Past & Present

If those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, how close is America to meeting her doom?

Roman Empire under Hadrian

Image via Wikipedia

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Fall of the Roman Empire

There were several reasons for the fall of the Roman Empire.

Each one interweaved with the other…

Decline in Morals and Values

Even during PaxRomana (A long period from Augstus to Marcus Aurelius when the Roman empire was stable and relativly peaceful) there were 32,000 prostitutes in Rome. Emperors like Caligula and Nero became infamous for wasting money on lavish parties where guests drank and ate until they became sick. The most popular amusement was watching the gladiatorial combats in the Colosseum.

Inflation

The roman economy suffered from inflation (an increase in prices) beginning after the reign of Marcus Aurelius. As the amount of gold used in coins decreased, the coins became less valuable. To make up for this loss in value, merchants raised the prices on the goods they sold. Many people stopped using coins and began to barter to get what they needed. Eventually, salaries had to be paid in food and clothing, and taxes were collected in fruits and vegetables.

Unemployment

During the latter years of the empire farming was done on large estates called latifundia that were owned by wealthy men who used slave labor. A farmer who had to pay workmen could not produce goods as cheaply. Many farmers could not compete with these low prices and lost or sold their farms. This not only undermined the citizen farmer who passed his values to his family, but also filled the cities with unemployed people. At one time, the emperor was importing grain to feed more than 100,000 people in Rome alone. These people were not only a burden but also had little to do but cause trouble and contribute to an ever increasing crime rate.

 

Urban decay

Wealthy Romans lived in a domus, or house, with marble walls, floors with intricate colored tiles, and windows made of small panes of glass. Most Romans, however, were not rich, they lived in small smelly rooms in apartment houses with six or more stories called islands. Each island covered an entire block.

Inferior Technology

Another factor that had contributed to decline and fall of the Roman Empire was that during the last 400 years of the empire, the scientific achievements of the Romans were limited almost entirely to engineering and the organization of public services. They could not provide enough goods for their growing population.

 

Military Spending

Military spending left few resources for other vital activities, such as providing public housing and maintaining quality roads and aqueducts. The empire had to begin hiring soldiers recruited from the unemployed city mobs or worse from foreign counties. Such an army was not only unreliable, but very expensive. The emperors were forced to raise taxes frequently which in turn led again to increased inflation.

HOW EXCESSIVE GOVERNMENT KILLED ANCIENT ROME

Bruce Bartlett- In Greece and Egypt economic policy had gradually become highly regimented, depriving individuals of the freedom to pursue personal profit in production or trade, crushing them under a heavy burden of oppressive taxation, and forcing workers into vast collectives where they were little better than bees in a great hive…

…The long years of war, however, had taken a heavy toll on the Roman economy. Steep taxes and requisitions of supplies by the army, as well as rampant inflation and the closing of trade routes, severely depressed economic growth…

…The expansion of the dole is an important reason for the rise of Roman taxes. In the earliest days of the Republic Rome’s taxes were quite modest, consisting mainly of a wealth tax on all forms of property, including land, houses, slaves, animals, money and personal effects. The basic rate was just .01 percent, although occasionally rising to .03 percent. It was assessed principally to pay the army during war. In fact, afterwards the tax was often rebated…the revenues of the state remained inadequate to maintain the national defense. This led to further tax increases, such as the increase in the sales tax from 1 percent to 4.5 percent in 444 A.D. (Bernardi 1970: 75)…

…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 (Bernardi 1970: 81-3). In short, taxpayers evaded taxation by withdrawing from society altogether…

…In the end, there was no money left to pay the army, build forts or ships, or protect the frontier. The barbarian invasions, which were the final blow to the Roman state in the fifth century, were simply the culmination of three centuries of deterioration in the fiscal capacity of the state to defend itself…

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