Skip to comments.HOW EXCESSIVE GOVERNMENT KILLED ANCIENT ROME
Posted on 11/17/2012 10:35:47 AM PST by walford
"...began distributing the grain for free. The result was a sharp increase in the influx of rural poor into Rome... ...The expansion of the dole is an important reason for the rise of Roman taxes...
...the demand for revenue led to debasement of the coinage. Revenue was needed to pay the increasing costs of defense and a growing bureaucracy. However, rather than raise taxes, Nero and subsequent emperors preferred to debase the currency by reducing the precious metal content of coins. This was, of course, a form of taxation; in this case, a tax on cash balances...
...The war against wealth was not simply due to purely fiscal requirements, but was also part of a conscious policy of exterminating the Senatorial class, which had ruled Rome since ancient times, in order to eliminate any potential rivals...
...With the collapse of the money economy, the normal system of taxation also broke down. This forced the state to directly appropriate whatever resources it needed wherever they could be found...Eventually, the state was forced to compel individuals to continue working and producing...individuals were forced to work at their given place of employment and remain in the same occupation, with little freedom to move or change jobs...
...The steady encroachment of the state into the intimate workings of the economy also eroded growth. The result was increasing feudalization of the economy and a total breakdown of the division of labor. People fled to the countryside and took up subsistence farming or attached themselves to the estates of the wealthy, which operated as much as possible as closed systems, providing for all their own needs and not engaging in trade at all. Meanwhile, much land was abandoned and remained fallow or fell into the hands of the state, whose mismanagement generally led to a decline in production...
...The number of recipients began to exceed the number of contributors by so much that, with farmers' resources exhausted by the enormous size of the requisitions, fields became deserted and cultivated land was turned into forest...
... the revenues of the state remained inadequate to maintain the national defense. This led to further tax increases...However, state revenues continued to shrink, as taxpayers invested increasing amounts of time, effort and money in tax evasion schemes. Thus even as tax rates rose, tax revenues fell, hastening the decline of the Roman state."
Contrary to the belief of dialectic materialists, history is NOT a progression. Civilizations have risen and fallen, followed by long periods of darkness. A warning of things to come.
Not just excessive, but inbred and insane.
Just like today.
We’re so screwed.
The Kenyan is going to seize our retirement accounts and replace them with worthless treasury IOUs.
In effect, the government starts out by taxing current income, which is a reasonable approach. In phase two, they tax future income, which NOT sustainable over the long term. Finally, in phase three, they tax PAST income through inflation. There are really few other options after phase three. Perhaps, a country in dire straits could conquer a neighboring country and exploit its natural resources (e.g. the United States could conquer western Canada for its oil), but of course, this would not solve anything while creating massive human misery. The real problem, the root cause is an insatiable appetite for spending on the part of the government.
These quotes are extremely misleading.
The quotes about free grain to citizens increasing people moving to Rome, while true, applies to the late Republic and early Empire. I could be wrong, but I think there was little or no “dole” in the middle to later empire, when the mob in the city of Rome was largely politically irrelevant.
By this time the emperors spent little time in Rome itself, so why should they care whether the inhabitants were calm or not? Also, by the time the Empire reached its full size, the inhabitants of Rome the city were a teeny percentage of the whole population, and free food for all of Rome the city could have been only a minor burden to the whole empire.
In the middle and later empire, the money went almost entirely to support the armies, and of coumrse to provide wealth to the emperor and his cronies. I have seen little or no evidence that there was any large group of welfare drones supported by public funds after perhaps 100 AD.
At best, the quotes above telescope events that took place over 400 to 500 years into a sequence that makes it look like they took place over a few decades and “caused the fall of Rome.”
We don’t think of events from the time of Shakespeare to today in the same A directly caused B way, so we should not telescope historical events over a similar timespan in the past into a cause-effect relationship.
At least Nero had the excuse that Gresham’s Law wouldn’t be stated for another 1,500 years. What’s our excuse?
I am making no implication that the dole in and of itself was the cause of the decline and fall of Rome and anyone who knows the history is aware that the seeds were planted centuries before it fell: encouraging dependency, confiscating production, debasing the currency and the government reacting to the resultant ill-effects by insinuating itself even further into the economy.
The entire point of the OP is to consider the similarities to today, including the barbarians waiting to feast on our bones and entrails. And I maintain there are many which are equally dangerous — not only to America’s future, but to the future of Western Civilization itself.
Okay, a little research showed that I’m wrong about how long the annona lasted. It apparently kept going and even expanded into the middle/late empire.
However, I hold to my other two main claims, that given the small percentage that the inhabitants of Rome itself (and perhaps also later of Constantinople) were of the empire as a whole, free food for them could not have been a huge fiscal burden, and that the army and corruption consumed a MUCH larger percentage of the budget.
Think of it this way. If our national welfare rolls were limited to the poor of DC or NYC, how much of a burden would it be? Not much.
Free food for Rome just wasn’t a big cause of the collapse of the empire. Civil wars and the cost of the army had a LOT more to do with it.
In 58 BC, the patrician-turned-plebeian Clodius Pulcher advanced a popularist political agenda in his bid for the tribunate by offering free grain for the poor. The expense was considerable, and Julius Caesar later reformed the dole. Augustus considered abolishing it altogether, but instead reduced the number of the recipients to 200,000, and perhaps later 150,000.
The official responsible for the provision of the alimenta was the Curator alimentorum. During the empire, this post became an important bureaucratic position to be filled by the senatorial elite prior to achieving a consulship. The last known official to hold this post was Titus Flavius Postumius Quietus, probably during the early 270s.
Later emperors all used free or greatly subsidized grain to keep the populace fed. The political use of the grain supply along with gladiatorial games and other entertainments gave rise to the saying “Bread and circuses”. As the empire continued, the annona became more complex. During the reign of Septimius Severus, olive oil was added to the distribution. During the reign of Aurelian, however, a major reorganization of the alimenta took place. It appears that he ceased to distribute free grain; instead, he issued free bread, and added salt, pork and wine to the dole, which was provided free or at a reduced cost. These measures were continued by successive emperors.
With the devaluation of currency in the course of the third century, the army was paid in rationed supplies (annonae) as well as in specie from the later third century, through a cumbrous administration of collection and redistribution. The role of the state in distributing the annona remained a central feature of its unity and power: “the cessation of this state function in the fifth century was a major factor leading to economic fragmentation, as was the end of the grain requisition for the city of Rome” Averil Cameron notes.
Is THIS how America dies??
If my memory is correct, then Roman history rhymes with our own in 2012, for only the outer exoskeleton, the House, Senate, Scotus, States, elections . . . of our republic remains, as Hussein is rapidly gathering all powers. Instead of electing representatives to form our laws, we increasingly have the privilege of voting for HIM to issue diktats instead, with the force of law. Congress has largely become, if not a rubber stamp, then an ineffective opponent and meek bystander to the elected despot.
The thing is, these days the idea of people turning GRAIN into BREAD, or even knowing how, is preposterous. If it’s not either frozen pizza, or better yet, delivered pizza, it’s a puzzle to most of the Sandra Fluke types. . and now that Wonder Bread’s been killed by Obama’s unions, what now? - At least one thing those old Romans had going for them was the ability to actually work with the raw product.
The utter, and utterly unseemly, human lust for power is universal and universally destructive.
The forefathers knew this and sought, accordingly, to evolve a “fool proof” system of government.
That they failed is not due to a lack of foresight or effort on their part, but, rather, due to ignorance, greed, and perversity on the part of our Twentieth Century leaders.
We Americans are right now reaping the sad crops of this timeless and eternal principle, as our president and his congressional flunkies, enabled by the greedy and the stupid among the electorate, gather to themselves the reins of absolute power and use them to steer us to our destruction.
Now, we turn grains into fuel.
BTW, judging from your screen-name, the demise of Hostess brands must be hitting you hard. ;-)
@wralford GOP in both Houses should let the Demos craft all legislation and vote “abstain.” Let America experience unadulterated Obamanation #tcot
Given that the Left dominates the media, academia and entertainment industry, it is clear that it is impossible to even reach, must less debate with people who effectively use fear, envy and other base emotions to counter logic, reason and evidence.
Let us then give the American people a practical education.
During war the left side of the bell curve, the welfare class, tends to be killed off disproportionately resulting in a slight but measurable population IQ boost. Military need drives the "cutting edge" of technology. Later this new technology is commercialized leading to greater wealth. Short term, military spending leads to hardship but long term it leads to wealth. Instead most nations are destroyed by welfare spending. The United Kingdom is a spectacular example of this. Most history books are written by leftists so the consensus opinion is not tied to the truth.
Serious historical illiteracy.
Prior to the last 100 years, and in particular the last 50 years, few if any nations have a history of large-scale spending on welfare payments to the poor.
This thread posits the Roman Empire as a single example. I contend that this is a vast oversimplification of the empire's history, that even if we accept the annona as a primary cause of the empire's decline and fall, it took it 4 to 6 centuries to do its work.
I'd settle for another 4 centuries for the USA.
Care to provide a few more examples of the "most nations" that were "destroyed by welfare spending?" Since we're talking about most nations that have collapsed there must be a slew of examples.
I don't disagree with the premise that this is the way we're heading, I just believe that history provides few if any examples of it happening so it is of itself no guide.
458 years before 2012 was 1554.
Do you seriously contend there is a direct cause and effect relationship between anything that happened in 1554 and the events of this year?
Without looking it up, do you have a clue what happened that year?
Then how can you posit a cause and effect relationship over a similar timespan in the Roman Empire?
Possibly in recent wars, when the officers tend to lead from the rear, except for the most junior officers.
This was not the case in the past, when officers had to demonstrate their own bravery in sight of their men to get them to follow. For instance, during our own Civil War, the higher the rank the greater the fatality rate, with generals having the highest mortality of all on both sides.
Also in most wars through history the death rate was considerably higher among the civilian population than among the soldiery.
Finally, prior to this last century, I'd appreciate you providing some examples of this "welfare class." You keep using that word, but I do not think it means what you think it means.
A Democracy killed Rome. Rome's decline began when the rule of law in the Roman Republic dissolved into the rule of man in the Roman Democracy. Excessive governments merely represent the desire of the people.
The same fate has happened to all Democracies. Americas founder exercised extreme wisdom and good judgment writing Article 4, Section 4 in the Constitution.
We have access to all the wisdom that preceded us and the ability to use that wisdom to do wise things. We should not waste it. Intelligence is for creating things and creating solutions to problems. Wisdom knows what to create and wisdom knows which problems to solve. Intelligence knows a tomato is a fruit; wisdom knows not to put a tomato in a fruit salad.
Many Americans would be surprised to learn that the word Democracy does not appear in the Declaration of Independence or the U. S. Constitution. Nor does it appear in any of the Constitutions of the fifty states. The founders did everything they could to keep us from having a Democracy. James Madison, rightly known as the Father of the Constitution wrote in essay number ten of the Federalist papers, Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths. Alexander Hamilton agreed and he stated, We are a Republican Government. Real liberty is never found in despotism or in the extremes of democracy. Samuel Adams, signer of the Declaration of Independence, stated, Democracy never last long. It soon waste, exhaust, and murders itself. The founders had good reason to look upon democracy with contempt because they knew that the democracies in the early Greek city states produced some of the wildest excesses of government imaginable. In every case, they ended up with mob rule then anarchy and finally tyranny under an Oligarchy.
During that period in Greece there was a man named Solon who urged creation of a fixed body of law not subject to majority whims. While the Greeks never adopted Solons wise council, the Romans did. Based on what they knew of Solons laws they created the twelve tables of the Roman law and in effect built a Republic that limited government power and left the people alone. Since government was limited the people were free to produce with the understanding they could keep the fruits of their labor. In time, Rome became wealthy and the envy of the world.
In the mist of plenty, however the Roman people forgot what freedom entailed. They forgot that the essence of freedom is the proper limitation of government. When government power grows peoples freedom recedes.
Once the Romans dropped their guard power seeking politicians began to exceed the powers granted them in the Roman Constitution. Some learned that they could elect politicians who would use government power to take property from some and give it to others. Housing and welfare programs followed the introduction of agriculture subsidies. Inevitably, taxes rose and controls over the private sector increased. Soon, a number of Romes producers could no longer make ends meet and they went on the dole. Productivity declined, shortages developed and mobs began roaming the streets demanding bread and circuses from the government. Many traded freedom for security. Evidentially the whole system came crashing down. They went from a Republic to a Democracy and ended up with an Oligarchy under a progression of the Caesars.
Teddy Roosevelt on the Fall of the Republic
"The Roman Republic fell, not because of the ambition of Caesar or Augustus, but because it had already long ceased to be in any real sense a republic at all.
When the sturdy Roman plebeian, who lived by his own labor, who voted without reward according to his own convictions, and who with his fellows formed in war the terrible Roman legion, had been changed into an idle creature who craved nothing in life save the gratification of a thirst for vapid excitement, who was fed by the state, and who directly or indirectly sold his vote to the highest bidder, then the end of the Republic was at hand, and nothing could save it.
The laws were the same as they had been, but the people behind the laws had changed, and so the laws counted for nothing.
“This thread posits the Roman Empire as a single example. I contend that this is a vast oversimplification of the empire’s history, that even if we accept the annona as a primary cause of the empire’s decline and fall, it took it 4 to 6 centuries to do its work.”
I am in fact positing that encouraging dependency, confiscating production, debasing the currency and the government reacting to the resultant ill-effects by insinuating itself even further into the economy was the cause of Rome’s fall and threatens to destroy America from within.
I am in fact positing that making economic decisions in to political decisions is doomed to fail.
Under socialism, government owns the means of production — which ultimately is the citizenry itself. When you have the product of your labors expropriated, agglomerated and then distributed by an elite — be it a government or private entity — you are a slave.
Fascism [aka European Social Democracy] is another form of collectivism, but is distinguished by the fact that private property is tolerated only so long as it serves the State. Fascists view wages and personal property as allowances granted by the government on behalf of the collective. Hence they refer to take-home pay that is not expropriated by the tax collector as a cost. [”We cannot afford a tax-cut!”] They firmly believe that the State is the people and the people are the State [”we are the government”]. Therefore, the more powers the State has, in their view, the more empowered are the people.
Whether private property is tolerated or not, collectivism features the government allocating resources based upon a principle [other than supply-and-demand]. It may be “from each according to ability, to each according to need” or simply political cronyism.
So you may have a company that is only adept at getting politicians and bureaucrats to give them other people’s money. These companies are not going to be competent at much of anything else — hence Solyndra.
I pretty much agree with what you say, except the assumption that the history of the Roman Empire has much of anything to say about the future of America.
The Empire was a slave-based, non-technological, human muscle based economy. It’s difficult to think of anything at all its economy had in common with ours, except of course for pervasive corruption and cronyism. The Empire certainly did not have anything even vaguely resembling progressive taxation or extensive welfare.
In fact under the Empire the wealthiest people were generally exempt from most taxes.
Yes! It’s hurting. Not that I still ate Twinkies very often (that would be cannibalism); but used to eat them often - until I became one. :o)
That is very insightful. It appears we are transitioning into phase 3.
Let us not get too caught up in minutiae.
Yes, it was a different time, but the Obama administration is continuing a long line of Leftist Central Planning with the tacit assumption that they are “progressive” and therefore forward-looking. In fact, they are making mistakes that were made centuries ago.
They are exemplifying a mindset that distrusts popular will and consider it to be an impediment that must be thwarted if it cannot be manipulated. A government that is not legitimated by a popular mandate is always going to be a threat to the economy. If it is only possible to gain economic success if one also has political influence, the socio-economic order will be medieval; the vast majority will be poor, ignorant and disenfranchised lorded over by an arrogant and detached elite.
When their policies fail, they never take responsibility, blaming freedom instead. They are the ones who stand for the elite and it is the poor and middle class who will suffer the most. Only the super-rich can withstand the flat wages and soaring cost of living that result from collectivist statism.
What the current situation in America and throughout the Western world shares in common with Classical Rome is that this is unsustainable and our entire civilization can collapse as a result.
Indeed, on our present path, collapse is all but inevitable.
Pretty much this whole discussion has been about how “most” civilizations have collapsed because of excessive welfare payments to the non-working poor. This makes us feel all historically parallel to today.
The problem is that, as I have pointed out several times and nobody has attempted to challenge, no civilizations have collapsed for this cause, for the fairly obvious reason that such payments as a major contributor to a government’s expenses did not exist in the past. This type of government program is pretty much limited to the post-WWII period.
IOW, we’re watching the first time it’s happened right now. Greece, with much of the rest of Europe not far behind. And the USA somewhere in there.
I quite agree that the US (and European) systems are unsustainable. As, in the VERY long run, was the Roman system. But that’s pretty much all they have in common. True, the Romans at times attempted primitive forms of command economy control, but they were never able to sustain them for long, and such systems were NEVER based on the idea of funneling funds to make the lives of the poor more endurable.
As I assume you are aware, in the long run all governmental systems are unsustainable.
I am not saying “how ‘most’ civilizations have collapsed because of excessive welfare payments to the non-working poor.”
I am saying that “encouraging dependency, confiscating production, debasing the currency and the government reacting to the resultant ill-effects by insinuating itself even further into the economy” is what the article in the OP said brought down Classical Rome and threatens to bring down America and Western Civilization.
“systems were NEVER based on the idea of funneling funds to make the lives of the poor more endurable.”
That certainly was not the case in Rome, nor is it the case in collectivist West — including America. The social welfare state now and the dole system then was and is designed to mollify the poor and make sure that they were kept unable to take care of themselves. People who are able to see to their own needs have no need for social workers.
“As I assume you are aware, in the long run all governmental systems are unsustainable.”
All? A limited representative gov’t that has its legitimacy and authority based upon protecting freedom — rather than behavior modification/social engineering is eminently sustainable.
The founding of the United States of America showed the world that limited representative gov’t can work and ushered in the Industrial Revolution. Once it became possible to acquire economic success by effort rather than birth/cronyism, the creative power of the population was unleashed — to the benefit of all.
When I say all governmental systems are unsustainable in the long run, I’m talking about The Long Run.
I assume you would not expect the US Constitution to still be in effect in 10,000 years.
Even assuming we don’t kill ourselves off, governments are set up, as the Declaration basically says, to provide for the needs of the people and to protect their rights.
In a technologically advancing world, it is quite illogical to assume that an institution set up in the late 18th century will still be suited to human needs in the year 10,000. Or even the year 3000.
The Founders were pretty clear about their idea being to set up a government that would work for their society, with no claims that it was intended to last forever. There’s a shortage of Founder proclamations about Thousand Year Reichs.
not quite correct w.r.t. the last two world wars..
In America we have the impression today that many Jewish-Americans are pretty smart. They are doctors, lawyers, mass media and political puppet masters. That's because the Einsteins tended to get away. It was more of the slum dwellers that didn't fare so well. Likely evidence exists of a slight but measurable IQ boost among the surviving Jews compared to those alive before WWII. Jewish persecution driven by envy has been going on many thousands of years and today Jews disproportionately win Nobel science prizes. From a genetics standpoint WWII possibly precipitated the biggest measurable advance in human intelligence in 100 years.
well, there wasn't just one Roman system -- there was
Ok, the longest system is a dominate ruled by an oligarchy, but the problem is that it ends up with people selling out the nation for their own personal ends
historically that hasn't been proven. Many people don't want freedom -- as we saw in the last election. And Switzerland isn't a good example -- contrary to belief, Switzerland has had turmoil -- right from the first union of Uri, Unterwald and Schwyz it was initially under Hapsburg domination, then in 1797 it became the Helvetic Union dominated by France, then in the 1800s it had internal war between the rural and urban cantons.
A libertarian society can only function for one period of time in a vacuum.
What you gave the example of Einstein was of a German Jew. The largest percentage of Jews was in Central Europe and those, including the smart ones were slaughtered.
Also, jewish-Americans are mostly descendents of those who left before the holocaust -- in the late 1800s and early 1900s due to Russian pogroms
i'm still not convinced of your point of a genetic leap, but tell me more -- I like this debate. I would want to see some kind of proof. Maybe we can fix this on WWII for Jews in Germany? Or a more recent war -- say the Korean? Do you have any statistics for any war?
The smartest Jews seem to be a blend of Jewish/German brain architecture. For some reason Germany has been a hot bed of envy. They have special words for various forms of it such as gluckschmerz, sadness at another's good fortune, and schadenfreude, the opposite. Germans mounted "envy heads" outside their doors, monster heads meant to scare away the envious. Envy leads to tribal warfare which leads to IQ boost. The pride to envy to hate to murder process is the special evolutionary pressure that led humans to develop IQ far in excess of that needed to find food and shelter, an unusual pressure in that it leaves all other plants and animals largely untouched. Another property of this special pressure is it is finely regulated at a precise level to not increase the IQ challenge too fast.
Evolution is really a two step process: 1) something must develop something new, and 2) something else must die. Everyone seems to only remember step 1.
let me see if I can dig up the statistics