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When your system, whatever it may be, is working extremely well, we used to say it’s “firing on all 8 cylinders.” What does that mean?

A gasoline motor contains metal cylinders inside which the gasoline burns (hence “internal combustion engine”) and causes belts and gears to turn. A V-8 engine has eight cylinders arranged in (surprise!) a “V” shape. The motor produces maximum power when all 8 cylinders are producing at their maximum capacity. This “firing on all 8 cylinders” is the ideal state.

Now, does it actually happen? In reality, the cylinders and all the machinery around them have imperfections. One or more might stop working, in which case you aren’t getting full power anymore.

Something similar happens with entire countries and economies. In theory, all the important components can be in their optimal state—in which case this country is probably the dominant world power (or at least dominant in their local sphere).