If and when America expires, we probably won’t agree on the cause of death. For proof that autopsies of empires are inconclusive, consider the case of Alexander Demandt, the German historian who set out in the 1980s to collect every theory ever given for why Rome fell. The final tally: 210, including attacks by nomads on horseback, blood poisoning, decline of Nordic character, homosexuality, outflow of gold, and vaingloriousness.
In tribute to Demandt, I’ve gone looking for every possible reason why America could fall. I’ve paged through the work of scholars who have studied the characteristics of declining and failed societies. I also collected theories from futurists, doomsayers, separatists, economists, political scientists, national security experts, climatologists, geologists, astronomers, and a few miscellaneous crazy people.
The result: a collection of 144 potential causes of America’s future death.
Of course, the fall of America probably won’t come to pass for any single, isolated reason. A nation as powerful, cohesive, and enduring as the United States won’t go down easy-the death of the United States will be the consequence of a bunch of different stressors converging at once.
What are those stressors going to be? Will America go down as part of a worldwide collapse, or will we perish as the rest of the globe flourishes?
You can take a stab at answering all those questions with our “Choose Your Own Apocalypse” tool.
Note: While many of the factors here represent a threat to the entirety of human civilization, the title of this feature should not imply that the end of America is equivalent to the end of the world. We’re not that self-obsessed-“Choose Your Own Apocalypse”, just has a nice ring to it!
How Is America Going To End? The top 144 scenarios:
1. Electromagnetic Pulse: A nuclear weapon detonated at high elevation could knock out the country’s electrical infrastructure, sending us back to the Stone Age. The congressional EMP Commission says an electromagnetic pulse “is one of a small number of threats that can hold our society at risk of catastrophic consequences.”
2. Foreign Invasion: The Red Dawn scenario: A hostile alliance of foreign powers dispatches a team of elite combat troops to America. They launch a coordinated assault with thousands of paratroopers on key military and communications installations, dealing the U.S. government a fatal blow.
3. Russia Hits the Button: Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg says the United States should fear “a mistaken attack on our country by the huge Russian arsenal of nuclear weapons.” As recently as 1995, a “retaliatory” nuclear strike was barely averted when Russian officials figured out at the last second that what they thought was an enemy strike was really a craft launched to monitor the Northern lights.
4. Loose Nukes: Taliban fighters wrest nuclear weapons from a destabilized Pakistan. Or al-Qaida acquires a small arsenal of nukes from a disintegrating Russia. The nonstate actors launch against the United States in an attack exponentially worse than 9/11.
5. Dirty Bombs: Terror groups armed with “radiological dispersal devices”-a cocktail of radioactive material and garden-variety explosives-launch coordinated attacks in a dozen major cities. The attacks destabilize the government and break our spirit. The terrorists win.
6. Abandonment: After a series of devastating attacks, Washington admits it can no longer protect large swaths of the nation. The United States contracts to a smaller core that’s easier to defend.
7. Suicidal Tyrant: An Ahmadinejad-like figure strikes at the heart of the Great Satan, launching nuclear weapons at major American cities and pushing the country to anarchy.
8. Internal Guerrilla Warfare: Smugglers and street gangs join forces to contest the authority of the U.S. government-first along the Mexican border and later in pockets of major cities-in order to maintain control of lucrative illicit markets.
9. Mercenary Armies: As in the seventh season of 24, a military contractor goes rogue and attacks the United States. Not even Jack Bauer can save us.
10. Space Attacks: A coalition of malevolent nations with hyper-advanced space programs strikes at the United States from the outer limits, disrupting all of our communications and rendering our conventional Army powerless.
11. Information War: A rogue state, terror organization, or group of malevolent hackers takes down America’s infrastructure by infiltrating every system that’s controlled by computers: television stations, traffic signals, telecommunications, the stock market, the power grid. As seen in Live Free or Die Hard.
12. Push-Button Warfare: Nanoscale production allows anyone to make tanks and flying drones with the press of a button. With sophisticated weaponry available to all, the nation-state ceases to be an important entity.
13. Peak Oil: Petroleum production reaches terminal decline. Oil becomes too expensive to extract, and alternative energies can’t maintain our fossil-fuel-dependent lifestyle. The developed world goes kaput, with gas-happy America leading the way to the gutter.
14. Peak Water: The overpopulated, overheated Southwest runs out of H20, instigating mass migration to Canada.
15. Overpopulation: A spike in birth rates-or massive levels of immigration-increases the population of the United States to 1 billion. America doesn’t have the carrying capacity to support its new crush of citizens, and a die-off ensues.
16. Space Harvesting: China, Russia, and South Korea corral asteroids and harvest them for valuable minerals. As the rest of the developed world gets rich, the United States-whose space program is hopelessly behind-falls from its perch.
17. Oil 2.0: China, which produces more than 95 percent of the world’s rare earth metals (materials like europium and erbium), develops a major, rare-earth-fueled breakthrough in energy production. The United States, lacking the natural resources needed for this amazing new power source, becomes impoverished and insignificant.
18. Obesity: One of the fattest nations in human history keeps getting fatter. An increasingly sedentary society beset by health problems can no longer compete with the world’s fitter nations. Viral Content: What is the secret to a long healthy life? This Secret Ancient Japanese Tonic Recipe Will Help You Melts 54 LBS Of Fat. Watch video below:
19. Geothermal Energy: In the post-petroleum age, we generate electricity by drilling into the Earth’s interior to extract stored heat; we drill too deeply, causing massive earthquakes.
20. Nuclear Waste: Yucca Mountain and other nuclear storage facilities begin to leak radioactive waste. Everyone gets cancer.
21. End of English: Chinese economic power combined with an influx of non-English-speaking immigrants to the United States leads to the decline of anglophone American culture worldwide.
22. Media Piracy: The American film and music industries go bankrupt as piracy becomes universal. The United States ceases to be the world’s leading exporter of culture, and the country declines in influence as images of America no longer proliferate worldwide.
23. Decadence: Rome had bread and circuses. America’s descent into a mindless stupor, historian Niall Ferguson argues, can be seen in the popularity of pornography and NASCAR. If you think ragging on porn and stock-car racing is a bit of a clich, please substitute mixed martial arts and reality television.
24. Mass Incarceration: Rising rates of imprisonment lead the entire country to develop the social ills of America’s inner cities: Ex-offenders can’t find good jobs or marriage partners, and society slowly collapses.
25. End of Homeownership: The mortgage crisis kills off the American dream. Civic pride goes down the toilet, and the GDP shrinks as the ownership society shrivels up.
26. Math and Science: American math and science aptitude deteriorates, killing innovation in the tech sector and pushing America to the back of the line of post-industrial economies.
27. Intelligent Design: Creationists succeed in getting evolution pushed out of textbooks. Scientific illiteracy dooms America to second-class status.
28. Laziness: “Endlessly gaming, chatting, and chilling with their iPods, the next generation already has a more tenuous connection to ‘Western civilization’ than most parents appreciate,” historian Niall Ferguson writes. While everyone in France continues to take vacation in July and August, the next generation of Americans refuses to work except in July and August.
29. Oldocracy: As the population ages, there is growing discord between old fogeys with lots of voting power and younger people, increasingly foreign-born. The older generation seizes power and wastes all of America’s money on increased Social Security benefits.
30. Suburban Slums: Today’s McMansions will become tomorrow’s tenements, turning America’s exurban sprawl into a hellacious backwater. “About 25 years ago, Escape From New York perfectly captured the zeitgeist,” Christopher B. Leinberger writes in the Atlantic. “Two or three decades from now, the next Kurt Russell may find his breakout role in Escape From the Suburban Fringe.”
31. Christianity: Just as, per Edward Gibbon, the rise of religion killed Rome’s fighting spirit, increasing spirituality turns America into a nation of pacifists. We get attacked and don’t fight back.
32. Militant Islam: Muslims feel increasingly alienated by American society. Al-Qaida gets a much bigger toehold, giving it a staging ground for devastating domestic terror attacks that rip the nation asunder.
33. Drug Boom: Americans turn to advanced, hyper-addictive recreational drugs that are tailored to each individual user’s body chemistry. Civilization dies in a drug-induced haze.
34. Decline of Civic Spirit: As happened in Rome, excessive taxation leads citizens to lose respect for the state. The all-volunteer Army shrinks as no one cares to assume the risks of fighting for the country.
35. Gay Marriage: As the institution spreads across the country, splinter groups bemoan the practice and agitate to form their own, heterosexual-only state.
36. Wealth Gap: The divide between rich and poor grows. The nation’s lower classes, increasingly resentful of their impoverished condition, launch guerrilla attacks against the depraved, prosperous elites.
37. Complexity: Anthropologist Joseph Tainter and political scientist Thomas Homer-Dixon argue that societies benefit from complexity (irrigation networks to prevent droughts, for example) up to a certain point but that too much intricacy can be a bad thing. Homer-Dixon explains: “As an expanding portion of a society’s wealth is sucked into further boosting complexity, its reserves to deal with unexpected contingencies fall.”
38. Multiculturalism: In a 2004 speech, former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm declared that America is doomed because it has gone from a melting pot to a “bilingual-bicultural country.” Diversity “stresses differences rather than commonalities,” he said. “Diverse people worldwide are mostly engaged in hating each other-that is, when they are not killing each other.”
39. Smallpox: A rogue scientist looses the virus from a Russian vault, and terrorists use the disease to attack and destabilize America.
40. Swine Flu: The pandemic worsens, devastating American society to a much greater extent than the 1918 flu pandemic. Mortality from the virus itself is high, but pandemic expert Dr. Michael T. Osterholm argues that the disruption of supply chains will be far worse. When countries shut their borders to quarantine themselves, we’ll be unable to import the food, energy, and acute-care drugs we need.
41. Super-AIDS: The disease evolves, and airborne transmission spreads it faster than ever. Even the world’s richest nations are unable to get it under control.
42. Synthesized Super Virus: In The World Without Us, Alan Weisman suggests one scenario for the end of humanity: “a psychotically obsessed, biochemically trained terrorist creatively splice something together that evolves faster than we develop resistance-maybe by clipping genetic material into the versatile SARS virus, which could spread both sexually and via the air.”
43. Anthrax: Terrorists in crop dusters drop aerosolized anthrax across a dozen metropolitan areas, sending the nation into a panic.
44. Tropical Diseases: Global warming enables insects to spread their diseases northward. A weakened America lacks the wealth and resources to stave off malaria outbreaks.
45. Antibiotic Resistance: As a result of factory farming and spiking sales of antibacterial hand soap, superstrains of bacteria develop that are resistant to medicine. Public health officials can do nothing but throw up their hands.
46. The Rapture: Christians are instantly transported to heaven. The nonbelievers left behind in America struggle to survive as Muslim countries gain in power relative to the United States.
47. President as God: The president, by far the most popular in history domestically and abroad, becomes the leader of a global religious cult.
48. Mayan apocalypse: According to an ancient Mayan prophecy-at least as interpreted by the kind of people who believe this sort of thing-this is a likely date of the apocalypse. In the event of the apocalypse, the United States will struggle to carry on.
49. Alien Invasion: Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev once discussed banding together to fight off a UFO attack. For all the happy talk about cooperation, when the tractor beams come down, it’s every country for itself.
50. Voluntary Human Extinction: A movement to end breeding rises in popularity as climate change and resource wars intensify.
51. Supercollider: Legend has it that Switzerland’s Large Hadron Collider could generate “mini black holes” that devour the universe. Turns out that idea was based on faulty science. But maybe the people who discovered the faulty science were themselves using faulty science. Eh, probably not.
52. Asteroid: NASA’s Near Earth Object Program reports there’s a less than 1-in-45,000 chance the asteroid Apophis will smash into Earth on April 13, 2036. And there’s no guarantee we’ll be crater-free if we dodge this particular space rock. A scientist at the Aerospace Corporation estimates a 10 percent chance per century of “a dangerous space-object strike.” Duck!
53. Supervolcano: The last volcanic “super-eruption” near Yellowstone happened 640,000 years ago. If we’re unlucky enough to be alive during the next blowup, the U.S. Geological Survey reports that “[t]hick ash deposits would bury vast areas of the United States.”
54. Hurricanes: Six of the 11 most-intense Atlantic hurricanes have come since 1998. Scientists have yet to come to a consensus on whether warmer waters generate more and bigger hurricanes, but if coastal-city-destroying megastorms become a yearly occurrence, the Gulf Coast and Eastern Seaboard could be destroyed and abandoned.
55. New Madrid Earthquake: An earthquake of 8.0 magnitude or higher has a 7 percent to 10 percent chance of cracking up the New Madrid Seismic Zone-a region that covers parts of Missouri, Illinois, and three other states-in the next 50 years. (Walter Jon Williams’ novel The Rift imagines a ginormous New Madrid quake destroying Chicago and New Orleans and hurling the mighty Mississippi off course.)
56. Floods: As temperatures rise, more of the country is at risk of massive, regular flooding. Particularly flood-prone areas-New Orleans, Miami, Houston-must be abandoned.
57. Food Supply: An engineered wheat virus devastates America’s staple crop. We all starve.
58. The Matrix: The futurist Ray Kurzweil argues that by 2045 “technical progress will be so fast that unenhanced human intelligence will be unable to follow it.” When we have “full-immersion virtual reality from within the nervous system”-essentially, a merger with our computers-nations won’t much matter anymore.
59. Outer Space Emigration: America runs out of arable land and breathable air. Everyone moves to the space station.
60. Gray Goo: The nanotechnology nightmare scenario: Out-of-control self-replicating robots keep making more of themselves until they consume all of the matter on Earth. “Gray goo would surely be a depressing ending to our human adventure on Earth,” Bill Joy wrote in Wired, “far worse than mere fire or ice, and one that could stem from a simple laboratory accident. Oops.”
61. Robot Overlords: Superintelligent robots supplant humankind as the planet’s dominant beings. Flesh-and-blood people die out, unable to compete with the superior androids.
62. Neo-Humans: Life extension becomes attainable for the superrich, creating a long-lived aristocracy. Resentment builds up in the poor, leading to class warfare between the living gods and the earthly peons.
63. Space Debris: Missile tests generate a huge quantity of detritus, which starts blowing up satellites and threatening our security and communications.
64. Diet: An extremely popular new diet scheme turns out to be unhealthy in the long term. We all develop heart disease and die. » Big Diabetes Lie Presentation From the Doctors!
65. Cloning: We put aside our ethical concerns and become obsessed with designing perfect offspring. Everyone has the same bum genes, and the population plummets.
66. Big Brother: A supercomputer with hyperadvanced artificial intelligence takes over the government. See Eagle Eye and Colossus: The Forbin Project.
67. Money Virus: Hackers take down the American financial system with malicious code that destroys all digital bank records.
68. Cell Phones: Our mobile devices really do give us brain cancer.
69. Vermont Independence: A majority of the Green Mountain State’s residents vote to form the Second Vermont Republic. The successful secessionist movement inspires other separatist groups, and the United States splinters.
70. Texas Secession: Gov. Rick Perry or a like-minded successor makes good on his sensationalist rhetoric and turns the Lone Star State into its own nation.
71. “The Bubba Effect”: Glenn Beck’s end-of-America scenario: Survivalists on the border take the law into their own hands, shooting illegal immigrants on sight. The federal government cracks down, and the put-upon “Bubbas” revolt.
72. Cascadia and Novacadia: Quebec secedes and Canada breaks into pieces. On the West Coast, British Columbia merges with Washington and Oregon. To the east, the four Atlantic provinces join Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire.
73. Alaska and Hawaii: Nativist movements win favor, pushing the American flag back to 48 stars.
74. Geographical Sorting: “Communities of sameness” form as like-minded individuals cluster together and refuse to live alongside those they disagree with.
75. La Repblica del Norte: Professor Charles Truxillo argues that a growing Latino population in the Southwest will eventually reclaim the territory that Mexico lost to the United States in the 1800s.
76. Red vs. Blue: Philosophical and cultural divisions grow deeper, leading to a civil war between the red states and blue states and a national schism.
77. State Sovereignty Movements: Legislatures in states like New Hampshire pass bills to limit federal power. Built-in escape clauses allow states to secede when they perceive that the feds are infringing on their rights.
78. Transition Cities: Huge groups of survivalists abandon major cities to live as locavores in small, agrarian communities.
79. Nine Nations: North America abandons its arbitrary borders and splits into regions with cultural and economic similarities, such as the ones laid out in Joel Garreau’s Nine Nations of North America.
80. Racial Warfare: James Howard Kunstler suggests that increased poverty will spark violence in America’s urban ghettos, leading to riots that “will likely resolve into a more generalized and protracted guerrilla warfare of the kind that has been going on in third-world countries for decades.”
81. Emigration: Unemployment reaches record numbers, and Americans leave the country in search of the next land of opportunity. The more people leave, the worse the economy gets, which encourages still more people to leave.
82. Tribalism: The nation-state declines in importance, and people begin to see themselves more as members of international religious and ethnic groups: Jews, Mormons, Han Chinese, etc.
83. Transnationalism: Upper-class people around the world abandon national affiliations, identifying more with one another than with any particular state.
84. World Government: America is subsumed into a global body-a souped-up United Nations, for example-that governs all world affairs.
85. North American Union: Canada, the United States, and Mexico merge into a single country. Conspiracy theorists like Jerome Corsi believe secret plans for the NAU have already been hatched. Coming soon: a single North American currency called the amero.
86. Globalization: Everyone else rises and America falls in relative terms-the Fareed Zakaria thesis.
87. Opt-In Government: Governance becomes divorced from geography. People who live in the United States can choose to be governed by the laws of Sweden and vice-versa.
88. Axis of Evil: North Korea and Iran team up and wreak havoc on their mutual Western enemies.
89. Al-Qaida: Global recruitment efforts pick up, and the terror network attacks America with greater frequency and effectiveness.
90. India and Pakistan: The Asian adversaries nuke each other, leading to World War III. America gets pulled in and is permanently weakened by a long, costly war far from home.
91. Neo-Colonialism: Countries such as South Korea and Saudi Arabia have begun buying arable land abroad-essentially, buying portions of foreign countries-and shipping the crops they grow back home. If portions of the United States get bought by a foreign company, America could become part of someone else’s mercantile empire.
92. Socialist Revolution: The global economic crisis discredits capitalism. Angry workers revolt, and communism replaces representative democracy.
93. Israel-Arab War: All-out mayhem in the Middle East as Egypt, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and more go to war. The United States moves to protect Israel and gets sucked into a generation-long conflict that saps the national will and treasury.
94. Canada Fails: Climate change is more extreme in northern latitudes, and Canadians try to stream south into the United States, destabilizing the entire continent.
95. Mexico Fails: Our southern neighbor collapses and becomes a narco-state. Warlords take over, pushing millions of Mexicans to seek refuge in the United States.
96. Europe Fails: A failure to assimilate immigrants pushes the continent into anarchy. A pan-European war spills over to the rest of the world, sucking in the United States and eventually destroying the economic and cultural power of the entire West.
97. Pax Sinica: China replaces the United States as the world’s hegemon. A weakened America pulls back from world affairs.
98. Pax Indica: India replaces the United States as the world’s hegemon. A weakened America pulls back from world affairs.
99. Pax Europa: The European Union replaces the United States as the world’s hegemon. A weakened America pulls back from world affairs.
100. Space Race: China or Russia or Singapore leads colonization and technological development in outer space. We get left behind on an increasingly crummy planet.
101. Unilateralism: America refuses to compromise on climate change and pursues its own foreign policy, making enemies of the entire world.
102. Isolationism: America pulls back from world affairs, getting left out of a newly forming global community of cooperation.
103. Wildfires: Some say the world will end in fire; some say in ice. For those who favor fire, consider the 2006 Science report that “longer, warmer summers have resulted in a fourfold increase of major [U.S.] wildfires and a sixfold increase in the area of forest burned, compared to the period from 1970 to 1986.”
104. Megadrought: According to Mark Lynas’ Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, if the world gets one degree warmer, the Great Plains are at risk of turning into an expanse of sand dunes. Bad news for American agriculture (and everyone who lives in Nebraska).
105. Climate Migration: Refugees from Mexico, the Southwest, and coastal cities flee the devastation wrought by climate change, overwhelming the American cities that remain healthy.
106. Pesticides: Overuse makes the soil barren and/or gives us all cancer.
107. Climate Wars: Individual countries or “climate pirates” conduct experiments to try to halt global warming. War breaks out over uncertainty regarding the cause of freak weather events.
108. Geoengineering: A non-American nation or group of nations succeeds in using technology to turn off climate change. The United States loses power and prestige. An even worse case: The nation that turned off climate change charges us rent to live on Earth.
109. Bottled Water: We continue to drink the stuff in prodigious amounts, and all the phthalates in the bottles cause massive health problems, including infertility.
110. Modified Organisms: A superhearty plant engineered to be resistant to pesticides and drought grows out of control and chokes out other life-forms.
111. Alien Species: The American equivalent of the cane toad-the Burmese python, perhaps-eats everyone and everything in its path.
112. Ice Age: As in The Day After Tomorrow, circulation of water in the North Atlantic slows down, bringing on a new ice age. The northern United States gets buried under a glacier.
113. Rising Sea Levels: As Miami, New Orleans, and the California coast disappear, migrants swarm to the center of the country and overwhelm the nation’s dwindling resources.
114. Heat Shock: In hotter growing seasons, staple crops succumb to withering temperatures, imperiling the national food supply.
115. Ocean Acidification: Increased absorption of carbon dioxide causes the pH of the oceans to decrease continually, leading to mass extinctions.
116. Gerrymandering: The lack of competitive congressional races creates de facto permanent elected offices. Districts are designed to reinforce tenure and identity politics, delegitimizing American democracy.
117. Social Security: The Treasury runs out of money to pay entitlements. The elderly stop getting their checks, and everyone loses faith in the federal government.
118. Cars: Suburbanization and investment in the Interstate Highway System force the United States to maintain gas-guzzling, polluting automobiles long after the rest of the world has moved to more sensible transportation systems. Our refusal to wean ourselves off fossil fuels hastens the country’s decline.
119. One-Party Rule: The Republican (or Democratic) Party becomes marginalized to the extent that it barely exists as a political entity. With no checks and balances, the Democrats (or Republicans) abuse their unprecedented power, becoming unimaginably corrupt.
120. Military Overstretch: The American equivalent of the overreaching that many historians say doomed the Romans. The shorthanded U.S. military fights multiple wars on multiple fronts, and our overextended troops get divided and conquered.
121. Patriot Act: A series of 9/11-style attacks leads to an expansion of the Patriot Act. The state puts cameras on every street corner, listens in on every cell phone call, and compels citizens to take loyalty oaths.
122. Unitary Executive: A Dick Cheney acolyte assumes the presidency and renders Congress powerless with a stream of executive orders and signing statements that give him total control over the country.
123. Declining Military Standards: The U.S. Army has continually lowered the bar for incoming recruits to reach recruitment goals-the Army reports that a mere 44.6 percent of its 2007 recruits were “high-quality.” As Slate’s Fred Kaplan says, “a dumber army is a weaker army.”
124. Food Contamination: Terrorists add a chemical agent to food at a distribution center where tons of consumables are processed daily. Everyone who eats the tainted vittles dies.
125. The End of History: American values propagate throughout the world as representative democracy and capitalism reign. America loses its distinctiveness and identity as the world becomes one happy nation.
126. Corporate Takeover: In Are We Rome?, Cullen Murphy lays out a scenario whereby international corporations “grow in relative power, untethered to any one sliver of national geography” and become “indisputable lords of the world’s water, its food, its information, its health, its energy, its transportation, its software, its music, its security, its violence.” People identify more with their companies than their countries; your nation becomes more akin to your favorite soccer team.
127. Cronyism: A succession of corrupt administrations fills government posts with duds like former FEMA head Michael Brown. Incompetence reigns.
128. Tax Revolts: Tea parties turn into tea guerrilla movements as citizens rebel against excessive taxation.
129. Military Coup: In 1992, an Air Force officer named Scott Dunlap wrote an essay called “The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012.” In Dunlap’s fictional future, the military takes over the country when the public loses faith in democratically elected leaders’ ability to deal with national security threats. The armed forces-the only institution that anyone believes can keep the country the safe-tosses the politicos aside and takes the wheel.
130. Isolation of Elites: Jared Diamond says that in civilizations that collapse, the “elite are particularly likely to do things that profit them but hurt everybody else.” The rich decision-makers hide out in gated communities playing golf and drinking bottled water, failing to recognize or care that America is collapsing around them.
131. Theocracy: The Christian right rises to political power, doing away with the separation of church and state. Constitution: out. Ten Commandments: in.
132. Illegal Immigration: Refugees from failed states swarm into the United States at historic rates, leading to violent conflicts with American citizens and battles over limited resources.
133. Privatization: In Are We Rome?, Cullen Murphy theorizes that we could be undone by our “privatization binge … putting into private hands all manner of activities once thought to be public tasks: collecting the nation’s taxes, patrolling its streets, defending its borders.”
134. Bureaucracy: American government grows so large and unwieldy that it’s unable to respond swiftly to impending crises. We all drown in a sea of red tape.
135. Hyperinflation: The federal government prints too much money, and it takes a wheelbarrow full of dollars to buy a loaf of bread. Individuals lose their life savings, and the American economy becomes a permanent weakling.
136. FDIC Fails: After a series of catastrophic bank failures, the FDIC runs out of money to insure individuals’ bank accounts. Millions head to the poorhouse and stage a revolt against the ineffectual state.
137. World Currency: Central banks around the world dump the dollar in favor of a new international reserve currency. America instantly loses its economic primacy.
138. Wall Street Cleverness: The nongeniuses who brought us the credit-default swap create a new set of poorly understood (and poorly regulated) financial instruments that completely finish off the economy.
139. State Bankruptcies: Kansas, California, and more states can’t make payroll or provide unemployment benefits. The cash-strapped federal government is unable to bail them out and chaos reigns from coast to coast.
140. Rods From God: America’s enemies besiege the United States with bundled tungsten rods dropped from outer space-weapons of the future described by Popular Science as “space-launched darts that strike like meteors.” Some critics argue that the rods would vaporize before they hit the ground. Nevertheless, Rods From God were mentioned in a 2003 Air Force document that details potential new space weaponry.
141. China Unloads U.S. Treasurys: Unwilling to finance any more of America’s debt, China dumps its investment in American Treasury securities and buys up gold. With America a lousy investment, there aren’t any other buyers out there. The country goes bankrupt.
142. Nationalized Industries: The government bails out the airlines, telecommunications firms, department stores, and chain restaurants. State-run businesses aren’t nimble enough to complete globally, and the economy sinks.
143. Default on Debt: America misses its debt payments, and the United States turns into a northern extension of Latin America. In January, the U.S. economics editor of the Economist wrote default “is no longer unthinkable.”
144. Deficit Spending: Enormous federal outlays increase the deficit by trillions upon trillions, forcing tax rates to absurd levels. Taxpayers revolt.