“If Something Cannot Go on Forever, It Will Stop“


“If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.” This famous observation was made by Herb Stein, Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. It became famous largely because it was just that, obvious. Yet, what is no less obvious is that public policy is commonly based on a wholly contrary assumption, that the future will be like the past, more or less. This is deeply unfortunate since many of the most important systems on which the future of mankind depends are evolving in an unsustainable way. They threaten to stop. Global economic, political, environmental and health systems are all showing clear signs of stress and prospective breakdown. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse can be clearly seen riding, purposefully, in our direction.

These challenges can be overcome, but to do so will require a brutal clarity about the seriousness of the problems we face, and then general agreement about three practical issues. First, what are the challenges to sustainability that are already at work, or can already be confidently anticipated as posing future challenges? In short, what path are we now on? Second, what kind of a sustainable society, made up of systems of systems, do we wish to migrate towards. In short, where do we wish to go? Third, what practical steps will be required to get there from here? This last challenge encompasses, not only the identification of what should be done, but also requires overcoming the political difficulties of making required changes actually happen.