As the world economy crashes against debt and resource limits, many countries are responding by attempting to salvage what are actually their most expendable features—corrupt, insolvent banks and bloated militaries—while leaving the majority of their people to languish in “austerity.” This has resulted in a series of uprisings, taking a variety of forms in different nations. Such conditions and responses will lead, sooner or later, to social as well as economic upheaval—and a collapse of the support infrastructure on which billions depend for their very survival.
Nations could, in principle, forestall social collapse by providing the bare essentials of existence (food, water, housing, medical care, family planning, education, employment for those able to work, and public safety) universally and in a way that could be sustained for some time, while paying for this by deliberately shrinking other features of society—starting with military and financial sectors—and by taxing the wealthy. The cost of covering the basics for everyone is still within the means of most nations. Providing human necessities would not remove all fundamental problems now converging (climate change, resource depletion, and the need for fundamental economic reforms), but it would provide a platform of social stability and equity to give the world time to grapple with deeper, existential challenges.
Unfortunately, many governments are averse to this course of action. And if they did provide universal safety nets, ongoing economic contraction might still result in conflict, though in this instance it might arise from groups opposed to the perceived failures of “big government.”
Further, even in the best instance, safety nets can only buy time. The capacity of governments to maintain flows of money and goods will erode. Thus it will increasingly be up to households and communities to provide the basics for themselves while reducing their dependence upon, and vulnerability to, centralized systems of financial and governmental power.