As people discuss the decline of nations, comparisons are drawn to the fall of the Roman Empire or the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and so on.
But what happened in the years after these falls?
Of course, the first answer to this question is that it depends on the severity of the crash or fall.
Every recession or depression, every big war or other calamity is, in a sense, a crash. In this way, 9/11 was a crash, as was the economic crisis of 2008-2010.
In setbacks like these, nations and people suffer, but they eventually get back on their feet.
After the stock market crash of 1929, the nation thought it was getting back to normal, slowly, for over a decade. Today we call this era the Great Depression, but at the time it didn’t look like the whole society had crashed. It hadn’t, though it certainly went through a very difficult time.
It wasn’t until Pearl Harbor, 12 years later, that the nation realized that almost everything and everyone would change.
The Three Types of Crashes
After World War II, many things truly were different. We lived in a new nation, so to speak, with permanently altered values, economy, institutions, and vision for the future.
Some changes were arguably good for the nation, others not so much. The same kind of major fall/crash had occurred during the Civil War era and earlier at the time of the American Revolution.
Thus we have “serious” crashes of the Vietnam, Watergate, 9/11, and Great Recession variety, and also even more “major” crashes at the level of the Civil War and World War II.
If either type of crash comes at any point in the next decade, it will have a drastic influence on our lives, families, and national future.
When people speak of “the coming crash,” or “the crash,” in contrast, they usually seem to mean something more along the lines of the fall of Rome or the Ottomans — a truly world-shattering change, with the big powers almost shut down and other world players stepping up to fill the vacuum of power.
This third kind fall or crash is a Black Plague event, where a third of the population dies, or equivalent, and everything about the politics, economy and culture suffers drastic changes.
So, now that we’ve defined three levels of crash events, how do we answer the original question? What will happen if we experience a crash or fall during the next decade? Answer:
- If we have a Minor crash event (e.g. recession, or 9/11 level), we will see an economic downturn, lots of layoffs and fewer jobs, many full-time jobs downgraded to part-time, less buying power due to inflation. The middle class will continue to shrink, and the lower classes will grow. Much U.S. capital will flee to international markets with better returns and less government red tape. Government programs and dependency will expand, and the gap between the wealthy and the rest will widen.
- If we witness a Major crash event (e.g. a great depression, a major war, etc.), we’ll experience everything in the list above, but two to five times more severe. It will be like a minor crash event but with a lot more impact.
- If we live through a Cataclysmic crash event (e.g. a Pompei-style natural disaster or a fall of Rome level collapse) it could go a number of directions. The results might be kept to major crash event levels with the right leadership, or they could be truly apocalyptic, where everyone goes back to farming and trading, or marauding, as their daily occupations.
Cycles and the Next Decade
It is interesting how many people — though still a minority — feel strongly that a Black Plague-level crash is coming soon to America.
And of the people who reject this, who think this idea is extreme, it amazing how many of them fail to seriously consider how certain a Minor or even Major crash event is in the next ten years.
At the very least, a Minor level crash will happen. At least one such event will occur during the decade.
Why am I so sure? Because such an event occurs at least once during every decade. This is just the passage of history.
A Major level crash event might happen during the next decade — it is more likely than at any point since Pearl Harbor — but it might not.
If no such event transpires, the cycles of history predict that it will certainly happen sometime not too far in the future.
The third level, a true Cataclysm, is much harder to predict. Forecasters will call it highly unlikely right up until it happens, then it will seem obvious that it was coming all along. This pattern has repeated many times.
Which Are You?
How does any of this information help us?
To begin with, it is at the very least interesting that when a Cataclysmic crash comes it turns everyone into farmers, entrepreneurs, or marauders. Maybe these are really the three ways of making a living, after all — in any society — even during peaceful times like ours.
This would mean that engineers, accountants, attorneys, teachers, and every other career are really one of the three — right now. Very enlightening, when you think about it.
Which is your focus? Which do you support in your daily efforts? This is extremely valuable information, because it helps you see what changes are needed now, before an upcoming crash event at any level.
Preparing for the Storm
Next, there are certain things we can do to prepare that will be extremely helpful in all three scenarios. This is where our focus should be, at least for most of us.
- First, great education will help anyone think like a leader. This is hugely helpful in every possible scenario for the future. Those who have read the great classics, who understand the Great Conversation, who have cultivated the skills (mental, emotional, relational, and physical/practical) will know how to lead and what to do — whatever comes.The worse the crash, the more important the emotional, physical and practical skills.
- Second, successful entrepreneurialism creates resources, builds connections and relationships, and fosters an environment where more people think and act like leaders. In difficult economic times, it will be those with effective entrepreneurial experience who help create jobs and products that turn things around. This is a proven law of history.
- Third, getting involved at the local level, making connections with local leaders, is helpful in preparing for times of economic downturn or other potential disaster. When societies turn more to local leadership, your involvement and relationships can have a significant influence. Just attending city council, chamber of commerce, or other meetings of this kind can start this process. People nearly always underestimate their influence on a local level.
All three of these things will be much more effective if we start doing them before times of trouble. Those who wisely take action prior to difficult eras are the natural leaders when any level of crash/fall/downturn comes.
Winston Churchill called the time before World War II the “Calm Before the Storm.” Such a calm, like the world we now live in, doesn’t usually seem very calm at all.
But compared to what comes later, it is a time to prepare.
Are you taking advantage of this time? Specifically, how have your reading of great classics, your entrepreneurialism, and/or your community involvements increased in the last few months? How will they increase in the months ahead?
Leadership and wisdom are all about foresight, and taking action.
Whatever the future brings, these three ventures will make you a better leader, parent and friend in the times ahead.
Oliver DeMille is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling co-author of LeaderShift: A Call for Americans to Finally Stand Up and Lead, the co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd.
Among many other works, he is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, The Coming Aristocracy, and FreedomShift: 3 Choices to Reclaim America’s Destiny.
Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.