“The Collapse of Complex Societies”

Clay Shirky

Clay Shirky posted another incisive essay today. It’s called The Collapse of Complex Business Models, and it focuses on the work of Joseph Tainter, author of The Collapse of Complex Societies.

Tainter’s ideas are noteworthy partly because of what they potentially say about the future of the National Geographic Society:

“… Tainter’s thesis is that when society’s elite members add one layer of bureaucracy or demand one tribute too many, they end up extracting all the value from their environment it is possible to extract and then some.

The ‘and them some’ is what causes the trouble. Complex societies collapse because, when some stress comes, those societies have become too inflexible to respond….”

Tainter’s ideas also matter because they’re a beautiful rebuttal to the environmentally-driven theories of Jared Diamond, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and the author of Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed .

Hey… here’s an idea: a Tainter-Diamond debate at National Geographic Live. Resolved: It’s not about the biosphere, it’s about the bureaucracy.

Dr. Joseph Tainter of Utah State University

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photo credits
Clay Shirky via ted.com
≡ Joseph Tainter via Utah State University

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