Friday, February 22, 2008

The Five Stages of Collapse

[Update November 2011: In light of the unfolding global sovereign debt fiasco, I have issued an update. Thanks to the tireless efforts of our elected and unelected representatives to artificially extend the lives of bankrupt financial institutions, collapse is turning out to be less of a waterfall and more of an avalanche.]
[Update May 2010: Two years after its publication, this article has been read by 54000 or so people, and is still being read by an average of 1500 people each month—on this site alone. Based on this steady level of interest, and on how effective of this taxonomy of collapse has proven to be in mapping out the events of the intervening two years, I have decided to give it a book-length treatment, which I will announce on this site once the publication date becomes known.]

[Update January 2013: The book, The Five Stages of Collapse: Survivors’ Toolkit, now has a publication date of May 1st, 2013. Please order it directly from this web site.]

Elizabeth Kübler-Ross defined the five stages of coming to terms with grief and tragedy as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, and applied it quite successfully to various forms of catastrophic personal loss, such as death of a loved one, sudden end to one's career, and so forth. Several thinkers, notably James Howard Kunstler and, more recently John Michael Greer, have pointed out that the Kübler-Ross model is also quite terrifyingly accurate in reflecting the process by which society as a whole (or at least the informed and thinking parts of it) is reconciling itself to the inevitability of a discontinuous future, with our institutions and life support systems undermined by a combination of resource depletion, catastrophic climate change, and political impotence. But so far, little has been said specifically about the finer structure of these discontinuities. Instead, there is to be found a continuum of subjective judgments, ranging from "a severe and prolonged recession" (the prediction we most often read in the financial press), to Kunstler's "Long Emergency," to the ever-popular "Collapse of Western Civilization," painted with an ever-wider brush-stroke.

For those of us who have already gone through all of the emotional stages of reconciling ourselves to the prospect of social and economic upheaval, it might be helpful to have a more precise terminology that goes beyond such emotionally charged phrases. Defining a taxonomy of collapses might prove to be more than just an intellectual exercise: based on our abilities and circumstances, some of us may be able to specifically plan for a certain stage of collapse as a temporary, or even permanent, stopping point. Even if society at the current stage of socioeconomic complexity will no longer be possible, and even if, as Tainter points in his "Collapse of Complex Societies," there are circumstances in which collapse happens to be the correct adaptive response, it need not automatically cause a population crash, with the survivors disbanding into solitary, feral humans dispersed in the wilderness and subsisting miserably. Collapse can be conceived of as an orderly, organized retreat rather than a rout.

For instance, the collapse of the Soviet Union - our most recent and my personal favorite example of an imperial collapse - did not reach the point of political disintegration of the republics that made it up, although some of them (Georgia, Moldova) did lose some territory to separatist movements. And although most of the economy shut down for a time, many institutions, including the military, public utilities, and public transportation, continued to function throughout. And although there was much social dislocation and suffering, society as a whole did not collapse, because most of the population did not lose access to food, housing, medicine, or any of the other survival necessities. The command-and-control structure of the Soviet economy largely decoupled the necessities of daily life from any element of market psychology, associating them instead with physical flows of energy and physical access to resources. This situation, as I argue in my forthcoming book, Reinventing Collapse, allowed the Soviet population to inadvertently achieve a greater level of collapse-preparedness than is currently possible in the United States.

Having given a lot of thought to both the differences and the similarities between the two superpowers - the one that has collapsed already, and the one that is collapsing as I write this - I feel ready to attempt a bold conjecture, and define five stages of collapse, to serve as mental milestones as we gauge our own collapse-preparedness and see what can be done to improve it. Rather than tying each phase to a particular emotion, as in the Kübler-Ross model, the proposed taxonomy ties each of the five collapse stages to the breaching of a specific level of trust, or faith, in the status quo. Although each stage causes physical, observable changes in the environment, these can be gradual, while the mental flip is generally quite swift. It is something of a cultural universal that nobody (but a real fool) wants to be the last fool to believe in a lie.

Stages of Collapse

Stage 1: Financial collapse. Faith in "business as usual" is lost. The future is no longer assumed resemble the past in any way that allows risk to be assessed and financial assets to be guaranteed. Financial institutions become insolvent; savings are wiped out, and access to capital is lost.

Stage 2: Commercial collapse. Faith that "the market shall provide" is lost. Money is devalued and/or becomes scarce, commodities are hoarded, import and retail chains break down, and widespread shortages of survival necessities become the norm.

Stage 3: Political collapse. Faith that "the government will take care of you" is lost. As official attempts to mitigate widespread loss of access to commercial sources of survival necessities fail to make a difference, the political establishment loses legitimacy and relevance.

Stage 4: Social collapse. Faith that "your people will take care of you" is lost, as local social institutions, be they charities or other groups that rush in to fill the power vacuum run out of resources or fail through internal conflict.

Stage 5: Cultural collapse. Faith in the goodness of humanity is lost. People lose their capacity for "kindness, generosity, consideration, affection, honesty, hospitality, compassion, charity" (Turnbull, The Mountain People). Families disband and compete as individuals for scarce resources. The new motto becomes "May you die today so that I die tomorrow" (Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago). There may even be some cannibalism.

Although many people imagine collapse to be a sort of elevator that goes to the sub-basement (our Stage 5) no matter which button you push, no such automatic mechanism can be discerned. Rather, driving us all to Stage 5 will require that a concerted effort be made at each of the intervening stages. That all the players seem poised to make just such an effort may give this collapse the form a classical tragedy - a conscious but inexorable march to perdition - rather than a farce ("Oops! Ah, here we are, Stage 5." - "So, whom do we eat first?" - "Me! I am delicious!") Let us sketch out this process.

Financial collapse, as we are are currently observing it, consists of two parts. One is that a part of the general population is forced to move, no longer able to afford the house they bought based on inflated assessments, forged income numbers, and foolish expectations of endless asset inflation. Since, technically, they should never have been allowed to buy these houses, and were only able to do so because of financial and political malfeasance, this is actually a healthy development. The second part consists of men in expensive suits tossing bundles of suddenly worthless paper up in the air, ripping out their remaining hair, and (some of us might uncharitably hope) setting themselves on fire on the steps of the Federal Reserve. They, to express it in their own vernacular, "fucked up," and so this is also just as it should be.

The government response to this could be to offer some helpful homilies about "the wages of sin" and to open a few soup kitchens and flop houses in a variety of locations including Wall Street. The message would be: "You former debt addicts and gamblers, as you say, 'fucked up,' and so this will really hurt for a long time. We will never let you anywhere near big money again. Get yourselves over to the soup kitchen, and bring your own bowl, because we don't do dishes." This would result in a stable Stage 1 collapse - the Second Great Depression.

However, this is unlikely, because in the US the government happens to be debt addict and gambler number one. As individuals, we may have been as virtuous as we wished, but the government will have still run up exorbitant debts on our behalf. Every level of government, from local municipalities and authorities, which need the financial markets to finance their public works and public services, to the federal government, which relies on foreign investment to finance its endless wars, is addicted to public debt. They know they cannot stop borrowing, and so they will do anything they can to keep the game going for as long as possible.

About the only thing the government currently seems it fit to do is extend further credit to those in trouble, by setting interest rates at far below inflation, by accepting worthless bits of paper as collateral and by pumping money into insolvent financial institutions. This has the effect of diluting the dollar, further undermining its value, and will, in due course, lead to hyperinflation, which is bad enough in any economy, but is especially serious for one dominated by imports. As imports dry up and the associated parts of the economy shut down, we pass Stage 2: Commercial Collapse.

As businesses shut down, storefronts are boarded up and the population is left largely penniless and dependent on FEMA and charity for survival, the government may consider what to do next. It could, for example, repatriate all foreign troops and set them to work on public works projects designed to directly help the population. It could promote local economic self-sufficiency, by establishing community-supported agriculture programs, erecting renewable energy systems, and organizing and training local self-defence forces to maintain law and order. The Army Corps of Engineers could be ordered to bulldoze buildings erected on former farmland around city centers, return the land to cultivation, and to construct high-density solar-heated housing in urban centers to resettle those who are displaced. In the interim, it could reduce homelessness by imposing a steep tax on vacant residential properties and funneling the proceeds into rent subsidies for the indigent. With plenty of luck, such measures may be able to reverse the trend, eventually providing for a restoration of pre-Stage 2 conditions.

This may or may not be a good plan, but in any case it is rather unrealistic, because the United States, being so deeply in debt, will be forced to accede to the wishes of its foreign creditors, who own a lot of national assets (land, buildings, and businesses) and who would rather see a dependent American population slaving away working off their debt than a self-sufficient one, conveniently forgetting that they have mortgaged their children's futures to pay for military fiascos, big houses, big cars, and flat-screen television sets. Thus, a much more likely scenario is that the federal government (knowing who butters their bread) will remain subservient to foreign financial interests. It will impose austerity conditions, maintain law and order through draconian means, and aide in the construction of foreign-owned factory towns and plantations. As people start to think that having a government may not be such a good idea, conditions become ripe for Stage 3.

If Stage 1 collapse can be observed by watching television, observing Stage 2 might require a hike or a bicycle ride to the nearest population center, while Stage 3 collapse is more than likely to be visible directly through one's own living-room window, which may or may not still have glass in it. After a significant amount of bloodletting, much of the country becomes a no-go zone for the remaining authorities. Foreign creditors decide that their debts might not be repaid after all, cut their losses and depart in haste. The rest of the world decides to act as if there is no such place as The United States - because "nobody goes there any more." So as not to lose out on the entertainment value, the foreign press still prints sporadic fables about Americans who eat their young, much as they did about Russia following the Soviet collapse. A few brave American expatriates who still come back to visit bring back amazing stories of a different kind, but everyone considers them eccentric and perhaps a little bit crazy.

Stage 3 collapse can sometimes be avoided by the timely introduction of international peacekeepers and through the efforts of international humanitarian NGOs. In the aftermath of a Stage 2 collapse, domestic authorities are highly unlikely to have either the resources or the legitimacy, or even the will, to arrest the collapse dynamic and reconstitute themselves in a way that the population would accept.

As stage 3 collapse runs its course, the power vacuum left by the now defunct federal, state and local government is filled by a variety of new power structures. Remnants of former law enforcement and military, urban gangs, ethnic mafias, religious cults and wealthy property owners all attempt to build their little empires on the ruins of the big one, fighting each other over territory and access to resources. This is the age of Big Men: charismatic leaders, rabble-rousers, ruthless Macchiavelian princes and war lords. In the luckier places, they find it to their common advantage to pool their resources and amalgamate into some sort of legitimate local government, while in the rest their jostling for power leads to a spiral of conflict and open war.

Stage 4 collapse occurs when society becomes so disordered and impoverished that it can no longer support the Big Men, who become smaller and smaller, and eventually fade from view. Society fragments into extended families and small tribes of a dozen or so families, who find it advantageous to band together for mutual support and defense. This is the form of society that has existed over some 98.5% of humanity's existence as a biological species, and can be said to be the bedrock of human existence. Humans can exist at this level of organization for thousands, perhaps millions of years. Most mammalian species go extinct after just a few million years, but, for all we know, Homo Sapiens still have a million or two left.

If pre-collapse society is too atomized, alienated and individualistic to form cohesive extended families and tribes, or if its physical environment becomes so disordered and impoverished that hunger and starvation become widespread, then Stage 5 collapse becomes likely. At this stage, a simpler biological imperative takes over, to preserve the life of the breeding couples. Families disband, the old are abandoned to their own devices, and children are only cared for up to age 3. All social unity is destroyed, and even the couples may disband for a time, preferring to forage on their own and refusing to share food. This is the state of society described by the anthropologist Colin Turnbull in his book The Mountain People. If society prior to Stage 5 collapse can be said to be the historical norm for humans, Stage 5 collapse brings humanity to the verge of physical extinction.

As we can easily imagine, the default is cascaded failure: each stage of collapse can easily lead to the next, perhaps even overlapping it. In Russia, the process was arrested just past Stage 3: there was considerable trouble with ethnic mafias and even some warlordism, but government authority won out in the end. In my other writings, I go into a lot of detail in describing the exact conditions that inadvertently made Russian society relatively collapse-proof. Here, I will simply say that these ingredients are not currently present in the United States.

While attempting to arrest collapse at Stage 1 and Stage 2 would probably be a dangerous waste of energy, it is probably worth everyone's while to dig in their heels at Stage 3, definitely at Stage 4, and it is quite simply a matter of physical survival to avoid Stage 5. In certain localities - those with high population densities, as well as those that contain dangerous nuclear and industrial installations - avoiding Stage 3 collapse is rather important, to the point of inviting foreign troops and governments in to maintain order and avoid disasters. Other localities may be able to prosper indefinitely at Stage 3, and even the most impoverished environments may be able to support a sparse population subsisting indefinitely at Stage 4.

Although it is possible to prepare directly for surviving Stage 5, this seems like an altogether demoralizing thing to attempt. Preparing to survive Stages 3 and 4 may seem somewhat more reasonable, while explicitly aiming for Stage 3 may be reasonable if you plan to become one of the Big Men. Be that as it may, I must leave such preparations as an exercise for the reader. My hope is that these definitions of specific stages of collapse will enable a more specific and fruitful discussion than the one currently dominated by such vague and ultimately nonsensical terms as "the collapse of Western civilization."


Anonymous said...

I've always thought the five stages were:

1. Denial.
2. Denial.
3. Denial.
4. Oh, sh*t.
5. Too late.


Hanley Tucks said...

Such cheery writing. Your relentless humorous cynicism warms my anti-American heart, but I do think they have a bit more resilience than you give them credit for.

We saw for example in the Katrina debacle that what collapsed was not the people themselves, but the systems of authority. The people actually did a fair job of looking after one another, and would have done a good job had the government forces not physically prevented them from doing so by threats of force.

So I think the society itself is stronger than we commonly imagine from their insane tv shows and regular rants on such things as evolution and climate change, but their government is... well, brittle.

Philip Brewer said...

I think you underestimate the willingness of the United States to expropriate foreigners.

The government will talk up the sanctity of property rights and the importance of the rule of law until we've managed to extract as much investment from overseas as possible, but then we'll just keep what we've got.

It'll probably be a soft expropriation--foreign owners will retain ownership, they'll just lose control and be prevented from repatriating any of their wealth or profits. There's a long history of behavior like this in the US.

The desire to keep the oil flowing will hold things off for a while, but I expect that the result will be special (and temporary) deals for a handful of major oil exporters, while other foreign investors will be big losers. (They won't lose everything, though. We'll let them keep just enough that they'll go on imagining that there'll do a bit better by hanging on and cooperating than by trying any other options. And, in fact, they'll probably be right. The US also has a strong history of restoring property rights, once we're wealthy enough that it won't be a hardship.)

Anonymous said...

First time visitor and I'll be back. I think green with a gun has it about right. The American popular media culture is depraved, but beneath it is what Dylan called "old, weird America", the land that existed prior to the Interstate freeways and television. There are many pockets of cultural grit that have not been seduced by the tittie show provided by Mammon, Inc. There is something, too, in our national DNA that still, however obscurely, can be read as a belief in self reliance couple with a propensity to join up with the like-minded. I trust that this long-supressed survival trait will resurface once survival is a grim reality and not a reality television show. Bottom line: I think we can hold at Stage Three.

Anonymous said...

Big Men are a sure sign of Stage 4. Big Men are not anything like government, but similar to church leaders.
Cold Camel

Anonymous said...

one of the insights of kubler-ross is that the stages of grief do not always proceed neatly. in some ways i think the social collapse is currently occurring and has been for some time - though it is clearly accelerating as time passes. think of the destruction of the extended family and then even the nuclear one - this is longstanding. the collapse is merely obscured by the fact that our institutions are still (barely) functioning.

Anonymous said...

I think the real problem is that even if one only has to deal with another "great depression" the amount of time involved is going to be measured in decades. Why stick around for a long, long nasty event that has the high probability of getting much worse?

When it became obvious to me (2002) that the US was headed in this direction I started liquidating my assets in the US. My wife and I decided to pack up the family and head for a location that would avoid these kinds of problems and offer more of a future for the children. After some serious research we moved to the Island of Margarita, off the coast of Venezuela.

Currently we pay 10 cents per gallon for gasoline (!) and otherwise the cost of living is less than half of what it is in the US. We live on a Caribbean island outside the hurricane belt with great weather, and the economy is absolutely booming.

After a collapse in the US, I don't know how things will play out down here, but I think that this country in general and this Island in particular will not do badly. Surely there will be a market for Venezuelan oil somewhere, so the government will have the resources to stay in control, which will be a definite benefit. OTOH, there will be a definite shift in the power structure as many of the "wealthy" people of Venezuela see their US-based assets wiped out.

After a lot of thought and reflection I started to view economic cycle as somewhat like the seasons of the year- with both a cycle and a geographic shift. When it is winter in one location, it's summer in another, and things are always growing and dying. In the economic world, where one economy is in the process of collapse another will be growing. Over the course of the next few decades, I think that geographic location will be a major determinant in the quality of one's life.

With that in mind, I focused on acquiring multiple citizenships, multiple language fluency (especially for the children) and a relatively good location in terms of "weathering the storm" that's surely coming.

What is most interesting to me is that seemingly few people in the US are willing to leave. Even the ones who have a good idea of how bad it will be and how long it will last are "digging in" rather than heading for greener pastures.

The British are leaving Britain in droves. Why don't Americans?

Anonymous said...

When a country goes to hell, many of the brightest and wealthiest pick up stakes and leave, good ole brain drain. And many bright folks decide not to come there in the first place. It won't be long until my town's medical community which is heavily Indian immigrants pack up and leave. But its not so easy to stay away from your home culture. Iranians who fled at the revolution often keep some ties to Iran. Many people are too poor to leave, or too tied to land or family. Others will leave but come back, or will leave but will send hard currency and goods back to the homeland. America will have its share of brain drain, but many will also stay, or will come back.

Besides British people travel to other countries all the time, and are more multilingual than US folks. Many US folks simply don't know enough about foreign lands, or foreign tongues to feel that immigration is a real option for them.

-Brian M

Anonymous said...

Many Americans, like myself, have seen this coming for some time, but are unable to leave the USA, not for a lack of will, but for a lack of money. Some are also highly xenophobic, as Americans are highly monoculturistic and monolinguistic. (Insert joke here)
There is nothing for me to do but ride it out in one form or another.
Then there is the patriotic angle. We are AMERICANS. That may not mean much to anyone else in the world, but it resonates deeply in the American psyche.
We might just hit stage 4, and there will be places that hit stage 5.

Some of Dmitry's other work, which I highly recommend, can be found at LATOC, here
Thank you Mr. Orlov!

AngelP said...

I'm on the same wavelength as Brian Botta. I have a young daughter who I don't want to put through stages 1 to 3 so why not consider a move south of the border?
I've lived in the U.S. since 1972 when I was 9, but was recently in my birth country of Peru. The country has come a long way since when we left and the economy is doing well. The dollar goes a lot further there than it does here ,and the quality of living gap has closed considerably. Given this and what I see happening here I am seriously considering relocating.

yooper said...

Hello Dmitri, I have been following your writing for awhile now, outstanding. I do think you use the word collapse quite loosely and am glad you've made some distinctions here. The Soviet Union collapsed and people experienced somewhat of a depression.

May I be so bold to suggest that Russia is 30 years behind the U.S.? Perhaps if the U.S. "collapsed" like the Soviet Union did in the early 90's, 30 or 40 years ago, it wouldn't be so different? Furthermore, I'd like to suggest that Russia or even the former Soviet Union, was really never fully "industrialized". That is they never produced uniform parts in mass quanity. Thus, lifting all limits of economic growth. The Soviet Union never experienced the population growth (among other things) that other industrialized regions did because of this fact. That society was encapable of ever affording it's people the infrastructure that countries like the U.S., Japan, U.K., etc., enjoy, just not there. They were incapable of producing it. What they had, we had 50 years ago.. I go more into this at my site... It's so important that people such as yourself realize this. As I suggested to John Greer, once you master this concept, this will open and whole new world of understanding, how we got where we are today.

Of course, the U.S. will fall a lot harder than the Soviet Union, this country has alot further to fall. The infrastructure the Soviets had prevented collapse, just as the infrastructure the U.S. had in the 1930's prevented collapse. Now, we cannot even begin to feed to population, because this infrastructure has been lost, gardens grown at home, railway, localized economies.

Those five stages of collapse could happen rather quickly.

Thanks, yooper

Anonymous said...

I think Kunstler's preferred term is actually "long emergency." "Clusterfuck" is more a description of our present impotent confusion/denial.

Anonymous said...


The British have quite the choice when considering a move within the EU... I personally don't know where the British are choosing to go, but I bet a sizable proportion of UK expats are still within the EU.

In the US, it's not as easy. Countries touted for being great destinations for American expats are either difficult for many to move to legally (NZ, Canada come to mind), sketchy for political or other reasons (parts of Central America, Mexico, Argentina), or hell yeah, there's always that language barrier thing.

My wife and I would load our backpacks and leave tonight if there was a viable destination for us. I'm not so confident about the "rugged band-together American DNA" any more. It's been somewhat diluted over the generations, and what the hell, we don't even value traditional American culture (no response to whether it's merited, please) -- we bought into 'diversity' when what we needed all along was unity.

There's much more that could be said about the degeneration of the American people and collective psyche here. It's been said much better by folks like Joe Bageant, et cetera.

Great essay by Dmitri by the way. I've been a fan of his work for the past few years.

- RD

Unknown said...

I'm in a similar boat as Kage. I can speak another language (Spanish), but my job skills relate to law enforcement and I haven't enough money to relocate.

Ain't no Mexican alcalde gonna hire me to be the new sheriff in pueblo...not that I could even GET to the pueblo!

I may try one of Mr Orlov's suggestions and steer my fellow cops into being local warlords. A truce with local gangs could actually provide quite a stable environment locally. I think that maintaining a semi-safe environment could be a good contribution to the cause of a better future for humanity.

I am a libertarian, but also a realist. Sometimes, the free market will just have to go screw itself, 'cause that is better than it screwing all the rest of us!

I've been poor for about three years now. I saw it as a curse before, but no I know it was a blessing. I am much better prepared psychologically for what is to come.

Good luck everyone! I will continue to pray that the highest and best good of all will be our future!

Anonymous said...

Touchet Mr. Orlov! I am marvelling at your witty selective extraction of only the dismal fibers of American society with which to weave your gloomy forecast of our doomed future. It is not likely to happen just on the basis of an economic collapse alone. We would surely need a multiple pronged nuclear attack of sorts to create anything even closely resembling your nightmare Stage 4 & 5. Certainly, an economic depression and even a temporary breakdown of government functioning as we know it is possible given our economic fundamental flaws exsiting today. However, the basic goodness of our people and their faith in God and Man runs much deeper than you may know. Those inherent strengths will prevail above all else. You are to be commended for your thought provoking and highly valuable engagement of the possibilities facing us all today. Please continue your raising of the debate!

Thank you most Sincerely--DJB

Anonymous said...

Has anyone considered that the coming collapse is going to be more than just financial and certainly not merely in the USA? Major central banks have been playing fast and loose with currencies for decades. Hunger will stalk many lands, without food exports from USA, Canada etal. No experts are quite sure how steep the declinefrom Peak Oil will be. And has anyone considered this type of worldwide collapse and a coming major world head honcho is precisely outlined in biblical prophecy, with all due respects to Carolyn Baker. All the pillars of society have been weakened in the past 5 or more decades, and not just in USA.

Dmitry Orlov said...


Collapse, including Stage 4 and Stage 5 collapse, has already occurred in a number of places: Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur, Zimbabwe... More and more of the poorer nations are disintegrating because they cannot afford the gasoline that holds them together as a unified territory. That said, not every place will collapse; there are still societies that are not particularly addicted to fossil fuels, and will have the resources to pay for what little they need to hold it together. Others will have all the fossil fuels they will need for a while yet (Russia, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, maybe Brazil). As far as the biblical prophecy dope - I could probably sell a lot of books if I joined that carnival side show, but my sense of ethics prevents me from doing so.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Dmitry, for this and your other writings which I've admired since FTW days.

This one chimed with a similar progression I wrote from a different perspective a couple of years back:

I've been involved in a revolving self-sufficiency experiment the last couple of years. It's been interesting the vast gulf between those who see things unfolding much as I, and I guess you, perceive and those who resolutely don't. Those in our 'camp' seem to be a growing but still small minority, but however things turn out a sizable number of folks will turn out to have been deluded. But humans are good at the delusion thing, lol.

Whatever, life goes on, albeit probably in reduced numbers. Thank you for reminding us that a sense of humour is essential whatever the human condition and for expressing it so well. And for having the perception to draw probably wise parallels that most fail to.

I think your assessment of these stages is pretty accurate, how low we go may hang on slim threads like the mathematics of charge-parity violation that gave us a a universe of matter rather than a big bang followed by smaller bangs that left nothing. To those that think this can't happen, I'm sorry. To those that know it can I caution: the USSR collapsed in the context of a stable external world, that may not be so for USA and 'the west'.


Anonymous said...

Dmitri: Thank you.
You have again helped illustrate a fundamental concept which came to me after 9/11/2001: That the fundamental basis of True Evil is any action taken based upon Blind Faith.
Your breakdown stages explain that the structure of civilization is one of faith. In order to keep that faith in a system or in humanity operating, it requires regular maintenance and the proper resources. Our food is now purchased through Blind Faith in The Market to produce it, watched over by our Blind Faith in the FDA and USDA, our fuel is pumped into cars on the Blind Faith that there will be more tomorrow, and our dollars are spent on the Blind Faith that we will always have a source of income. We allow our children to join the military to fight wars on the Blind Faith that they will not be sent to fight unjustly, and justification is accepted because of Blind Faith that the intelligence community is on 'our' side. People commit suicide attacks based upon the Blind Faith that their loss of a future won't be in vain, and most of us keep the status quo on the basis of Blind Faith that America will always progress toward something better, and the worse off we or our children are, then the more Blind Faith we have to buy lottery tickets and pray for a Savior to be elected from among the prevalent figures which the media have Blind Faith in following.

Hey Yooper! Please visit my blog and leave a comment with contact info. Thanks. Say "Yah, eh?"

Anonymous said...

As an activist working on a wide range of socio-economic and environmental issues, a former wilderness survival instructor and disaster manager: I have to concur with the five stage scenario. I am not a doomsdayer, but certainly believe the more disconnected one is from the real bottom line (resources and imagination) the harder is going to be the fall.

Twenty years ago I knew two old men that had gone through the Depression. One in Chicago, the other in rural Idaho. The former ate in soup lines and out of garbage cans, the later said it didn't really impact him, there was no money but plenty of food.

The other day a young man (19) came by my place. His passion is growing food. He told me that he and his friends talk a lot about what is going on and don't believe that the politicos are going to save them, that they have to take action now.

Lots of talk about change, but the really challenge is going to be walking that change.

Dmitry Orlov said...

If you've made it this far, take a look at an excellent discussion thread on this topic here
including a good summary of Colin Turnbull's "The Mountain People."

Dmitry Orlov said...

Sally C. Erickson of "What a Way to Go" has written an excellent follow-up to this article: Orlov and the Wonderful, Terrible, Radical Simplification

Unknown said...

Your synopsis puts me in remembrance of the books I read by Primo Levi. In my own personal existence, I have already experienced some of what you described.

Anonymous said...

We have all experienced the 5-stages first hand in our personal lives. This is an excellent post that fits the coming global SHTF experience with our own personal circle experiences of SHTF. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

posted by g675:

Yo Dimitry: darn good work and I basically agree with what you said, but there's an error that I'd suggest fixing.

Your five stages of collapse are not isomorphic with Kubler-Ross' stages of dealing with death. Kubler-Ross was specifically addressing the *emotional* aspect of dealing with major loss, and there's every reason to believe that her categories will also apply to the *emotional states of individuals* who are facing collapse conditions.

Your five stages are closer to resembling five medical events that occur in the body during death: e.g. cessation of heart function, of breathing, of voluntary muscular movement, of brain functioning, and finally, cessation of all cellular activity as the body begins to rot.

These two sets of categories are entirely separate and independent. This is not a critique of your stages of collapse, which I think are entirely reasonable and accurate, only a critique of the parallel you've tried to draw with emotional states related to death rather than with physical events of death.

It would be interesting to hear your thoughts on the emotional progression of individuals as they face the prospect of impending social collapse.


Yo Andlmoub, re. "truce with local gangs."

For our purposes, gang members come in two types.

One is the "situational" member who is a member because their cirsumstances (trapped in ghetto with no other way out) made it necessary for their personal and family survival. These people can be dealt with but should be assimilated (by threat of force if need be) into a lawful (even if tribal) society. They will probably go along if they perceive the forces of lawful order to be the superior power in the region.

The other is the "hardened psychopath," the committed criminal type who is basically irretreivably committed to a criminal lifestyle that includes perpetrating acts of violence that are effectively random as far as other members of even his own society are concerned. (Those acts may be impulsive or calculated, but they are effectively random and therefore corrosive to the social order.)

The only way to deal with the latter type is to either capture & confine, or to kill them either as punishment for specific crimes, or, if need be, pre-emptively. Otherwise they will constitute a contending focal point of power, and attract sufficient followers as to be an ongoing problem to those around them including other tribes that just want to get along and not become entangled.

The only peace that such people will accept is the peace of surrender, where others are subjugated to their will, whereby they can rape, loot, and pillage with no fear of redress.

So, says I, shoot them (the psychopathic criminal leaders). To quote Admiral Fallon, crush them like ants. Eliminate them mercilessly, and establish a lawful authority that is the sole nexus of power in the region. This will also result in the subordinate gang members switching sides, where they can be assimilated productively (though perhaps with much effort and strict supervision until they are integrated into the culture).

Do not fall into the trap of trying to make peace with gangs, or they will cut your throat in the middle of the night in order to expand their turf.

DeAnander said...

Greetings all -- Dmitry, just wanted to say I have been enjoying your work since the "Lessons" series which I quoted to everyone I thought ready to hear any of it :-) "Five Stages" is also eminently quotable.

I'm also living aboard, in the Pac NW, and struggling with some of the same dependencies on chem/petro industry that you mention in Red Queen interview. boat blog at -- drop me a line "skipper at svtaz dot org" sometime, like to chat about boats and peak oil issues, like the agonising decisions over diesel engines...

I found some good reading on post-collapse communitarian survival at The ArchDruid Report. thoughtful stuff.

just been out in the Cariboo helping out some friends with a homestead for a couple of weeks... given the levels of cooperation and good will I saw among rural folks up there -- not to mention their ingenuity and resourcefulness with baling wire and string -- I would say they are very well positioned to ride out whatever comes next.

I know more and more people who no longer look at me as if I'm nuts when I say that some very large discontinuity is coming. I just hope that this permeation of the public mind with a sense of alarm doesn't lead to dreadful ends like scapegoating, witch hunting, mob violence etc. no more Rwandas please...

Anonymous said...

I've only come across Dmiti's writings this afternoon while home sick with a cold. I really enjoyed the slide show over at energybulletin.

One thing that I try to separate are media hype and the real thing. I'm old enough to remember the 70's global cooling scare, Erlich's failed predictions, fear of nuclear confrontation with the Soviets, inflation expectations that became unhinged let alone unmoored not to mention comet Kahoutek. I saw that social mood change and now its changing again. Global warming and its "solutions" have boondoggle written all over it. As for Peak Oil color me skeptical. The latest edition of Popular Mechanics has a great article about recent energy discoveries and what their effects may be.

One thing that is here now is a collapsing credit bubble. Its amazing to watch various financial types do kool-aid spit takes on CNBC and the other networks. All they've ever known is an expanding universe of credit. Dmitri's insights are certainly out of the envelope in that regard.

Right now the Fed is all about preserving profits for its shareholders; nothing more, nothing less. The mask is finaly off. Everything else is a sideshow. The end game of a fiat currency regime is in plain sight.

One thing I've learned is that possibility is in no way related to likelyhood. Handicapping horse races is only part science. Here again, Dmitri's suggestions regarding complete examination and revamping of the way you live is righteously right on. My wife and I have eliminated our debt and have our expenses are pretty low and our savings are primarily real money. I wish we had done more. My skill set is rather limited. I like his idea about migration as a way of life as talked about on the podcast. Suits me fine. My wife isn't so sure.

Politically we're just plain doomed. McCain is a Bob Dole clone, a Beltway Boy who's finally getting his ticket punched for the big dance. If Hillary wins it will be a presidency marred by infighting that would make a Byzantine emperor proud. Hillary and Bill and their respective staffs will be at each other's throats constantly which will result in pandemonium in the highest office. And then there's Obama. The Great Untested. What is developing would challenge the best minds and finest characters of any age let alone this sapling. Whoever is chosen is a one-term president who will rue the day they were born let alone elected. If he wasn't such a half-wit Jimmy Carter should be laughing out loud let alone up his sleeve.

Throw in a couple of large scale natural disasters or a pandemic or any one of a number of wild cards and Stage Three is a real possibilty. Take a look at Japan though; going on twenty years now of recession and gloom and no Stage Two. Maybe this chapter in their story isn't finished yet.

I'm not so sure how resilient or fragile our modern way of life is. It will be tested though, and soon.

Anonymous said...

snappy tom needs to do some research and needs to get a better grip on the science behind global climate change.

Paul Ehrlich is a forecaster/futurist, not a climate scientist. Looking to Ehrlich for accuracy on the climate is like looking to Rush Limbaugh for the truth about oxycontin's non-habit-forming tendencies.

Maybe snappy tom should google "Steve Running" and then go forward from what he finds out about Running's research.

Maybe snappy tom should try to understand atmospheric chemistry before he declaims the problem of global warming.

I don't really know how to take snappy tom's other comments, given his utter wrongness about global climate change. All I can say is, people who don't have much scientific knowledge tend to see what they want to see where matters of science are concerned. Creationism, anyone?

Ricardo Parker said...


Your ability to see far into the future is remarkable. It's this ability that sets humans far apart from other animals and allow us to rule the planet: the ability to predict what is coming and could come. Of course not all humans have this ability: the current administration, for example, is very short-sighted.

When making these predictions and looking far into the future there's always a risk, though: one could be very far out and "crazy". But your writing speaks to me because it's down-to-earth, realistic and probable. This is probably because your predictions are based on past experience, that is, things that truly already happened. It is no science fiction.

I don't know if the American economy will collapse or not. I do know that America has lost all good-will around the world, caused a lot of damage and squandered a lot of valuable resources that ideally should have been shared with the entire world population - even if at the cost of future generations (which it shouldn't be). But the American way of living is unsustainable, and to a point where most all other people were left out. For most Americans, America is the world and other countries are only a concept. Because of this attitude, if the scenarios you describe do happen in the US I am confident that most of the world will rejoice and demand work of the American people, with virtually no help to rescue them from their situation. Chances are Americans would even have trouble immigrating to other countries - especially if they end up dealing with people in other countries who tried immigrating to the US and were mistreated by US immigration. Whow knows, the immigration official in Mexico that is reviewing their case might have a brother who was deported from the US. In that case, the wall the US has been building around the border with Mexico might actually be a favor they are doing to the Mexican government that will keep Americans from entering Mexico - and building these all these walls and obstacles cost money that only the US government is willing to spend, of course.

Anonymous said...


Based on what I have read - before the brown matter hits the fan the following is a summary plan of what one should do in order to prepare for the upcoming world wide crisis that may last for several decades:

1. Learn to survive by learning how to grow food.
2. Read up on surviving in wilderness. Practice your skills.
3. Purchase several types of weapons. A handgun with ample ammo along with a cross-bow/knife is a good start. Know how to use these weapons for hunting and self-defense.
4. Stock up on tools, MREs and drinkable water.
5. Exchange your fiat currency into gold. Hide it in a remote location far away from urban centers.
6. Purchase some land outside the urban areas and build a cabin. Try growing some food there.
7. Believe in people and a higher power.

Please feel free to add to this list...

Thank you on your very insightful analysis of current conditions and future ramifications as related to our addiction to oil...

Anonymous said...

I found a few of the posted suggestions for preperations a little unfortunate, I have a few alternate suggestions....

Gold? Why bother. You are better off if you have the space to hoard hard goods of utilitarian value; steel, PV pannels, lumber, plastic sheeting, salt, tools, beans...I could go on. Seems to me gold only works if there is an economy to buy it. Makes a nice inflation hedge only if you expect a recovery on the other end.
Wepons: pistol? Buy, a rifle first. All you TV gunslingers may miss the fact that it's much easier to hit something with the long barrel of a rifle, not to mention the greater energy from equivelent ammo. .22 rifle ammo is super cheep, and hotter loads are adaquate for most game, and as a plus both rifles and pistols come chambered for .22. They have very low recoil (kick), so folk without much expirience will find them unintimidating. People run .22 down as a home defence load, but keep in mind the m-16 cartige isn't really that much bigger than the new .22 magnum load, and in combat there is actually some advantage to wounding an adversay, then two of their comrads have to stop shooting and carry the guy off. For those seeking a larger load, any of the 7.62X39 chamberd wepons made in eastern europe block countries are cheep, reliable and durable. Includes the SKS and AK-47 family of rifles. The Chinese versions are ok, but the quality is somewhat lower. Bulk ammo for these wepons is very affordable, and they are big enough for anything short of Polar Bears. Shotguns also make more sense than pistols, 12 guage is excellent for all sizes of game by selecting differant ammo. #2 shot makes great home defense loads at a lower price than buckshot. Combination guns with the over/under configuration are available with a .22 rifle and .410 or 20 guage shotgun. This lets one take a quick shot with the .22 and follow up with the shot gun if you miss with the cheep load.
Crossbow? OK i suppose, but a modern compound bow makes more sense IMO. The design causes the ammount of strength need to hold the bow drawn to "let off" giving one time to aim without having to strain. Time needed to reload is much shorter than a cross bow, and personally I have an easier time hitting stuff with a bow. There has been a lot more design work put into regular bows as few states allow the able bodied to hunt with cross bows. Your local sport shop can fit you with a properly sized bow with a draw strength you can handle.
One suggestion I have not seen is a good supply of basic books on gradening, livestock care, human first aid and such. Books boot up much more reliably than the internet. Heirloom or at least open pollenated vegetable and farm seed will also be valuable. Many species are very easy to propogate such as tomatos. One may even be able to accumulate substaintial surplus of seed with only moderate effort, allowing one to generate an on going supply of tradeable goods. One of the great traditions of the East block that I'm quite sure helped the place during collapse were the little ole Babushkas who delt in seeds in every village. We have our own version of this in the Seed Savers Exchange in Decora Iowa. These folks put out a 1 inch thick book each year listing folks who save seeds. These folk exchange seed via the mail and are an incredible resorce. Membership is about $30. If one is planning to stay put I would also suggest careful evaluation and augmentation of your soil. Take a soil test and at the very least lime to a pH of 7. This will let you grow legumes that can fix their own nitrogen. If you take a good test with trace minerals (Cu, B, Zn, Mb, Fe, and Se) and secondary macros (Ca, Mg and S) you can also get them ajusted, limiting your need for mineral suppliments and improving you chances for healthy plants. Phosphorus (P) bonds very tightly to soils and can be effectivle banked in your soil by application of fertilizers or manure. Many CAFO's have excess manure which they give away. Adding organic matter (compost, manure etc) is good for almost all soils, very sandy ground also benifits from clay additions as this raises the water and nutrient holding capacity. For best results blend your clay into the compost pile and then spread. Importing topsoil can be a mixed blessing, sometimes you get a new weed species as a bonus.
Good luck with your preperations fellow travelers, it's nice to be out in front of the pack when you really start getting ready....
Mark Ludwig
Sandlily Farms
Fennville, MI

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your essay. The U.S. is in DEEP DO DO, no question about it. I've read many of the other posted comments on the essay, what strikes me the most is how diabolical the powers that be really are. There is no "peak oil", at least not right now. If that were true, the U.S. would not still be attacking others for their oil while still sitting on top of their own reserves. That is a function of greed. Second, disintegration of society? IF that happened here, at least if we were to descend towards stage 3-4, the deep seeded anger, and pinned-up frustration of those on the fringe would quite certainly erupt into pure chaos. With nothing left to lose, what will stop any ethno-centric horde from rummaging through the "burbs" for food, drink, and a little anarchist fun!
Mad Max, USA version......
....Hell it's practically that way already!!!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Dmitry,

You wrote that trying to arrest the process of collapse at stage 1 or 2 would be a dangerous waste of resources. The federal legislature will be voting in the next couple of days on a proposal to throw (initially) seven tenths of a trillion dollars at the goal of staving off financial collapse. I wonder if or how current events have affected your thinking on this topic since you first posted this essay way back when.

Dmitry Orlov said...


You are right, it's time to check on how Phase 1 is progressing. There are some aspects of the "final solution" being discussed that truly are new. The .7 trillion is just the cap (probably temporary) on the overall size of this permanent slush fund. The government will deputize certain private entities to essentially print money on its behalf. And this is all to paper over the fact that most of the "value" the economy has created in recent years is bogus, so that foreigners continue to lend us money while we create more bogus "value". How likely is that to work?

Anonymous said...

We're seeing now that the Feds are having no trouble attracting capital - as everyone sells off their stocks, they're putting the money into federal bonds.

We're unlikely to see a collapse of stage 3. More likely, we'll see an unaccountable government that enforces obedience through food deliveries. After all, the US military is likely to be the very last group of folks to run out of oil. That oil will be used to continue commodity cropping in the midwest, while local communities remain loyal exactly as long as food shipments continue.

Anonymous said...

My God, this all seems so clear. I see people running about worrying about sports memorabilia and NASA and all this other horse crap, they are like rats trapped on a sinking ship, about to drown.

I wonder how long it will take the financial/economic collapse to affect those of us in the health care business.

I went from wanting to buy a corvette to investing in weapons and reinforced doors/unbreakable windows and some basic necessities for life

Anonymous said...

Thanks ur information

it very useful

Anonymous said...

I am a visual artist and I've been broke most of my life, including in childhood. I've only now come to this blog though the current issue of the New Yorker. It is all so clear but what I find interesting is that when you live on so very little, live communally, wear only recycled clothes, drive a 22 yr old pick up truck and have no family at all, life seems normal at about stage 3. That is to say that I feel as though I have always lived at about stage 3. The only reason I stay afloat is because as my friends put it "we keep our asses low to the ground." I can't imagine having children to think about. When it's just me it's no big deal and who cares anyway, but with a family it's got to be so pressurized. I'm 53 and glad I only have about another 20 or so years, give or take. I would relocate in 5 minutes if I had the money to do so.

chickory said...

this has been a terrific read. to the comment from the man who moved to the island off venezuela wondering why more americans dont flee like the brits have. well, i could. i speak spanish and my husband was born in chile. but i am an american. my attitude resembles something like in Gone with the WInd where rhett butler leaves scarlett on the bridge to go ahead and throw in for the "lost cause". this is my home, im not a rat off the ship kind of girl.

like the artist above me, i have no children and as an artist ive never had much -except one critical thing. i own free and clear a mini farm. ive got water, animals and food. firearms. i might be able to get off grid too if i have the time -ive saved some dough. another asset: a community militia that understands that we will have to band together to prevent *whatever* from arriving on our doorsteps.

and on a more perverse level, i kind of dont want to miss the show. and im old enough that if it goes badly i can take comfort i lived to enjoy the most easy 50 years you could shake a stick at. im already more fortunate than half the world right now.

finally, id like to not see a brain drain, but a brain game to revolt against the tyranny upon us and make a stand - not slink off to some island. go down with a sword and shield in my hand so to speak. i might be foolish, but thats how i am going to play it. this is not a dig though, if i had children i would probably feel different.

i do believe though, that the collapse is coming.

Anonymous said...

I am with the lady who posted on Feb 9th. I don't particularly relish living in a world where a hot shower is never to be had, and a case of fungal jock itch can make you horribly miserable for months. I would rather die fighting for freedom--fighting against those socialist hypocrites who we have allowed to take over this country over the last 20 years.
That being said, a nice island paradise far away from it all, with plenty of food, and a solar shower, could serve me and mine quite well.
It's good to be flexible.

I plan to keep myself surrounded by like-minded people. Ignore the sheeple, and give them no heed. The federal government has no credibility already.

Anonymous said...

Interesting read. So ala apocalypse!

I must say though, the people who are ready to flee America are quitters! To give up before it even got started is pathetic!

It utterly disgusts me to see this coming from so called Americans.

It is the whole ridiculous Y2K mentality all over again. Run away to the mountains, hoard food and shoot to kill.

Mark my words, America will NEVER devolve past the stage 3 scenario. It just seems that many pessimistic people are hoping to live out their fantasy of starring in a Mad Max film.

Listen and hear, America as always WILL prevail.

I myself was born in the Soviet Union and have relocated here where I am now a proud citizen. I have seen the other side and no matter where you go in the world, America is absolutely the best place to be!

As much bullshit that has taken place in this country with the whole Bush administration, there are more and more people waking up.

You see, the problem with this country is NOT the government but the abdication of personal responsibility!

All those who think otherwise, especially the natives are nothing but self-loathing fools!

To give up on a country that at its core has such beautiful potential for the highest expression of human freedom is a disgrace. Honestly, stop debating and get the hell out of this country already and stop fueling the negativity.

It is survival of the fittest now and all those not ready to roll up their sleeves and work together should shut up and leave! We're better off without you.

We need LEADERS right now more than ever. The pioneer spirit, those who share the ideals of our founding fathers.

At Stage 3, we can have many thriving feudal zones where people operate via the barter system. They will print their own money and everyone will contribute to a sustainable community.

The future always belonged to those who see the opportunity in every crisis.

This collapse can lead to wonderful things. A return to self sufficiency independent from federal rule.

We need to develop intentional communities based on Permaculture, aquaponics, solar energy and other alternative energies. People must work TOGETHER.

Technology is expanding exponentially right now and if the people continue to pressure the government to develop and invest in green technology, we will come out STRONGER after this collapse.

This is THE test. It remains in the hands of the people whether they will work together to REBUILD or become antisocial and hole themselves up with their guns and canned food while their neighbors starve.

I personally have more faith in technology and the ingenuity of people in times of struggle.

The future is whatever you make it. Use this collapse as a catalyst for CHANGE. A window of opportunity is open right NOW to recreate a New World based on ideals.

Be the change...

Anonymous said...

Hey, good read this blog and the comments.
But what I feel is missing in this "doomsday scenario", is the racial element.
Yes, i know it feels wierd and racist for most of us today to think that race will be an important element in a "post-modern society", but I really think it will play a major part.

Look at the prisons today, how they are divided by racial lines, mostly because of the need for protection, and protection is the number 1 most important thing.
Survive, eat, reproduce, all living organism have those top 3 priorities as you know.
Look also at how all nations and territories up until our very recent history are all divided by racial lines. Yes, I know most of us likes to think that we are better, smarter, more educated and more human than our ancestors but in a "us or them" situation I think it will be evident that we are in fact not.

So my advice to people would be NOT to move to venezuela if you are an american like one of the commentators did. If the shit hits the fan bigtime in the US, i think it will also hit the rest of the world, and forgeniers will be "expandable".
As for the african-americans and other minorities in the USA, I think there will be areas of the USA who will be considered, "black territories", "mexican territories", etc and rest will be "white territories", kinda like how the native americans reservates function today. Most important difference I think,(besides that non-native americans have noting to fear on native american ground today) will be the legal status, who will remain the same as today, but will be de facto as I described.
Again, look at the prisons, they function in similar fasion, with black, white and mexican areas, from the sleeping arrangements to toilets and cantine etc.
There are no written rule about race there, but for your own protection you better follow the unwritten ones.
Off course, this wont happen overnight, I think it will be a slow decline of interracial interaction in sync with the decline of the economy, allthough some areas may have a more sudden shift.

One final thought, slavery ended about 150 years ago, about the same time we started to get energy from oil. When we get to the point where we cant get more energy from oil(because we used up all), what or who will be our energy in the future=?

Anonymous said...

I am a native-born American. I work with the American public, and I will occasionally have 10 people in a row lie to me now! 20 years ago, it was one...or perhaps two...I realized in 1998 that we had a nonsustainable situation due to extreme societal decay...and thought about leaving, but never found a good alternative, so here I am, preparing for the collapse as best as I can. A majority of us Americans are fat, lazy, greedy, mean, and nasty... We still drive to our mailboxes!! Many of us are now parasites, with able bodied young men faking ailments to obtain permanent disability. I deal with Americans every work day, so I know what they are like ...The word disgusting comes to mind...Even in my own 11 year old niece doesn't want to become anything when she grows up but told her grandma that she wants to live off her inheritance! That was before her dad lost half his retirement in 2008, so perhaps she will embrace her new reality and divest herself of her sense of entitlement, but perhaps not... Perhaps she will be a chiseler forever... We've become a soft, weak, fat, waddling, cream-puff society and a majority of us will crumple when the collapse comes... If we don't get to Stage 5, we'll get fairly close, IMO. However, like Orlov, I'm an optimistic sort and hope that a new, smaller, more sustainable society of strong, courageous people will arise like a phoenix from the ashes!

Anonymous said...

Reading through the blog entries is like looking at rings in a cut tree stump. The groups of different people came through in waves. I read all of the posts. The first group was a group of intellectuals. Where are these forward thinking people now?
I'd like to hear their opinions again. Then came the people that woke up to our collapse month after month. The hypothisis forming forward thinkers dissapeared and the posts started getting emotional. I'm in the same boat with the guy that was thinking about buying a corvette but then he reallocated his money into other things that he thought would be more useful. At the beginning of all of this we didn't see any lines of tension that had formed in or society but then one friendly gentleman brings up the topic of race and how he feels that this could be a major tension line. It is getting more obvious every day that this line is starting to form more strongly. Personally, I feel that once we are in stage three we are on the path that Lebanon took just before their 15 year civil war. Or it could be more like what happened in Yugoslavia. It is getting pretty obvious that it is going to get ugly out there boys and girls. It is pretty bad already. Try buying ammunition. Mostly it is sold out. I think that we see where this is going. This isn't like Y2K. Y2K was marketing hype. IT companies made a killing convincing everyone that they all needed new software and services. I didn't buy it. I had empty kitchen cabinets Dec. 31st 1999. This is different. If fuel goes over $4.50 a gallon for any length of time and it could, we will have our trucking fleets crippled. In the first quarter of this year, one in eight households was either starting the process of forclosure or had missed mortgage payments. That is 12% of U.S. households or potentially more than 30 million people. Imagine if 30 million people are forclosed on. This is not Y2K. This is the 60 year trend. People forgot about the Great Depression and they started thinking that it could never happen here. People took huge risks thinking they can't fail they will just be bailed out.
They thought that it couldn't happen therefore it happened. The power of positive thinking while GM starts moving factories to China will get you blindsided by the Mac truck that you just wished away while seeing it out of the corner of your eye coming at you in the intersection.

Unknown said...


First off, riveting! That said, I think you might be underestimating not only Americans, but humans, in general.

The fact is we are quite different people than we were five years ago... let alone 20.

Many people in this country and this world, are already beginning to implement the necessary "protocols" to not only survive, but thrive during such a collapse.

I think, for America, the collapse will actually make the country and its people stronger, because it will unshackle them from the failed policies and practices of its government.

The bright, creative minds in this country will finally be free to create "our" world as it could be.

The people of America (and probably most countries) are much different than its leaders and media.

For the most part, the degenerates of our society prevail in government and media.

When the time comes, the brighter, more responsible, caring and compassionate of us will rise to the occasion.

While I admire your bold attempt, I would simply say that the context is different... much different.

Thank you for your brilliant post.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Scott Walker said it best, though stiffly, over a year ago...basically, that Americans will rush almost eagerly to the dead-end of stage 3, then quickly realize the edge and step back. We are gladly no worse than the French (and would love to do another guillotine revolution enactment...on most politicians!)...but I don't see us becoming debased beyond 'village sociology'. While large cities may have some learning to do on what it really takes to make a village work, 85% of the US already understands (we just got out-voted by the mega-urbanites...yeah, those who won't have farmland or food, while they are becoming disallusioned during stage 3!)

Igor Spb ru said...

Вы не знакомы с теориями одного российского экономиста под псевдонимом "авантюрист"?
На мой взгляд он достаточно описал с экономической точки зрения проблемы экономики США.

Dmitry Orlov said...

Знаком. Не уверен насчет сроков, а также непонятно, чем будет мотивирована 3-я мировая. Если это война за доступ к энергоносителям, то у тех, кто захочет их отвоевывать, их как раз-то и не будет. Также непонятно, как может возрасти рентабельность бизнеса в условиях энергетеческого дефицита. Даже если сотрудники будут готовы трудиться бесплатно, как тягловые животные они слабоваты и технику ими не заменить.

Игорь СПб.ру said...

Насчет войны это скорее гипербола - Обама не военный да, и американцы воевать реально не пойдут.
А вот что подразумевать под "рентабельностью"? Обычно подразумевают бухгалтерскую бумажную прибыль, или как я бы сказал "инфляцию цены активов" что мы видим в фин-банковском секторе ("везде голод, а у банков прибыль":)
Пока все верят в доллар, сильную экономику США (и ее военную мощь), а также прибыли на фондовом рынке и скорый выход из рецессии. Соответственно все рабоатют за "свежие зеленые фантики".
Возможно через полгода-год ситуация измениться и вера пропадет - Китайцы введут конвертируемый юань, повысят его курс или просто мир потеряют веру в вечные американские ценности.
Обама скорее окажется Горбачевым и выйдет именно то, что было в СССР или хуже. Но есть еще и возможность, маленькая, но всетаки возможность, что ... произойдет что-то непредвиденное :).
Зверь загнанный в угол опасен, но миллионеры которых хотят превратить в бомжей могут быть еще опаснее.

Anonymous said...

Mr Orlov,

I was fortunate enough to hear about your book on a Late Night Saturday Radio Show on am640 Toronto. The show is called "A View From Space" and the Spaceman referenced your book and recommended it highly. He went over the 5 stages and that was enough to make me search you out and here I am.

I disagree with alot of the previous posters in the sense that I don't believe Americans are as resilient as they would like to think they are.

The basis for my belief is that too many Americans are "medicated", dependent and complacent. Reality TV dominates the thinking process now and Americans have accumulated so many "toys" that if they were forced to give them up there would be a certain amount of bedlam.

Americans are best represented by the fat and lazy pigs in the story "Animal Farm". This is what I see day in and day out. Just trying to have an intelligent conversation with people now is nearly implossible.

I believe that the US could easily reach stage 5 collapse with ease. All we need to start the snowball rolling downhill is for the soon to be next financial crisis. I personally believe that it will be the "motherlode". What we have seen up to this point has been nothing compared to what is stacking up against us. I just hate to have to live through it.

I am looking forward to getting a copy of your book and reading it thoroughly. Thank you for saying what most others won't. America is not as great as the Americans would like to think it is. And in this day and time what I just said could be considered "seditious" or "treasonous". That is an excellent landmark of where we are as a culture.

If you have noticed recently that most people you see speaking on television in any serious kind of capacity are preceding alot of what they say by "I love my country and respect my president". Where have I seen this kind of behaviour before?

Anonymous said...

This thread must continue.

Can I get a status check? It would seem we are nearer the end of stage 1 now.

I think in 2010 stage 2 begins, and with the Great Inflation no one will be left with illusions that our problems are over.

Kim said...


What I feel is missing from many comments is that while the US may crash first and maybe hardest, the rest of he world won't in general be far behind. So all this "move somewhere else" or "relatives abroad will send hard currency" may well not be an option to escape collapse. You may end up in some other sort of collapse, which might be less bad, but avoiding it? I doubt it.

avalterra said...

I love this article. I read it when it was first posted and I am looking forward to the book (I own Reinventing Collapse). So here are my predictions.

Stage 1) We are obviously in the midst of that.

Stage 2) As early as 2013 but probably not sooner. And it could take as much as a few decades. Complete currency rejection seems needed and we are going to enter a deflationary era. But hyperinflation can happen really fast. So it could suddenly take off at any time.

Stage 3) Probably not until after 2023. Or probably not for at least a decade after hyperinflation really kicks in. It will take a few election cycles for the impotence of the government to really take hold.

Stage 4) At each stage there will be more and more regional variation. At stage 4 that will become excruciatingly apparent. Some areas will move into stage 4 others will not. People fleeing a hard hit area may bring other areas down to stage 4. I would guess no earlier then 2050 for this to happen. At this point Peak Oil becomes a major factor. It will be a factor throughout but at this point the question will be - can your area survive on little or no fossil fuels?

If we reach stage 5 it will be localized. Areas that still are able to defend their territory will be under pressure from peak oil and climate refugees. Areas that have destroyed environments or are flooded with refugees such that the area cannot sustain the number of people could collapse into stage 5. At this point climate change becomes the dominant factor and we are looking at mass migration North. James Lovelock's predictions come into play and Stage 5 will be an event experienced more "on the run". I would guess sometime near 2100.


ComradeAH said...

Excellent article! I think I will prepare for somewhere between stage 3 or 4.

vijay thakor said...

You have great sense of humour. You have great written skill. your great written skill make your blog very intersting. I would mention here that all collapse which you described here are collapse man strength if people pay attention on their inner strength they would definitely come out from the collapse.

Igby Mac said...

A most enjoyable article.

clem clements said...

Here we are, four years into the collapse, and...

just like warfare, collapse seems to be years of boredom followed by days of terror. Remember October 10, 2008?

The economy is rebounding a tad, for those who are educated at least. The housing debacle grinds down every so slowly (banks won't allow homes to be sold for pennies), and oil stays pinned to $100/barrel. The new normal isn't that horrific apparently.

The devil seems to be debt. We CAN print our way out of this ridiculous money problem, but the debt we're piling on daily is unprecedented. The only way out of owing your debtor is war. Global war. Unfortunate. The Pentagon really needs to re-assess threats to American hegemony.

Nigwil said...

Somewhere around Stage 3 most infrastructure including electricity grids will fail due to neglect and failure of staff to man key generation and distribution facilities.

Without mains electricity you have no fossil fuel supplies as all pumps and pipelines fail without electricity.

Without fuel supplies or electricity all USA 103 nuclear power plant reactors will do Fukushimas with melt down-and-outs of their cores and unstoppable fires in spent fuel ponds. Dozens of plumes of radiation will wash across the countryside with the prevailing winds poisoning crops, beasts and humans alike.

Like your sailors on the USS Ronald Reagan you will know its happening to you when you and yours start to bleed from your derrière!

That would be good to avoid, if you can!