June 21, 2022

MUCH OF THE PAST SEVERAL DECADES CONSISTS OF ELITES CONSUMING THE DESIGN MARGIN IN VARIOUS WAYS AND THINKING IT WAS RETURN ON INVESTMENT:

“Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew,
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four—
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.”

And we know how it ends: “the Gods of the Copybook Headings, with terror and slaughter return.”

Joseph Tainter’s The Collapse of Complex Societies is all about the loss of design margins, generally due to overproduction of unproductive elites. As he notes, societies that become too complex and burdened with elites fall to challenges they would have easily weathered in the past, because they no long can deploy the necessary resources. Everything is already somebody’s rice bowl, until the rice runs out.

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