Found in 9 comments
drallison · 2018-06-10 · Original thread
The classic reference, for those HN readers who are not in the post-literate society, is Joseph Tainter's Collapse of Complex Societies. The book explains Tainter's theory explaining collapse (increasing social complexity without commensurate improvement in quality of life) and concludes with an unconvincing representation that our society does not meet the conditions motivating collapse.

tiatia · 2016-10-22 · Original thread
"Including total collapses of civilisations."

It seems to be an inherent thing of civilizations to collapse.

The Collapse of Complex Societies

The collapse of our society seem to be inevitable. You don't have to believe is but I don't think we can beat mathematics in the long term:

"There is No Steady State Economy (except at a very basic level)"

Limits to Growth–At our doorstep, but not recognized

Wealth And Energy Consumption Are Inseparable

Galactic-Scale Energy

Quote: "But let’s not overlook the key point: continued growth in energy use becomes physically impossible within conceivable timeframes."

sturadnidge · 2016-09-07 · Original thread
Joseph Tainter has done some interesting work on the relation between societal complexity and collapse[1], here's a recent(ish) paper of his on the subject


gooseus · 2016-07-24 · Original thread
I thoroughly enjoyed this article... as someone who does believe in an eventual collapse I really appreciated the balanced approach while still making some fun of the fringe elements.

For the record, my belief is in a non-specific collapse based on the increasingly built-in fragility and complexity of civilization as espoused by Joseph Tainter[1] in his book "The Collapse of Complex Societies"[2].



narrator · 2016-04-19 · Original thread
The problem with the U.S system is everyone has their hand out for money. In America, Money is considered the universal yardstick for success and universally effective solution to all problems. The health care industry grew 20% last year? Fantastic!

It's a perfect example of the civilizational collapse process that Joseph Tainter, a professor of archeology, wrote about in his book "Collapse of Complex Societies"[1]. A society will get some sort of civilizational process that works to create wealth in their society. The civilization will continue to increase complexity to exploit this process and when the process starts returning negative marginal returns the collapse process begins because the whole civilization can't switch into reverse. This happened to the Romans with their conquer and receive tribute process for example. It eventually started yielding negative returns and they couldn't reverse course. The inertia was just too great.


narrator · 2016-01-21 · Original thread
The "increasing unnecessary complexity leads to collapse" hypothesis was very adeptly explored in the context of the collapse of many ancient societies by archeologist Joseph A. Tainter in his book Collapse of Complex Societies[1]. Briefly, he argues that most civilizations rely on some sort of wealth producing trick. As they grow they increase societal complexity to maintain that trick. After a while, the complexity produces negative marginal returns, after which the response of the society is to further increase complexity resulting in further negative marginal returns and eventually leading to collapse.

The only civilization that was able to escape these collapse dynamics was the Eastern Roman Empire which underwent a radical simplification of administration in the latter half of the first millennia and thus greatly outlasted the Western Roman Empire, which could not adapt.


tjradcliffe · 2015-03-19 · Original thread
The non-monotonic nature of growth has been used to justify the claim that complex societies fail because investment in complexity provides diminishing returns, however:
ble · 2013-12-23 · Original thread
I liked Collapse, but I really liked "The Collapse of Complex Societies." Written by an archaeologist, addresses many other scholars' theories of collapse, and provides an excellent economics / complexity argument.

(not an affiliate link)

Also, the idea of "diminishing marginal returns on added complexity" suggests a lot about why maintenance, extension, and management of software systems becomes harder over time.

drallison · 2011-03-14 · Original thread
If you enjoyed this article, you might want to look into the work of Joseph Tainter ( and read his book, The Collapse of Complex Societies,
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