Political predictions can be based on wishful thinking as much as hard empirical evidence, and sometimes a mixture of both. The latter is probably the case with Igor Panarin’s work. For those of you who don’t know, Panarin is a well known Russian academic who in 1998 predicted that the USA would suffer economic and political collapse by 2009.
He proposed this based on the idea that the US would increasingly begin to struggle with its debt levels post the year 2000, and increased immigration coupled with recession, would finally lead to civil war. Panarin also predicted that the other world powers would have to step in to prevent the USA falling into the same sort of chaos that blight Yugoslavia in the 1990s. As a result the USA would be partitioned between Russia, China, Mexico, Canada and the European Union. The concept of balkanization in the USA has been floating around for a couple of years (for instance, Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam and the work of William H Frey). However most thinkers argue that while Civic America might be decline it’s nowhere near the levels needed for social collapse.
The popularity of Panarin’s work in Russia isn’t hard to explain. It’s an example of an idea catching on partly because it’s telling people what they want to hear. Russia was in pretty bad shape in the late 1990s and many blamed America for their woes. Therefore the theory that their economic oppressors were a decade away from collapse themselves, was a hugely appealing one. The prediction was also partly propelled by the fact that so few academics had seen the end of the Soviet Union coming. If something as seemingly solid and as monolithic as the USSR can collapse, and be dismantled in less than three years they reasoned, then perhaps America is heading on the same trajectory. Other thinkers pointed to Oswald Spenglers ’Decline of the West’, and the historical lesson that all Empires eventually decline and fall. While many would agree that the USA isn’t in the best of shape at the moment, few would predict its imminent collapse and balkanization any time soon.
When the credit crunch hit in 2008 Panarin and others took it as evidence that his theory was correct. However when the USA did not collapse he moved his prediction back to 2011. I’m not usually a betting man but I strongly suspect that the USA isn’t going to collapse this year or at any point in the next decade. That said, if it does, I’m sure I’ll have bigger things to worry about than being wrong.