What’s really happening with collapse theory

It’s not what you think

5 min readMar 25, 2024

We are not headed for societal collapse. We are not approaching the end of days. We are not in a place where it’s necessary to plan for apocalyptic conditions — berry-picking and bunker-building — no this is not in our near future.

Why do so many people believe the end is near?

The stock markets have hit multiple record highs this week. Unemployment is at a record low. Many other indices are scoring high, including our human development index, health, education, financial mobility, savings, credit scores, and more. Nevertheless, our happiness index is disturbingly low, especially considering our economic and cultural good health. There’s a malaise in the air. It’s not generalized, but rather seems centered around a few fairly large pockets in our society. Blue collar, high school educated people believe on balance that America is headed in a bad direction. Some of this is political, and will shift if Trump wins in 2024. Intellectuals and ‘lite’ intellectuals — people who are not academics but interested in social sciences and social justice — generally echo a pessimistic sentiment and a belief that the human race is living an unsustainable lie and that soon it will all collapse due to unbridled greed and rampant corruption. These people are the intelligent but unsuccessful demographic. They will do less well than their parents, and will struggle with student debt, career stagnation, urban poverty, and a permanent sense of despair and lack of meaning. It’s difficult for them to break free of their pessimism because this is what they breathe, read, talk about with their cohorts, and there isn’t enough optimism in view to grasp and run with. Post-Covid sensitivity, January-6 shock, and the reality of far-right hate groups all conspire to make this demographic feel helpless and hopeless. Their entrenched academic-inspired ideas around social justice are further isolating them from mainstream society, allowing them to believe they’re the enlightened ones while the rest of the world has its head in the sand. These are two groups of people — there may be more — who believe, in slightly different ways, that society is on the verge of collapse. They make up maybe 15% of America’s population. Their belief systems are entrenched, their lives are largely broken, and they are without a shadow of doubt, disgruntled citizens. Their point of view is legitimate, but their grasp of the big picture is limited.

America and its western allies — the lineup has changed somewhat since World War II, but still, the term describes free countries with healthy economies and freely elected democratic leaders, free markets and a strong middle class — still drive the world’s healthiest and happiest economies. They are the countries everyone else wants to immigrate to. They are where cool stuff gets invented. Cool culture comes from these countries and is either banned or secretly adored in the non-free countries that still operate under despot leaders and oppressive regimes.

The belief that capitalism is broken and about to fail is without basis. Capitalism requires growth. Growth involves risk. There are downturns and there are failures. It can be equated to an ecosystem in nature: life death, survival of the fittest, regeneration, decay, a huge cyclical system. There is no plausible theory that would convince those who understand capitalism that the ecosystem is failing or about to fail. What’s happening instead is that those who have failed to make capitalism work for them are wishing for its end. Confirmation bias allows them to imbue isolated failures (corporate bankruptcies, fraud scandals, antitrust lawsuits, etc) as a harbinger of generalized collapse. We listen, we observe, and we see that isolated failures are part of a healthy ecosystem, just as a herd of wildebeest may lose some of its weaker animals in a drought.

The belief that we will run out of natural resources is based on our current consumption of resources known or assumed to be finite in quantity: oil, water, wood, leather, beef, fish, lithium, etc. A simplistic graph would plot human population growth over the coming decades and natural resources usage, with an inevitable crossover point, where there’s no more water, fish, etc. What we fail to consider is our impressive resilience and creativity when faced with resource constraints. Our 8 billion people and out biggest urban densities would have been inconceivable in 1824. We’re able to support large thriving cities in desert locations, where without water and shade and air conditioning humans would be unable to exist. As a resource becomes supply-constrained, its price rockets upward and the fabulous balances of open markets generate the human creativity that find alternatives and thus evens out the demand with new supply.

The belief that infrastructure will somehow suffer generalized failure is, I think, an extension of groupthink coming from other conversations where people enjoy imagining the end of a system they dislike. With this fantasy comes a daydream of a new dawn and a different type of civilization, pehaps one where all the rich people have been killed and their spoils are shared among the ordinary people. Romantically, we’re imagined to be out picking berries and sowing seeds in rows as we return to our honest, innocent selves. Victor Hugo wrote Les Miserables and other great classics in a time when the industrial barons were running away with the bullion as the miners and factory workers existed under the most atrocious conditions. We’re failing to see that in 2024 we are living through the firth industrial revolution, and yes, some barons are accumulating vast wealth while millions are wallowing in shitty jobs at Walmart and fast food joints. The disillusionment of the less fortunate is easy to understand and sympathize with. That doesn’t mean the whole system will collapse. It also doesn’t mean we’re heading for French Revolution USA. The angry and dispossessed people are outnumbered 4 to 1 by the thriving groups whose lives have never been better. Of the 46.2 million immigrants in the US, 55% are working and making more money than ever. Of the 5.5 million new businesses founded in the past 5 years, most are still in operation and many are thriving. For every job lost due to layoffs and closures, 1.7 jobs have been opened or created, leading to an overall shortage of human capital across most sectors of the economy.

Will society collapse? One day yes, it will. Ask the Incas, Mayans, Greeks, Romans etc. Yes it is inevitable that western civilization will one eventually decay and be replaced by another form of societal governance and culture. Based on past form, this is likely to be an oppressive regime managed by a fearsome ruler. Western civilization was a flash in the pan. When this happens there will probably not be a collapse, but rather a transition away from what we know to a new ecosystem. We should ask ourselves how likely it is that this new system would dismantle the technologies and tools of developed and return us to a hunter gatherer species, or would we exist in a Hunger Games world where the goodies are reserved for the people in power. This is probably not the collapse our disgruntled friends have in mind.




San Francisco geek, entrepreneur, wannabe economist, mediocre equestrian