Toward a General Theory of Societal Collapse: A Biophysical Examination of Tainter’s Model of the Diminishing Returns of Complexity
Sara Falsini () and
Additional contact information
Ugo Bardi: University of Florence
Sara Falsini: Consorzio Interuniversitario per la Scienza e la Tecnolgia dei Materiali (INSTM)-University of Florence
Ilaria Perissi: Consorzio Interuniversitario per la Scienza e la Tecnolgia dei Materiali (INSTM)-University of Florence
Biophysical Economics and Resource Quality, 2019, vol. 4, issue 1, 1-9
Abstract The collapse of large social systems, often referred to as “civilizations” or “empires,” is a well-known historical phenomenon, but its origins are the object of an unresolved debate. In this paper, we present a simple biophysical model which we link to the concept that societies collapse because of the “diminishing returns of complexity” proposed by Tainter (The collapse of complex societies, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1988). Our model is based on the description of a socio-economic system as a trophic chain of energy stocks which dissipate the energy potential of the available resources. The model is based on the idea that we observe that the exploitation of a non-renewable resource stock (“production”) has a strongly nonlinear relation with the complexity of the system, assumed to be proportional to the size of the stock termed “The Economy” (or “capital”), producing various trajectories of decline of the economy, in some cases rapid enough that they can be defined as “collapses.” The evolution of the relation of production and the economy produces a curve similar to the one proposed by Tainter, for the decline of a complex society.
Keywords: Tainter’s theory; Societal collapse; System dynamics; Complexity (search for similar items in EconPapers)
References: View references in EconPapers View complete reference list from CitEc
Citations: View citations in EconPapers (1) Track citations by RSS feed
Downloads: (external link)
http://link.springer.com/10.1007/s41247-018-0049-0 Abstract (text/html)
Access to the full text of the articles in this series is restricted.
This item may be available elsewhere in EconPapers: Search for items with the same title.
Export reference: BibTeX
RIS (EndNote, ProCite, RefMan)
Persistent link: https://EconPapers.repec.org/RePEc:spr:bioerq:v:4:y:2019:i:1:d:10.1007_s41247-018-0049-0
Ordering information: This journal article can be ordered from
Access Statistics for this article
Biophysical Economics and Resource Quality is currently edited by C.A.S. Hall and U. Bardi
More articles in Biophysical Economics and Resource Quality from Springer
Bibliographic data for series maintained by Sonal Shukla () and Springer Nature Abstracting and Indexing ().