Will Kirkpatrick Sale's Collapse of 2020 Come True?
America is about growth and getting big, supersized, or bigly, as the president would say. There’s no debate, growth is good, in fact essential; bigger is better.
One man who believes the end of all this bigness is nigh is Kirkpatrick Sale, a prolific author, most notably of Human Scale and Human Scale Revisited, and a notable proponent of secession. Simply put, Sale believes the world is destroying itself. In a piece for LewRockwell.com Sale wrote, “the government we have in this country is too incompetent, inept, corrupt, wasteful, and inefficient, too centralized, undemocratic, unjust, and invasive, and too unresponsive to the needs of individual citizens and small communities, and all because it is too big.”
For readers wanting a warm-up before launching into the meaty Human Scale, Sale’s latest book is The Collapse of 2020, which started with a $1,000 bet Sale made in 1995 with Wired magazine editor Kevin Kelly that civilization would collapse by, well, 2020. At the time, that year sounded a long way off and Sale, who in those days had little more than a thousand bucks to his name, figured $1,000 would be inflated away to virtually nothing by 2020.
Not quite, of course, and civilization hasn’t completely collapsed, but Sale believes we are close and now puts the doomsday year at 2030. He has produced a pithy little book (44 pages) to give us a status report. The author tells us the earth has experienced five previous extinctions: a meteor strike which changed the climate and four others caused by greenhouse gases. The sixth is underway.
“Industrial civilization,” Sale writes, “in other words, is an inherently self-destructive system with limits beyond which it cannot survive, and utterly consumes itself like the self-burning tree of Gambia discovered by Mungo Park.”
Political collapse is underway in 43 percent of all nations on earth, without including “a dozen smaller nations that are locked into autocracy and poverty.” There are plenty of examples in the political collapse category for Mr. Sale to cite: Brexit, the Trump election “(and the subsequent attempt to overturn it),” and protracted protests in Poland and Hong Kong. Sale mentions the work of two political scientists who claim that “the state system seems to be failing all over the world” and believe work must be done to study “how to grow, maintain, and fund states so as to avert their collapse.” Anarchists would cheer “let them fail!”
Political collapse stems, Sale believes, from the world’s population, which, like everything else, has grown too big. There will be wars and competition, because “there will be no diminution in overpopulation--it has grown steadily and irredeemably by 83 million people a year since 1975.” Sale describes the United Nations as a waste of time and money; “in short,” he writes, “[the U.N.] is an example of the collapse of politics at the global level.”
Also collapsing on a global scale are capitalism, which Sale says “has everywhere turned into a disputative autocracy or a failed anarchy,” and the Catholic Church, which “has proven itself incapable of self-reform or doctrinal coherence.”
These examples of political collapse have led to increasing rates of addiction, suicide, and mental illness around the globe, while rates of marriage and religious affiliation have declined.
Individual contempt and distrust of government are increasing, with terms like “deep state” and “the swamp” being common pejoratives.
The author sees the economy as “the Sophoclean and Shakespearean heroes who go into disasters unable to change.” The problem in a word is debt—government, corporate, and individual combine to unsustainable levels. The weight of all that debt will collapse the dollar. Sale quotes a Swiss banker as saying that “The long-term trend of the dollar is clear: it will go into oblivion faster than anyone can imagine.” China and Russia are of the same opinion and have added to their gold holdings at an increasing pace while unloading the dollar.
In the end, Sale believes the collapse will be due to “Heedless technological advances pushing heedless exponential growth beyond human capacity to control…, just as I predicted.”
Although he wrote before the covid-19 outbreak, Sale predicted that new deadly infections would spread to all continents. Perhaps this is the canary in the coal mine.