The egalitarian and equitable societies could produce a sustainable civilization and avoid collapse, even with a high ratio of non-workers. Social collapse was more likely after people overreached and depleted natural resources. Importantly, even without any social stratification, collapse could occur if a society exhausted its natural resources.
In the unequal society, however, collapse was almost unavoidable — and these were the HANDY scenarios that mirrored our current globalized society.
The income gap
"The scenarios most closely reflecting the reality of our world today are found in the third group of experiments, where we introduced economic stratification," the researchers wrote, referring to uneven wealth distribution. "Under such conditions, we find that collapse is difficult to avoid."
Other recent research backs up the authors' claims: A 2012 study from the journal American Sociological Review shows that the income share of the top 1 percent of Americans grew rapidly after 1980 — from 10 percent in 1981 to 23.5 percent in 2007, an increase of 135 percentage points.
Meanwhile, the bottom three-quarters of the U.S. population has seen slow economic growth, with predictable results: A 2011 study published in the journal Psychological Science found that happiness, trust in others and life satisfaction plummet when income inequality is high.
Technology won't save you
For those who believe that there must be a technological fix to all this despair and destruction, the researchers found that the historical record provides "testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent.
"It may be reasonable to believe that modern civilization, armed with its greater technological capacity, scientific knowledge and energy resources, will be able to survive and endure whatever crises historical societies succumbed to," the authors wrote.
"But the brief overview of collapses demonstrates not only the ubiquity of the phenomenon, but also the extent to which advanced, complex and powerful societies are susceptible to collapse."
Not all is lost, however: Societies can moderate the two factors that contribute most to social meltdown: the exploitation of natural resources and the uneven distribution of wealth, the researchers said.
"Collapse can be avoided and population can reach equilibrium if the per-capita rate of depletion of nature is reduced to a sustainable level, and if resources are distributed in a reasonably equitable fashion," they wrote.
Original article on Live Science.
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