Terms you should know for the coming decade of failure.
A failed state is a complete breakdown in the delivery of political goods (security, law, health, education, infrastructure, etc.), the dissolution of most arms of the government (often what’s left is in skeletal), and widespread chaos. For all intents and purposes, a failed state is a black hole on the international landscape. Think Syria and Libya.
A hollow state is different. It continues to exist on the international stage and has all the standard edifices of governance. However, it is heavily corrupted by global corporate/monied elites. Unlike a failed state, a hollow state still delivers a modicum of political goods (to a vastly diminished group around the capital) and it maintains a military. To outsiders it looks like a functional state. It has all of the pomp and circumstance you would expect.
However, despite this facade, the hollow state has abdicated (either explicitly or de facto) powers and territory to non-state groups. In some cases, state power is ceded by awarding monopolies to multinational corporations and “letters of marque” to financial institutions (think payday lending and financial derivatives).
In others, territory is ceded to non-state guerrillas groups (think Lebanon’s Hezbollah or Mexican Cartels) maintain a semblance of order, as in the “justice” enforced by Sao Paulo’s militias or the Taliban’s application of sharia.
The big question for all of us, headed into the future: given this description, is the US a hollow state?
I think we are much closer than many believe.
PS: The three wealthiest counties in the US aren’t found in California or New York. They are found around Washington DC. These counties aren’t just a little better off than the rest of us, they have an average household income that is twice the national average.