Can Any Nation-State Survive the Era of Inequality and Scarcity?

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by Charles Hugh-Smith

We have an extraordinary opportunity to transform our unsustainable “waste is growth” economy and toxic inequality to sustainable systems that optimize well-being rather than collapse.

The possibility that the United States could fragment is no longer a marginalized topic. Maps displaying various post-U.S. regional configurations accompany essays exploring how and why a break-up of the U.S. would be a solution to regional and ideological polarization, for example, Max Borders’ recent article, Dear America: It’s Time to Break Up.

But two forces larger than political polarization may fragment nation-states across the globe, including the U.S.: inequality and scarcity. Inequality and corruption go hand in hand, of course, as the wealthiest few influence the state to protect their monopolies and backstop their speculative gains.

Inequality also goes hand in hand with the collapse of nation-states, as this seminal paper explains: Human and nature dynamics (HANDY): Modeling inequality and use of resources in the collapse or sustainability of societies.

The parasitic elite can accumulate the majority of income, wealth, political power and resources in eras of expanding abundance, as what’s left is enough to support an expanding populace that consumes more per capita every year, i.e. broad-based prosperity.

But once abundance transitions to scarcity, the economy and society can no longer sustain the dead weight of its outsized parasitic elite. The parasitic elite believes its bloated share of resources, wealth and power is not only sustainable but can be expanded without consequence, and so it deploys all its formidable power to keep the status quo unchanged even as scarcity lowers the living standards of the bottom 90% and hollows out the economy.

In effect, the modern central state, regardless of ideological label, optimizes inequality and growth. Once growth falters while inequality continues increasing, the only possible outcome is fragmentation and/or collapse.

Put another way: the status quo is no longer the solution to inequality and scarcity, it is the problem. Private-sector and political elites are incapable of recognizing they are now the problem, and so the rapid unraveling of the status quo will come as a great shock to their magical-thinking confidence in their power.

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The elite’s delusional “solution” is a seamless, painless transition to a new era of abundance via “green energy.” Unfortunately, this vision is 100% magical thinking, as all these projections ignore the physical realities of building out a global energy system that generates energy on the same scale as existing hydrocarbon energy sources. Read these three reports for reality-based assessments:

The “New Energy Economy”: An Exercise in Magical Thinking (

The Delusion of Infinite Economic GrowthEven “sustainable” technologies such as electric vehicles and wind turbines face unbreachable physical limits and exact grave environmental costs. (

Assessment of the Extra Capacity Required of Alternative Energy Electrical Power Systems to Completely Replace Fossil Fuels (PDF, Simon P. Michaux, Geological Survey of Finland) Read the 3-page abstract.

As explained in the first paper, inequality generates collapse and so does a decline in resources, i.e. scarcity. Put the two together and the only possible outcome is collapse of all centralized nation-states that optimize inequality and endless expansion of consumption.

The issue isn’t ideological labels or principles, it’s whether the state solves problems or covers them up with fake fixes that accelerate collapse.

Nations which want to not just survive but emerge stronger have one path: a revolutionary transformation from “waste is growth” to degrowth, from an economy and state dominated by a parasitic elite to a strictly limited parasitic elite and from abject dependence on fragile supply chains originating in other nations to decentralized, localized independence for essentials.

I’ve written a book that is a template for this transformation. This book is the culmination of a lifetime of study, observation, experience and analysis: Global Crisis, National Renewal: A (Revolutionary) Grand Strategy for the United States.

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Though I devote some analysis specifically to the U.S., the book is a template for any nation to not just survive scarcity but emerge stronger by evolving a degrowth economy and a decentralized political order.

We have an extraordinary opportunity to transform our unsustainable “waste is growth” economy and toxic inequality to sustainable systems that optimize well-being rather than collapse.

I’m offering the print edition at a 20% discount this month: print $20Kindle ebook $8.95. You can read the Introduction and Chapter One for free (PDF).

This is me when I started thinking about these topics in 1972. Don’t laugh too hard, you might hurt yourself…

My new book is now available at a 20% discount this month: Global Crisis, National Renewal: A (Revolutionary) Grand Strategy for the United States (Kindle $8.95, print $20)

If you found value in this content, please join me in seeking solutions by becoming a $1/month patron of my work via

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Global Crisis, National Renewal: A (Revolutionary) Grand Strategy for the United States (Kindle $9.95, print $25) Read Chapter One for free (PDF).

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