Nov

29

 Rome: an Empire's Story By Greg Woolf gives and excellent review of the reasons and history of the rise and decline of Rome's empire which was kept relatively intact for 1500 years. The rise he attributes to efficiency, trade, and military success. The fall he attributes to weak alliances with neighboring countries to rule the provinces, and lack of incentives to produce from the provinces. I find many parallels to the present. The good news is that it took 1500 years to disintegrate.

Steve Ellison writes: 

I am partway through volume 1 of Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. There was little incentive for the emperor to rule for the benefit of his subjects rather than for his own pleasure. Rome became a military kleptocracy after the murder of Commodus in 192. The armies knew they were the source of power and demanded an exorbitant price for their support, beginning with the Praetorian guard's murder of Pertinax and subsequent auction of the throne to the highest bidder. Frequently contending for rival generals to seize the throne, Roman armies put more energy into fighting one another than fighting the enemies on the frontiers.

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

Details, details:

"Romans imagined [the empire] as a collective effort: Senate and people, Rome and her allies, the men and the gods of the city working together." This continued as Rome passed from the Republic to the Caesars, who were kings "even if [Romans] could never bring themselves to call them by that name." It is "a history of remarkable stability. If it was largely true that (as one historian has put it) 'Emperors don't die in bed,' it was also true that the murders of many individual emperors seem to have done little to shake the system itself."

Since "decline and fall" is the current meme, one should hardly be surprised that publishers and their authors want to cash in on the latest craze. (That is all publishers ever do; and authors, poor things, are usually desperate to oblige.) Professor Woolf should have resisted the impulse. He certainly knows better. The "collective effort" he describes is a complete fairy tale. The Empire never even developed a common language; our "classical" education notions are based entirely on the fact that rich people had too know Greek because that was the commercial language of the eastern provinces — which was where the money was. Latin was for the inscriptions on the public buildings and for the official orations and the school examinations but the "common" people continued to speak their own tongues. Even the Army relied on whistles, drums. and flags for its "commands" when it took to the field. This explains why Latin itself became almost instantly obsolete even south of the Rubicon. No one writing about the Hapsburgs, who did manage to keep their own Empire running for a good long while, would ever have offered up such fictions about "court and people, Vienna and her allies, the men and gods of Vienna working together". But, we have enough information to know that the court spoke French in that Holy Roman empire. The beauty of Roman history is that there are so few actual facts that survive that one can make the story whatever one wants it to be.

Jim Sogi writes:

The key is "1500 years". It's not going to fall apart in the next 100, that's for sure.

Gary Rogan writes:

The difference is that they couldn't do state borrowing in anywhere near the same proportion to their GNP as the US can. It also took less than 100 years from the peak, however defined to really difficult times. And as "mr. grain's" article demonstrates in less than 200 years from the peak free people were volunteering for slavery to avoid taxes, an inflation rate of 15,000% was experienced, free employees were essentially made into slaves at their places of work, and women, children, and parents were physically hauled off and abused to get to the tax evaders. All due to overspending and overtaxation.

Also for whatever reason they limited the free grains to a relatively fixed number of people, and the amount was small for quite a long time. Their modern equivalents today with a much more advance education in economics talk about redistribution with such excitement and such lack of concern for where this is all going that would make Nero proud (I mean the part about fiddling while the Rome burned, except they are not fiddling but setting the fires).

Vince Fulco writes:

I am still trying to understand how a society flourishes with reported median family incomes stagnant or below that of a decade ago? And there is no sign the worker is gaining any bargaining power. Sure the govt can artificially tinker with rates reducing the carrying costs but someday existing debt must be paid; at least at the consumer level. It is debt assumption for non-producing overpriced (after debt service costs are added in) consumer goods which will kill this country.

Tim Melvin writes: 

I agree with that to a large degree…..crony capitalism at the expense of everyone else is a cancer in any society….the problem is not capitalism exploiting the workers. it is the complex and intertwined relationship of business and government that does us the most harm. Eisenhower was right.

Anonymous adds:

Tim,

I think the malignancy has metastasized much deeper than that, and now sits in a kind of acid bath (the pending "fiscal crisis') where all else is peeled away and we see it clearly (in fact, the fact that people seem to NOT see this clearly is evidence of its metastastization) and it is this: Our society — at every level — is characterized by a desire for more rules, and an exception of those rules for ourselves.

Talking different tax rates is a carve out. The argument that the elderly should get a carve out. The birth control carve out. The government worker's salaries untouchability as a carve out.

How about when the White House issues exemptions to Obamacare?

Affirmative action is a carve out. All corporate socialism is a carve out. Every bill passed by Congress does not apply to them. I call that a carve out!

The white lady's sinus-snort lament, "This is RIDICULOUS!" always pertains to her being denied her attempted exception carve-out to the rules.

That's the cancer. The cure would take a lot more than Mitt Romney, and likely cannot be cured by a single individual.

History doesn't exactly repeat, usually, an incident is followed by another incident of similar cause but differing results and often differing in duration. I don't think we're going into a 1,000 year long dark ages. I think we're racing headlong now to something far more sudden and shocking, and bigger than any one man or political party can purge from our psyches.

Jim Sogi writes: 

I used to think the revolution was just around the corner, society was fragile and was about to come apart. Not now. Look at NYC and Sandy: that was an amazing comeback. The recession was bad, but the economy is slowly coming back. Things are not bad now. In the 1940's there was nuclear world war. Japan, Germany, Europe came back. Russia fell apart, but now is back. China killed 10s of millions, but came back strong. People are resilient and social systems are strong. The apocalypse is Hollywood and journalistic bogus hokum ballyhoo.

David Lilienfeld writes: 

The same is true of the US post-Civil War. Nothing before or since has had the social and economic impact that that war had. The US is more adaptable than Rome was. As Peter Drucker often observed, the US genius is political.

One of the signposts that Rome was done was when it was no longer able to rely on client states for security. That isn't the case now with the US.

A better paradigm for guidance might be the Persian Empire.

Gary Rogan writes: 

I keep coming back to the debt issue, the current size, and the ability and desire by "the powers that be" to accumulate more at an astonishing clip. Four years ago I predicted a debt-driven collapse that Rocky chided me for so much, and while the timeframe now seems indeterminate, what IS the way out without a currency collapse and all that follows in those types of situations? The bond vigilantes are not too concerned, and they know all, but what is it that they see? Can they see far into the future or are they playing musical chairs? 

David Lilienfeld adds: 

I'm reminded of the comment by Jim Carville, Bill Clinton's political advisor. In a re-incarnated life, he said, he wanted to come back as the bond market. "It can intimidate anyone it wants to."


Comments

Name

Email

Website

Speak your mind

2 Comments so far

  1. Ed on November 30, 2012 1:26 am

    Thinking about how long “it” lasts is beside the point. You could say the roman situation lasted 1500 years, but that viewpoint might just be hindsight. What “it” was they had at each point might have died 20 times over that 1500 year period. Each generation seems to see their world dying as they age and die. It might not have always been true and certainly was not true in say, tribal Africa, but it has been true the world over for 100’s of years now. The generation in old age now have lived during a phenomenal bridge period. The nation they were born into are either gone or almost gone. The “USA” is no longer their “USA”. and the future use will not be “our USA”.

    The generation that knows nothing but a police state does not miss the former where they could greet relatives at the airport gate with no trouble and avoid being groped and/or viewed naked by a government employee. Those who know what has been lost at some point die.

  2. FrParlentAuxFr on December 4, 2012 7:33 pm

    @ Gary Rogan
    There is a quote in French “Quand le sage designe la lune lĀ“idiot regarde le doigt”.

    It could be losely translated as:
    ” When the wise points to the sky, the idiot looks at the finger”.
    You can do the same with the US bond market, the Fed purchases point at a yield, but the idiot looks at the finger doing the purchases. Call me an idiot, but I would know that the treasuries are repudiated not by its price but by the quantities purchased by the Fed.

Archives

Resources & Links

Search