This post presents an excerpt from A Bloody Arrogant Power, Book 1 of the Sovereigns of the Collapse series. His Decency Thomas Thomson Krossington, the most powerful sovereign landowner of the Island of Britain, is addressing the Westminster Assembly, the most exclusive club of the Island of Britain.
As an aside, the Westminster Assembly meets in the Lords’ Chamber of the Palace of Westminster (a.k.a. the Houses of Parliament).
The annual subscription for Assembly membership is ten thousand Troy ounces of gold (more than £10M in today’s money). As Tom Krossington himself quips, you really have to enjoy politics to stump up a pile like that every year. But he is the head of the Lands of Krossington, so he can afford it.
The rulers of Britain in 2106 do not have a high opinion of our times of today (the Public Era). This is a speech Tom Krossington makes to the Westminster Assembly during a debate:
“Let us remember why the Glorious Resolution happened. Fundamentally, the Public Era was based on the dangerous idealism that everyone has a right to what others have. Trying to give everything to everyone just can’t work in the long run. It costs too much. The Public Era mined out its own future with debt, it crammed the planet with tourism and traffic jams and sprawl, it razed the ancient forests, it poisoned the oceans, it even threatening to wreck the climate of this Earth. The economy of the whole world went down under its own weight like Beauvais Cathedral—and thank God. What you must understand is that Banner’s National Party is leading us down the same road to ruin—they’re driven by a pious rectitude, not pragmatism. Over all our petty squabbles and rivalries, we the sovereign class must prevent the recrudescence of the Fatted Masses. That is why we sovereigns must unite to control the problem!”
Tom Krossington is an aristocrat of a very different type of society from ours. In fact, I would describe it as being opposite to ours in every respect except the love of wealth and power.
If you want to learn more about what the future will think of today, read the book!
There is a particular and rather nauseating sententiousness surrounding democracy. It would seem a nation that practices the accepted rituals of democracy can then hold its head high as a paragon of virtue. This conceit is a dangerous delusion. In reality, the word “democracy ” is being used as a euphemism for what is actually oligarchical ochlocracy. True executive power remains in the hands of Big Money: the oligarchs. But the Mob is not without influence. In some countries the Mob can still field a representation of sorts in the legislature, although this threat has been in abeyance since the rise of Mrs Thatcher. And sometimes Big Money goes too far. The poll tax, fuel tax increases, fracking, socialism for bankers, mealy-mouthed respenses to climate change; these things bring out the Mob, and Big Money takes fright. This is the essence of oligarchical ochlocracy: the teetering of power between Big Money and the Mob.
To give you an idea of just how big Big Money is, consider this fact. The global per-capita product is currently (2019) $17,500 at purchasing power parity. On the face of it, there would not appear to be a shortage of income in the world. So why is it that only one tenth of the global population achieves “middle class affluence”? Well, let us consider another fact. More than half of all the economic wealth in the world is owned by the top 1% of the population. The totality of global wealth is apparently about $300 Trillion. So 1% of the world sharing half of that equally is $2,000,000 per capita (not per family, per person including children). Within that 1% there is of course an extreme concentration, so most will be “poorer” than the average. That’s Big Money for you.
But the Mob is not so trivial either. 99% of the global population amounts to seven and a half billion people. It’s just that the 99% is scattered, disorganised, divided, distracted, and generally not able to mount a substantial challenge to the highly educated, highly organised, highly materialistic, smug 1%. What the higher strata of the Mob can do though, is register its mass objection when its middle-class material rights are threatened. Such essential measures as road pricing, holding drivers accountable for the danger they create, restricting air travel, building more high-rises to limit suburban sprawl and so forth are stymied by the Mob through divide-and-rule of the political parties.
Oligarchical ochlocracies are thus inherently nervous and self-absorbed. The owners chase rents, the people crave distractions. These self-righteous jealousies permit none of the retraint essential to achieve a viable future for a heavily populated planet. Eyes tight shut, the globalized world rides three curves: more affluence, more debt, declining net energy. When those three curves meet… What will be left?
The risk in asking a question is the nature of the answer.
Experience has slowly taught me that my imagination is surprisingly accurate in its predictions. The Sovereigns of the Collapse series carries the reader through pitiless upheaval, times that consume whole societies without a trace. None of it is gratuitous. All of this future happened somewhere at some time in the last century. I am re-arranging, not inventing.
As Hugh Howey writes in a recent post on his blog, this world of ours is a pretty tough customer. It is not easy to see how it could collapse Roman-style and fade into history.
But one day, it will. All civilizations collapse in the end. Ours will be no exception.
Let us consider the situation at the end of the Second World War. Europe was in ruins from one end to the other. At least sixty million people were dead, a large proportion of whom were young men. Tens of millions survived, crippled for life. The economic expenditure was on a scale hard to comprehend even in our times of astronomical debt. According to estimates by the German historian Goetz Ali (see Hitler’s Beneficiaries) Nazi Germany spent at least 260 Billion US dollars on its war effort. Since this money was spent on weaponry consumed by war that was lost, in effect the wealth was destroyed. There could be no possible return on this expenditure. One might as well take 260 Billion 1940’s US dollars and burn them in a giant bonfire.
To relate this sum to our times is complicated. Not only has there been inflation, but the global economy has expanded in real terms by a factor of about twenty, and the structure of the economy is different (i.e. agriculture and manufacture of commodities are less important and services are more important). I will adopt a crude measure and multiply by inflation and by real growth to arrive at a sum that represents the size of Nazi war spending scaled to the economy of today. That gives a figure of about sixty trillion dollars, about three times the annual GDP of the United States.
The United States spent even more prodigiously. Think of all the great endeavours of the war: the Manhattan Project, and the even grander B29 Superfortress programme. The figure reported after the war was $550 Billion (call it $125 Trillion in today’s terms, equal to the annual global product). Then there was spending by the British Empire, Imperial Japan, China, Italy… Even for the victors, most of this wealth was destroyed. Multiple megayears of productive work by young people were lost forever in wartime duty. Stores of weaponry were dumped at sea, sold off cheaply onto the civilian market, or scrapped. But the debt still had to be paid off.
But how? Europe and Japan were in ruins. Britain was technically bankrupt. Only the United States enjoyed prosperity, a supreme prosperity as host of most of the world’s gold and oil supplies, a position of supremacy she would never again have. Most of the world at this time was still either wilderness or at best only agrarian backwater, incapable of offering great new export markets. It is no wonder economists predicted another depression once the stimulus of war spending ended. It was a bleak outlook: one nobel laureate, Gunnar Myrdal, predicted that postwar economic turmoil would be so severe that it would generate an “epidemic of violence.”
The opposite happened. The world economy grew as it never had before, and that growth continues. The world paid off its war debts. There was no epidemic of violence. There was an epidemic of nuclear weapons instead. Europe has not known such a period of peace in the industrial era. Happy times!
Far from destroying the international industrialised economy, the Second World War if anything seems to have laid the foundations of an even more vigorous system. That being so, anyone considering dystopian scenarios has to respect the incredible resilience of our open, free enterprise system, with its widely dispersed responsibilities, and competent hierarchies manoeuvring for survival in bloodless commercial combat.
A nuclear war would not destroy industrialised society. True, the USA and western Europe would be the hospital ward of the world, but the rest would bound in to fill the void. Would English survive as the lingua franca? Or would it be superseded by Chinese? Who knows? But industrial life would go on. [Note: I see the “Nuclear Winter” scenario as a propaganda trope to steer the US and Soviet Unions away from confrontation in the 1980’s. Dire predictions following the oil fires of the Gulf War totally failed to come to pass.]
Global pandemic? A severe influenza might carry off 500 million and lock down the world into quarentine for months, but it would not bring down our global industrial society. The World Health Oraginsation and nation states have sophisticated contingency plans to contain any plausible pathogen. [That said, I have a pandemic thriller in mind concerning a totally new type of pathogen against which no measures are effective. The type of pathogen I have in mind already exists, I merely add a twist. It wipes out all higher life on the planet, except a tiny number of survivors in bunkers, and even for them the clock is ticking. They ponder on how to preserve records for fifty million years, for it will be at least that long before intelligent life evolves again, if it ever does. You’ll have to be patient though, dear reader, for I have to get Sovereigns of the Collapse finished before moving on to other ideas.]
Asteroid strike? Well yeah, if we get hit by an asteroid ten miles wide then we are stuffed along with most life, just as the dinosaurs copped it when it happened to them. It’s just not likely enough to happen in the duration of our species to be an issue. A city might get hit one day by a Tunguska-sized meteorite. That would be a tragedy for the city concerned, but it would not bring down the global industrial system.
Yet the fact is that all civilizations rise and fall. Our industrialised system will eventually collapse and there will be population shrinkage, survivors will fall back to less organised (but freer, more varied and more dangerous) ways of life. This much is nearly certain. I don’t suppose the Romans ever believed their great empire would one day be a folk memory, but one day it was. And the funny thing is, no one can agree why it happened. It is easier to strike through the possible reasons that were not the cause (such as climate change, a recent popular view). Probably the real causes of our collapse will be the subject of much contentiousness amongst its survivors, although popular tropes like Peak Oil, Peak Debt, water wars, famines, or climate change would not do it, at least, individually none would do it. These challenges will probably deepen social stratification and lead to quasi-military “emergency” rule of “democracies”, but I do not believe they could cause the disintegration of the nation state order.
For many years, I have been pondering what will finally get us. I’m confident I have a credible answer. You’ll have to read my books to find out what it is!