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Friday, February 20, 2009


social collapse best practices

i've mentioned dmitry orlov before in conjunction with his 2006 presentation 'closing the collapse gap' and his 2005 series 'post-soviet lessons for a post-american century' (parts two and three). he more recently penned in early 2008 'the five stages of collapse', of which he suspects we are in the first stage. he has also published a book, "reinventing collapse", to articulate his ideas better. his sporadically-updated blog is here.

orlov gave an intriguing talk this month titled 'social collapse best practices' which tries to provide, as the title implies, a framework for adopting tested survivability methods in the aftermath of a worst-case outcome.

If you thought that the previous episode of uncontrolled debt expansion, globalized Ponzi schemes, and economic hollowing-out was silly, then I predict that you will find this next episode of feckless grasping at macroeconomic straws even sillier. Except that it won’t be funny: what is crashing now is our life support system: all the systems and institutions that are keeping us alive. And so I don’t recommend passively standing around and watching the show – unless you happen to have a death wish.

no doubt, this is maximum pessimism. worse than japan? surely -- i readily accept it. but worse than the soviet union?

nevertheless, i do think orlov's basic point is essentially inarguable and in fact is seconded by nassim taleb and benoit mandelbrot and michael panzner. orlov is diagnosing the united states as an overoptimized society -- too specialized, too interdependent, too tightly coupled, too fragile -- on the brink of a very radical change in its environmental backdrop. overoptimization makes the united states uniquely strong so long as the environment does not shift in a discontinuous manner; but it also makes our society uniquely vulnerable to such a shift.

the determinant is not whether orlov could be right. it is whether the shift in the environment to which we have become so finely tuned is profound and radical enough to precipitate the kind of self-feeding collapse he envisions.

UPDATE: video link via paul kedrosky.

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