’s destruction of the planet, such as Gordon Rattray Taylor’s The Doomsday Book (1970), Barry Commoner’s Making Peace with the Planet (1975) and J. E. Lovelock’s Gaia (1979). Other well-received books on this topic include Bill McKibben’s The End of Nature (1989), Paul and Anne Ehrlich’s Healing the Planet (1991), Gerard Piel’s Only One World (1992), Garrett Hardin’s Living within Limits (1993) and Al Gore’s Earth in the Balance (1992). Recent books on the subject include and Lester Brown’s Plan B 2.0 (2006) and Plan B 3.0 (2008). A good compilation of articles on carrying capacity is The Carrying Capacity Briefing Book (volumes I and II, 1996) by the Carrying Capacity Network. The Social Contract journal is a powerful voice on this subject.

The really interesting thing about the current destruction of the planet’s biosphere is that absolutely nothing of any significance is being done to stop it. Countless books have been written on the subject for half a century, and the process is well recognized and understood. Mankind, however, appears powerless to do anything about it – and this is a lack of will, not of know-how.

The only noticeable actions in response to the planetary crisis are anguish, wringing of hands, and the writing of more books on the subject. Politicians routinely suggest measures that will reduce pollution or energy consumption by ten percent, while the human population increases by ten percent every few years, so that the net result is zero. They continually reiterate that if only economic growth continues, then all countries will experience a “demographic transition,” the global population will level off and decline, and the planet’s environmental problem will be solved. But this has never happened. It has not happened in fifty years of trying. Each year, global human population increases by about 70-80 million people. Each year, planetary deforestation continues and another estimated 30,000 species is made extinct. Continuing with their program will cause no decline in human numbers in the foreseeable future, and will result in the extinction of millions of species. During the past half-century under this program, human population has doubled and the levels of pollution have more than doubled. It is very clear that mankind will do nothing proactive to stop the problem, and that the process of global industrialization will continue to run its course until it collapses by itself.

The planet’s leaders tell endless lies about their actions in response to the crisis. Recently, demonstrators climbed onto the roof of the Houses of Parliament in London to protest the construction of a third runway at Heathrow Airport. Jet airplanes are known to be a major contributor to global pollution and global warming from greenhouse gasses. Politicians claim to be doing something about this problem, but this is not true. They speak out of both sides of their mouths. They lie. If they were planning to reduce atmospheric pollution, they would be speaking of closing down a runway at Heathrow, not of building another one. Sheer hypocrisy! This one incident is typical of society’s response to the current planetary crisis. The planet’s political leaders have no intention of slowing global industrialization. They are all calling for increased economic activity and industrialization, not less. They are all calling for improved standards of living, which uses more energy and generates more pollution, not less. With the announced intention of Communist China and India to industrialize and raise the standards of living of their peoples, the destructive process of global industrialization will accelerate.

The major reason why the US will collapse soon is that the system of large human numbers and global industrialization is destroying the biosphere and cannot continue, this process has been on-going for decades, and nothing is being done about it. The situation is a classic example of Catton’s “overshoot and collapse.”

The Passage of Peak Oil

In 1956 the petrogeologist Dr. Marion King Hubbert published a paper in which he predicted that US oil production would peak in about 1969. His prediction was rejected by almost everyone until 1970, when his prediction was seen to be correct. Dr. Hubbert used his technical knowledge of geology and the statistical characteristics of the rate and size of oil deposit discoveries to make his prediction. If you plot a curve showing national oil production by year (a “time series”), the plot (smoothed to remove minor fluctuations) resembles a “bell-shaped” curve that is low in the early 20th century, rises to a maximum about 1969, and declines thereafter. This curve has come to be known as “Hubbert’s Curve,” and the point at which the oil production is a maximum is called “Hubbert’s Peak.”

Upon seeing the impressive success of Hubbert’s methodology in predicting the decline of US oil production, others applied his methods to predict the peaking of global oil production. Their analysis indicates that global oil production will likely peak this decade. From approximately now on, if global industrialization continues, global oil production will start to decline, and most of the planet’s commercially recoverable oil will be gone by 2050. The peaking of global oil production is referred to as “Peak Oil.” (The average production life of an oil field is about thirty years. For a large area (many oil fields), the production curve is similar in shape to the discovery curve, lagging by about thirty years. Global discoveries peaked in about 1974, and global production is expected to peak about now.)

Many books have been written on the subject of Peak Oil. One of the best is Hubbert’s Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage, by Kenneth S. Deffeyes (2001). Others on the same topic include Paul Roberts’ The End of Oil (2004) and Matthew R. Simmons’ Twilight in the Desert (2005). A comprehensive history of oil is Daniel Yergin’s The Prize (1991) (also a PBS television documentary). An excellent documentary about the passing of oil is A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash (2006) produced and directed by Basil Gelpke and Ray McCormack (available on DVD; excerpts may be viewed on YouTube).

Some people have a difficult time understanding or accepting the concept of Hubbert’s Curve. They point to the fact that new oil deposits are continually being found as evidence that this will continue forever. An example might make the concept easier to understand. Suppose that someone has a container filled with coins – quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies – and that he throws handfuls of the coins across a cornfield (maize field) and plows the field. The field represents the surface of the Earth, and the coins represent oil deposits – the coins of different values represent oil deposits of different sizes. Wherever a handful of coins was thrown there is a large “oil field.” Elsewhere there is no oil at all. Now, each year that the field is plowed for a new crop, look for coins and pick them up. The first year, you will find quite a few. The next year, you will find less. Each year you will find fewer and fewer coins, because there are just a finite number of them and you are removing them – they are not being replaced (unless you subscribe to the Russian’s abiogenic theory of oil creation). After a number of years, you would be able to estimate the relative proportions of quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies. You could draw a curve showing how many coins were found each year, and extrapolate it to estimate how many coins (of each size) will be found each year in the future. From this you could estimate the total number of coins in the field (of each size) and the total value remaining. To do this you do not need to know anything about the number or mix of coins that were distributed in the field. This is exactly how Hubbert’s Curve is constructed.

Since the major source of energy for the industrial world is oil, and since the high levels of food production have been enabled by oil, the decline in global oil production will usher in an era of massive economic and social disintegration. Good books on this topic include Thom Hartmann’s The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight (1998) and Richard Heinberg’s The Party’s Over (2003) and Power Down (2004). An excellent website for source material on this topic is Jay Hanson’s Die Off website at .

The reason why Peak Oil is expected to result in massive economic and social upheaval is that the major source of energy for the industrial world is oil, and it is not easily replaced. Oil can be used for many things, such as plastics, fertilizers and other chemicals, not just as a source of energy. Also, it is easily transported, i.e., can be stored on cars, trucks, ships and airplanes. The production of synthetic oil (e.g., from coal) requires much energy (e.g., from the coal). Moreover, this is but a stop-gap measure – all coal will be gone within a few hundred years (or much sooner, if much of the coal is converted to oil, since much energy is required to synthesize oil from coal). Electricity can be used for land transport, but only for a stable population (e.g., trolley cars, electric trains, subways). Solar energy (e.g., hydroelectric, biomass, wind, solar thermal, solar cell) can replace only a small fraction of the energy now obtained from oil, and it is not as high grade or as transportable. Believing that solar energy will be a replacement for oil is laughable. If it were, we would see plenty of solar-energy-powered factories producing more solar factories, and there would be no “energy crisis.” (People are finally beginning to write about the folly of turning to biomass as a replacement for oil. See, for example, Walter Williams’ column, “Ethanol’s a scam, not a solution” (Creators Syndicate, 16 March 2008) and the cover feature of the 7 April 2008 issue of Time magazine, “The Clean Energy Scam,” by Michael Grunwald, which discusses, among other things, the effect of using biomass on the destruction of forests in Brazil.) Uranium can provide energy for a long time, but only if used in fast-breeder reactors, which produce plutonium. The idea of having thousands of plutonium-producing “factories” around the globe in this era of terrorism is rather absurd. Nuclear energy produces radioactive waste that lasts for tens of thousands of years.

The world population has soared from one billion to 6.7 billion because of oil, and it will decline back to low levels as global oil production falls.

It is worth noting that not everyone subscribes to the inevitability of Hubbert’s Peak. An implicit assumption in the application of Hubbert’s methodology is that the oil deposits were created many eons ago (by biological processes), and are hence of essentially fixed size. An alternative theory is that oil is also geological in origin (“abiogenic petroleum origin”). The Russians subscribe to this theory, and they are finding much oil. It is also worth noting that the methodology for constructing Hubbert’s Curve does not depend on an assumption about the origin of oil – it is based only on empirical statistics (on oil deposit sizes and discoveries), but it does assume that the amounts are essentially fixed.

Many people view the passing of Peak Oil as a disaster. It is in fact a chance for salvation – a chance to save what remains of the biosphere’s species, before further damage occurs. It is oil that has fueled large human numbers and global industrialization, with the resultant environmental destruction and mass species extinction. The sooner the fossil-fuel-energy age is over, the sooner the mass species extinction may come to an end. Switching to other fossil fuels or carbon-based fuels (e.g., coal, gas, oil shale) as global oil production declines simply continues the biospheric destruction. Continuing to use fossil fuel in any form simply allows global industrialization to continue, causing the mass species extinction to continue for a longer time. There are two points here: (1) fossil fuels will exhaust soon, and there is no comparable energy replacement for them; and (2) because large human numbers and industrial activity are causing mass species extinction, finding an alternative energy source, even if it were possible, would simply continue the biospheric destruction and species extinction. Like a drug addict or alcoholic, we may want more energy, but we don’t need it – and it would destroy us if we were to find it.

Economists have been saying for decades that if the price of oil gets high enough, then substitutes for oil will be found. The price has risen from $10 a barrel to over $100 a barrel in recent years, and no comparable replacement has been found. And no matter how high the price goes, it will never buy back the species that have been made extinct. Striving to keep human energy use at high levels is tantamount to striving to continue global warming and species loss.

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