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washed through the house looking interesting, so I borrowed it on the way. Coincidentally, George Monbiot referenced it in one of his "we are all doomed" rants in the Guardian, which added to the interest.


Summary: As the marginal returns to investment decline for a given society, that society is more vulnerable to "collapse", unless it is one of a group of "peer polities" propping each other up until they all collapse together "Collapse" is defined as reduction in overall social and economic complexity. There are obvious implications for our own society: we are all currently living in peer polities and our societies are fairly obviously all doomed!

I liked the joke about dark ages (rarely attractive to funding institutions) but mostly fairly turgid. And did the Roman Empire really put the entire population of Italy on the dole paid for by conquest?

Poking around on t'internet afterwards, firstly it was the first book I've ever googled that had come up in google books, and secondly some of the reviews provide a bit of perspective. Is Tainter right? Don't know, but his argument made reasonable sense to me, even if I can't critique his evidence (as did some reviewers).

Soldier on!


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
17th May, 2010 14:34 (UTC)
And did the Roman Empire really put the entire population of Italy on the dole paid for by conquest?

Well, I believe that if you change that to "a high percentage of the people of the city of Rome" and "paid for by conquest when conquest was actually happening" it wouldn't be far wrong, but I am open to correction by real experts.

"Bread and circuses" is the phrase used - free bread and free entertainment (mainly chariot racing which was far more popular than the Games) - to keep the population happy.

However, I seem to recall that the Roman economy was not directly comparable to modern economies and it ran for a heck of a long time using "bread and circuses."
17th May, 2010 18:08 (UTC)
Free bread! radical.

It's been the Last Days for me since, like 1984, but I didn't have a general polity agreeing with me until 2001. Now I suspect that on this side of the water at least, things would actually be seen to be a lot simpler for a lot of people, if the television wasn't always going on about how complex it all is. I can see the demise of the internal combustion engine from here, and a surprising number of other people seem to see it, too, even if we are still a bit of a minority.

I've been reading about William James and utilitarianism (in Solnit's A Paradise Built in Hell) and how what people think actually can make a difference.
19th May, 2010 12:05 (UTC)
The question is whether one's self and one's society can 'collapse' under control or whether one is doomed to suffer personal and/or social catastrophe - Tainter leaves the question open. We've been simplifying our own personal lives a bit ahead of the curve, I suspect. My personal problem is that although I'm quite happy to live car- and tv-less (at least until I consider my daughter's and mother's social needs), I don't really want to throw out the computer, mobile phone, LJ and all the other factors that have helped maintain a number of desirable aspects of ever-more-complicated daily life over the past decade. And as I expect to live to a hundred or so I really can't afford to ignore financial aspects either.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )


Caroline M

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