Tainter writes, the "number of challenges with which the Universe can confront a society is, for practical purposes, infinite," complex societies need to keep on increasing their level of complexity in order to survive new challenges. Tainter's thesis is that these "investments in aditional complexity" produce fewer and fewer returns with time, until eventually society cannot muster enough energy to fuel complexity. At this point, society collapses."Complexity, problem solving, and sustainable societies." Tainter 1996:
One often-discussed path is cultural and economic simplicity and lower energy costs. This could come about through the "crash" that many fear-a genuine collapse over a period of one or two generations, with much violence, starvation, and loss of population. The alternative is the "soft landing" that many people hope for-a voluntary change to solar energy and green fuels, energy-conserving technologies, and less overall consumption. This is a utopian alternative that, as suggested above, will come about only if severe, prolonged hardship in industrial nations makes it attractive, and if economic growth and consumerism can be removed from the realm of ideology.
This blends in nicely with my thinking on the use of platforms for the simplification and the decentralized decision making. Tainter calls this the "Byzantine model."More recently (2003): "Resource Transitions and Energy Gain: Contexts of Organization."