Some researchers think mathematical laws can explain how societies stop working. We should find out if they're right
IF HISTORY really is, in the famous dictum, just one damned thing after another, the shutdown of the US government this week must rank as one of the damnedest things in recent memory. A minority faction is holding the most powerful government in the world to ransom. This is not just theatrics: the attendant risks range from financial crisis to a cholera epidemic (see "The maths that saw the US shutdown coming"). We are getting an object lesson in why societies need effective governments.
The US isn't the only nominally democratic government that is dysfunctional, paralysed or deemed irrelevant by many of its citizens: consider Greece or Egypt, whose current plight is difficult to square with conventional political theory. Can science help?