The fall of the Empire

The Capitalist Ruler, art from the Zapatista communities.

By: Raúl Zibechi

In periods of deep confusion like the one we live in today, exacerbated by a tsunami of information that clouds understanding, it’s convenient to focus our attention on the data that don’t depend on the whims of the moment and embody profound tendencies. We should not limit ourselves to economic information, which has considerable weight, but not defining.

I want to deploy some elements for reaching the conclusion that imperial decline is inevitable, regardless of who is in charge of the White House in the next four years. Donald Trump or Joe Biden can accelerate or slow down said decline, but in no way can they prevent it. In the same sense, the rise of China and of the Asia-Pacific doesn’t depend on factors of a conjuncture, although I don’t envision Chinese hegemony, but rather a multipolar world.

The primary tendency is what I call the “human factor,” the state of the population ( China is a flourishing society, the population has been benefited by development, its standard of living has improved and everything indicates that it will continue doing so. The people of the United States are divided, one half hates the other half, a portion of them are sick and depend on the consumption of legal drugs.

China has created the world’s largest social security system, with basic health insurance that covers 1.3 billion people, while pension insurance covers almost one billion. The health system in the United States doesn’t reach the entire population; it’s expensive and unaffordable for half of the people with lower incomes (

In half a century, the “bottom” half of the US population was impoverished. It went from an annual income of $19, 640 dollars in 1970 to $27, 642 in 2018, 42 percent more, but below inflation. One dollar in 1970 is equivalent to $6.82 dollars today (

At the opposite extreme, 0.1 percent of the population multiplied its income by 5, while the middle class receded, according to a study in The Washington Post ( It’s a polarization impossible to sustain; a society unhinged, adrift and unprotected that takes up arms to defend itself.

Life expectancy in China today is 76.7 years; it was 43 in 1960. In the United States it’s 78.5 years, but it has been stagnant since 2010 and has fallen slightly since 2012, a unique case among developed countries ( The United States is ranked 37th in the world in life expectancy at birth, below most European nations and behind countries in the Americas like Chile, Cuba and Costa Rica.

In the United States, deaths from heroin overdoses have quadrupled since 2002. While addiction was high in poor black ghettos in the 1960s, new users are now overwhelmingly white, according to the Boonshoft School of Medicine, in Dayton Ohio (

Half a million people between 45 and 54 died due to cirrhosis, suicide, alcohol and drugs, an unprecedented situation that had never affected demographic groups in developed countries, with the exception of the AIDS epidemic, a study by Princeton University says (

The use of hard drugs has skyrocketed among the middle classes, with a strong incidence in the industrial cities in decline due to the movement of industry [and industrial jobs] to China, Asia and Central America. While the weight of the financial sector in the gross domestic product doubled since the end of the 1990s; half of the 25-year old population now lives with their parents because they cannot become independent, versus 25 percent in 1999.

Empires collapse from the inside and population is the most important data, although it’s often dismissed for overestimating the economy that not a few economists believe consists only in a sum of numbers and statistics, forgetting that it is people who produce, consume, enjoy and suffer in the inevitable cycles of material life.

Fernand Braudel said that: “events are dust,” because he was convinced that the short-term is the most capricious of all times, that we must give priority to the long-term and to the continuities, to better understand the turns. The assertion is valid for evaluating electoral results in the United States.

More important than the name of the winning tenant is that 19 million weapons have been sold in seven months, 91 percent more than in the same period of 2019, and days before the voting, many businesses protected themselves with fences for fear of post-electoral violence (

The Economic Policy Institute in the United States, assures that the salaries of the chief executive officers (CEOs) of the 350 principal companies are now 320 times superior to the average salary of a worker, while in 1989 the difference in income was at 61 to one ( This means that the salary gap grew five times in two generations.

Even inequality has limits. After a certain threshold, as we should have learned from history, it becomes a time bomb.


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Friday, November 6, 2020

Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee


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