Population and Environment

, Volume 22, Issue 1, pp 3–41

Problem Solving: Complexity, History, Sustainability

  • Joseph A. Tainter
Article

Abstract

Sustainability or collapse follow from the success or failure of problem-solving institutions. The factors that lead to long-term success or failure in problem solving have received little attention, so that this fundamental activity is poorly understood. The capacity of institutions to solve problems changes over time, suggesting that a science of problem solving, and thus a science of sustainability, must be historical. Complexity is a primary problem-solving strategy, which is often successful in the short-term, but cumulatively may become detrimental to sustainability. Historical case studies illustrate different outcomes to long-term development of complexity in problem solving. These cases clarify future options for contemporary societies: collapse, simplification, or increasing complexity based on increasing energy subsidies.

collapse complexity problem solving organizations sustainability 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

REFERENCES

  1. Adams, R. McC. (1978). Strategies of maximization, stability, and resilience in Mesopotamian society, settlement, and agriculture.Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 122, 329–335.Google Scholar
  2. Adams, R. McC. (1981). Heartland of cities.Chicago: Aldine.Google Scholar
  3. Alcock, S. E. (1993). Graecia capta: the landscapes of Roman Greece.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Aldrich, H. E. (1979). Organizations and environments.Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  5. Allen, T. F. H., Tainter, J. A., & Hoekstra, T. W. (1999). Supply-side sustainability.Systems Research and Behavioral Science 16, 403–427.Google Scholar
  6. Barker, E. (1924). Italy and the West, 410–476.In The Cambridge medieval history, Volume 1, the Christian Roman Empire and the foundation of the Teutonic order (second edition). Gwatkin, H. M. & Whitney, J. P. (Eds.), pp. 392–431.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Baum, J. A. C. & Singh, J. V. (1994a). Organizational hierarchies and evolutionary processes: some reflections on a theory of organizational evolution.In Evolutionary dynamics of organizations.Baum, J. A. C. & Singh J. V. (Eds.), pp. 3–20.New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Baum, J. A. C. & Singh, J. V. (1994b). Organizational niches and the dynamics of organizational mortality.American Journal of Sociology 100, 346–380.Google Scholar
  9. Bendix, R. (1956). Work and authority in industry.New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  10. Besly, E. & Bland, R. (1983). The Cunetio Treasure: Roman coinage of the third century AD.London: British Museum.Google Scholar
  11. Boak, A. E. R. (1955). Manpower shortage and the fall of the Roman Empire in the West.Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  12. Boserup, E. (1965). The conditions of agricultural growth: the economics of agrarian change under population pressure.Chicago: Aldine.Google Scholar
  13. Campbell, C. J. & Laherrère, J. H. (1998). The end of cheap oil.Scientific American 278(3), 78–83.Google Scholar
  14. Chayanov, A. V. (1966). The theory of peasant economy.Smith, R. E. F. & Lane, Christel (Trans.). Homewood: Richard D. Irwin for the American Economic Association.Google Scholar
  15. Clark, C. & Haswell, M. (1966). The economics of subsistence agriculture.London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  16. Coase, R. H. (1937). The nature of the firm.Economica 4(n.s.), 386–405.Google Scholar
  17. Cohen, M. N. (1977). The food crisis in prehistory: overpopulation and the origins of agriculture.New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Cope, L. H. (1969). The nadir of the imperial Antoninianus in the reign of Claudius II Gothicus, A.D. 268–270.The Numismatic Chronicle 7, 9, 145–161.Google Scholar
  19. Cope, L. H. (1974). The metallurgical development of the Roman Imperial coinage during the first five centuries A.D. Ph.D. dissertation, Liverpool Polytechnic.Google Scholar
  20. Creveld, M. van (1989). Technology and war, from 2000 B.C. to the present.New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  21. Duncan-Jones, R. (1990). Structure and scale in the Roman economy.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Ferrill, A. (1986). The fall of the Roman Empire: the military explanation.London: Thames and Hudson.Google Scholar
  23. Frank, T. (1940). An economic survey of ancient Rome, Volume V: Rome and Italy of the Empire. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Gibbon, E. (1776–1788). The decline and fall of the Roman Empire.New York: Modern Library.Google Scholar
  25. Griliches, Z. (1984). Introduction.In R & D, patents, and productivity.Griliches, Z (Ed.), pp. 1–19.Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  26. Haldon, J. F. (1990). Byzantium in the seventh century: the transformation of a culture.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Hall, Charles A. S., Cleveland, C. J., & Kaufmann, R. (1992). Energy and resource quality: the ecology of the economic process.Niwot: University Press of Colorado.Google Scholar
  28. Hammond, M. (1946). Economic stagnation in the early Roman Empire.Journal of Economic History, Supplement 6, 63–90.Google Scholar
  29. Hannon, M. T. & Carroll, G. R. (1992). Dynamics of organizational populations: density, legitimation, and competition.New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Harl, K. W. (1996). Coinage in the Roman economy, 300 B.C. to A.D. 700.Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Hodgett, G. A. J. (1972). A social and economic history of medieval Europe.London: Methuen.Google Scholar
  32. Jones, A. H. M. (1964). The later Roman Empire, 284–602: a social, economic and administrative survey.Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.Google Scholar
  33. Jones, A. H. M. (1974). The Roman economy: studies in ancient economic and administrative history.Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Google Scholar
  34. Kennedy, P. (1987). The rise and fall of the great powers: economic change and military conflict from 1500 to 2000.New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  35. King, C. E. (1982). Issues from the Rome mint during the sole reign of Gallienus.Actes du 9ème CongreInternational de Numismatique, 467–485.Louvain-la-Neuve: Association Internationale des Numismates Professionels.Google Scholar
  36. Lee, R. B. (1968). What hunters do for a living, or, how to make out on scarce resources.In Man the hunter.Lee, R. B. & DeVore, I.(Eds), pp. 30–48.Chicago: Aldine.Google Scholar
  37. Lee, R. B. (1969). Eating Christmas in the Kalahari.Natural History 78(10), 14, 16, 18, 21–2, 60–3.Google Scholar
  38. Le Gentilhomme, P. (1962). Variations du titre de l'Antoninianus au IIIe siècle.Revue Numismatique VI Série, Tome IV, 141–66.Google Scholar
  39. Luttwak, E. N. (1976). The grand strategy of the Roman Empire from the first century A.D. to the third.Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Machlup, F. (1962). The production and distribution of knowledge in the United States.Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  41. MacMullen, R. (1976). Roman government's response to crisis, A.D. 235–337.New Haven and London: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  42. March, J. G. & Olsen, J. P. (1986). Garbage can models of decision-making in organizations.In Ambiguity and command: organizational perspectives on military decision making.March, J. G. & Weissinger-Baylon, R. (Eds.), pp. 11–35.Marshfield: Pitman.Google Scholar
  43. March, J. G. & Simon, H. A. (1958). Organizations.New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  44. Mazzarino, S. (1966). The end of the ancient world.Holmes, G. (Trans.). London: Faber and Faber.Google Scholar
  45. McNeill, W. H. (1976). Plagues and peoples.Garden City: Anchor/Doubleday.Google Scholar
  46. Meyer, J. L. (1987). The monetary reforms of Aurelian and Diocletian.Roman Coins and Culture 3(2), 20–42.Google Scholar
  47. Parker, G. (1988). The military revolution: military innovation and the rise of the West, 1500–1800.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  48. Polybius (1979). The rise of the Roman Empire. (The Histories, Scott-Kilvert, I. [Trans.]).Harmondsworth: Penguin.Google Scholar
  49. Price, D. de Solla (1963). Little science, big science.New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  50. Price, T. D. & Brown, J. A. (Eds.). Prehistoric hunter-gatherers: the emergence of cultural complexity.Orlando: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  51. Rasler, K. & Thompson, W. R. (1989). War and state making: the shaping of the global powers.Boston: Unwin Hyman.Google Scholar
  52. Renfrew, A. C. (1982). Polity and power: interaction, intensification and exploitation.In An island polity: the archaeology of exploitation on Melos.Renfrew, C. & Wagstaff, M. (Eds.), pp. 264–290.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  53. Rescher, N. (1978). Scientific progress: a philosophical essay on the economics of research in natural science.Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.Google Scholar
  54. Rescher, N. (1980). Unpopular essays on technological progress.Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.Google Scholar
  55. Rosen, S. (1991). Transaction costs and internal labor markets.In The nature of the firm: origins, evolution, and development.Williamson, O. E. & Winter, S. G. (Eds.), pp. 75–89.New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  56. Rostow, W. W. (1980). Why the poor get richer and the rich slow down.Austin: University of Texas Press.Google Scholar
  57. Russell, J. C. (1958). Late ancient and medieval population.Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 48(3).Google Scholar
  58. Sahlins, M. (1972). Stone Age economics.Chicago: Aldine.Google Scholar
  59. Schmookler, J. (1966). Invention and economic growth.Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  60. Senge, P. M. (1990). The fifth discipline: the art and practice of the learning organization.New York: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  61. Service, R. F. (1997). Making single electrons compute.Science 275, 303–304.Google Scholar
  62. Simon, H. A. (1997). Administrative behavior: a study of decision-making processes in administrative organizations.Fourth Edition.New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  63. Spencer, H. (1972). On social evolution.Peel, J. D. Y. (Ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  64. Sundberg, U., Lindegren, J., Odum, H. T., & Doherty, S. (1994). Forest EMERGY basis for Swedish power in the 17th Century.Scandinavian Journal of Forest Research, Supplement 1.Google Scholar
  65. Tainter, J. A. (1988). The collapse of complex societies.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  66. Tainter, J. A. (1992). Evolutionary consequences of war.In Effects of war on society.Ausenda, G. (Ed.), pp. 103–130.San Marino: Center for Interdisciplinary Research on Social Stress.Google Scholar
  67. Tainter, J. A. (1994). La fine dell'amministrazione centrale: il collaso dell'Impero Romano in Occidente.In Storia d'Europa, Volume Secondo: preistoria e antichità.Guilaine, J. & Settis, S. (Eds.) pp. 1207–1255.Turin: Einaudi.Google Scholar
  68. Tainter, J. A. (1995). Sustainability of complex societies.Futures 27, 397–407.Google Scholar
  69. Tainter, J. A. (1996a). Introduction: prehistoric societies as evolving complex systems.In Evolving complexity and environmental risk in the prehistoric Southwest.Tainter, J. A. & Tainter, B. B. (Eds.), pp. 1–23.Santa Fe Institute, Studies in the Sciences of Complexity, Proceedings Volume XXIV.Reading: Addison-Wesley.Google Scholar
  70. Tainter, J. A. (1996b). Complexity, problem solving, and sustainable societies.In Getting down to earth: practical applications of Ecological Economics.Costanza, R., Segura, O., & Martinez-Alier, J. (Eds.), pp. 61–76.Washington, DC: Island Press.Google Scholar
  71. Tainter, J. A. (1997). Cultural conflict and sustainable development: managing subsistence hunting in Alaska.In Sustainable development of boreal forests: proceedings of the 7th International Conference of the International Boreal Forest Research Association, pp. 155–161.Moscow: All-Russian Research and Information Center for Forest Resources.Google Scholar
  72. Tainter, J. A. (1999). Post-collapse societies.In Companion encyclopedia of Archaeology.Barker, G.(Ed.), pp. 988–1039.London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  73. Tainter, J. A. (2000). Global change, history, and sustainability.In The way the wind blows: climate, history, and human action.McIntosh, R. J., Tainter, J. A., & McIntosh, S. K.(Eds.), pp. 331–356.New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  74. Toumey, C. P. (1996). Conjuring science: scientific symbols and cultural meanings in American life.New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  75. Treadgold, W. (1988). The Byzantine revival, 780–842.Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  76. Treadgold, W. (1995) Byzantium and its army, 284–1081.Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  77. Treadgold, W. (1997). A history of the Byzantine state and society.Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  78. Tul'chinskii, L. I. (1967). Problems in the profitability of investments in public education.Soviet Review 8(1), 46–54.Google Scholar
  79. Tyler, P. (1975). The Persian wars of the 3rd century A.D. and Roman imperial monetary policy, A.D.253–68.Historia, Einzelschriften 23.Google Scholar
  80. U. S. Bureau of the Census (1983). Statistical abstract of the United States: 1984 (104th edition). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  81. Van Meter, D. (1991). The handbook of Roman imperial coins.Nashua: Laurion Numismatics.Google Scholar
  82. Walker, D. R. (1976). The metrology of the Roman silver coinage, part I, from Augustus to Domitian.British Archaeological Reports, Supplementary Series 5.Google Scholar
  83. Walker, D. R. (1977). The metrology of the Roman silver coinage, part II, from Nerva to Commodus.British Archaeological Reports, Supplementary Series 22.Google Scholar
  84. Walker, D. R. (1978). The metrology of the Roman silver coinage, part III, from Pertinax to Uranius Antoninus.British Archaeological Reports, Supplementary Series 40. White, L. A. (1949). The science of culture. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.Google Scholar
  85. White, L. A. (1959). The evolution of culture. New York: McGraw-Hill. Wickham, C. (1981). Early medieval Italy: central power and local society 400–1000.London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  86. Wickham, C. (1984). The other transition: from the ancient world to feudalism.Past and Present 103, 3–36.Google Scholar
  87. Wilkinson, R. G. (1973). Poverty and progress: an ecological model of economic development.London: Methuen.Google Scholar
  88. Williams, S. (1985). Diocletian and the Roman recovery.New York: Methuen.Google Scholar
  89. Worthington, N. L. (1975). National health expenditures, 1929–74. Social Security Bulletin 38(2), 3–20.Google Scholar
  90. Yoffee, N. (1988). The collapse of ancient Mesopotamian states and civilization.In The collapse of ancient states and civilizations.Yoffee, N. & Cowgill, G. L.(Eds.), pp. 44–68. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Human Sciences Press, Inc. 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joseph A. Tainter
    • 1
  1. 1.Rocky Mountain Research StationUnited States Department of Agriculture Forest ServiceAlbuquerque

Personalised recommendations