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The ultimate cost of protecting the privileges of the few at the expense of the many is the dissolution of the social order that enabled the rule of the privileged few.
We are at the paradigm of collapse, but there are as many kinds of collapse as there are systems: fragile ones can collapse suddenly, and resilient ones can decay for years or even decades before finally imploding or withering away.
Certain features of modern life could collapse without affecting everyday life much--for example, the derivatives markets could stop working and the impact would be enormous on those playing financial games and those who entrusted money to the gamblers, but the consequences would be extremely concentrated in the gambler/speculator class. Despite the usual cries that financial losses in the gambler/speculator class will destroy civilization, the disruptions and losses would be widely dispersed for the economy as a whole.
Other collapses--in food or energy distribution, digital communications, etc.--would have immediate and severe impacts on daily life.
Though we have yet to see inflation on a global scale, it is inescapable that demand will soon outstrip supply of essential resources and that the global credit bubble will pop, depriving the economy of the means to buy resources regardless of cost.