No, we are not going down the tubes

Denis Pombriant
7 min readNov 25, 2023

Sorry this is a little long.

Is America in an irreversible decline? Specifically, are we following the same path as earlier great powers like the Roman Empire?

You might think so given the number of writers predicting our imminent collapse. As someone who was alive and conscious the last time there was major societal upheaval, the 1960’s, I have a different view based on that experience but also based on a lifetime of studying history.

James Madison 4th US President and primary author of the US Constitution. Source: National Archives

The 1960’s included three major assassinations (John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy), and Vietnam, as well as riots that involved burning large sections of major cities. But the 60’s also included the race to the moon, the Civil Rights Act, the Miranda decision, and the Great Society.

Too often, prognosticators point to the decline and fall of Rome as if that is some kind of destiny that we can’t escape, a kind of historical gravity. But there are two things about Rome that they get wrong and hence have little predictive value.

First, the Roman Empire was an authoritarian state and to a surprising degree even minute aspects of daily life were controlled by an emperor or the empire’s apparatus. Freedom was limited and punishment was harsh, which made going against the grain risky.

Simple course corrections were difficult to achieve and without proper sponsorship, good ideas could stagnate. For instance, The Romans never invented soap. Yes, they had ways of cleaning the mud off and beautiful baths but nothing very hygienic. Arguments against change often included references to whether particular gods would approve. So stasis ruled with the emperor.

In all the years that Rome existed and held sway over millions of people, Romans never invented a useful mathematics. Romans could barely do arithmetic: X/II=V was no easy feat despite the fact that the Hindu Arabic numbers plus the idea of zero that we use were known at the time but never adopted. Without adequate math Romans still built magnificent buildings, some of which are visible today. But the number of buildings that collapsed of their own weight is large though forgotten.

Romans didn’t welcome innovation. They were a militaristic people who got along without much change for…

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Denis Pombriant

Researcher, author of multiple books including “The Age of Sustainability” about solutions for climate change. Technology, business, economics.