Steffan Molyneaux has vary long, but vary scary video on the fall of Rome and it’s parallels to today. It’s Santayana’s curse all over again. this rather long video is rather chilling and Steffan does resort to polemic, but he is not wrong in seeing the same sort of things repeating themselves. After all. I’m seeing the tax and spend death spiral happening right here where I live. Time after time, once the largess starts it’s almost impossible to escape the trap until it collapses.
Steffan is by no means the only one seeing the parallels.
The date traditionally assigned to the Fall of the Roman Empire is 476 A.D., when Odoacer marched on Rome and deposed the last emperor.
But Rome’s internal decline began long before then. As Will Durant famously said, “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself within.”
In his 1899 classic Roman Society in the Last Century of the Western Empire, Samuel Dill described some of the signs of this internal decline. The signs listed in the following paragraph eerily mirror some of the same things America is currently struggling with:
“In this chapter we shall try to discover the more deep-seated causes which, far more than the violent intrusion of the German invaders, produced the collapse of society which is known as the fall of the Empire of the West. A careful study of the [Theodosian] Code will correct many a popular and antiquated misconception of that great event. It will reveal the fact that, long before the invasions of the reign of Honorius, the fabric of Roman society and administration was honeycombed by moral and economic vices, which made the belief in the eternity of Rome a vain delusion. The municipal system, once the great glory of Roman organising power, had in the fourth century fallen almost into ruin. The governing class of the municipalities, called curiales, on whom the burdens of the Empire had been accumulated, were diminishing in number, and in the ability to bear an ever-increasing load of obligations. At the same time, the upper class were increasing in wealth and power, partly from natural economic causes, partly from a determined effort to evade their proper share of the imperial imposts, and to absorb and reduce to dependence their unfortunate neighbours. In this selfish policy they were aided by the tyranny and venality of the officials of the treasury, whose exactions, chicanery, and corrupt favouritism seem to have become more shameless and cruel in proportion to the weakness of their victims and the difficulties of the times. And while the aristocratic class were becoming more selfish, and the civil service more oppressive and corrupt, the central government was growing feebler. It saw the evils which were imperilling the stability of society, and making provincial administration a synonym for organised brigandage. Its enactments abound with full and accurate descriptions of these disorders, and fierce threats of punishment against the criminals. But the endless repetition of commands, which were constantly being disobeyed, was the surest sign of impotence. The decay of the middle class, the aggrandisement of the aristocracy, and the defiant tyranny and venality of the tax-gatherer—these are the ominous facts to which almost every page of the later Code bears witness.”
The society Dill describes in the last century of the Roman Empire is one burdened by increasing gaps in wealth, a declining middle class, tax evasion, corrupt politicians, cronyism, and the loss of self-government among the people.
Now the modern world is not Rome. We are lucky in that we had the industrial revolution and the wealth that was created and is still being created, though at a diminishing rate as the various kinds of taxing and rent seeking schemes absorb the economy. But the drive of entrepreneurship can only be stifled so much before the flames go out. When it becomes easier to game the system than to create new and better products and services the rot comes quickly.
The last eight years have had far too much of the former and far too little for the latter. Perhaps the best most recent example is the Epipen scandal. Only in a society where connection and cronyism are the way things are done would something like that have happened at all. What that drug company did was an effect, not a cause of the current cultural and economic rot. That kind of thing is repeated across the economy in millions of small and large tax farming schemes. All to the detriment to those trying to produce the things the country needs to maintain the people’s standard of living.
No where is the rot more visible than in the cities that the connected elite use as their playgrounds. Cities like San Francisco where apparently instead of dog poo on the sidewalks, it’s human poo. Which the city can no longer afford to clean up.
I have to wonder when the Romans really realized that the end had come. When the water stopped flowing in the aqueducts? When the grain ships stopped coming from Egypt? Apparently Rome went from a population of about a million to a population of 50,000 in a very short time. Was there mass famine or did the people just leave one way or another? Of course the city and the Western Empire were dead long before any Germans or Huns showed up.
We here in the US already have plenty of collapse. Entire cities have been leveled, not by plundering armies, but instead by greedy and incompetent governments unable to keep their hands out of people’s pockets until the pockets all went away. My state Connecticut, rather than admit that thing are so screwed up that the state is essentially dead, are trying to bribe large companies to stay. Perhaps if the state hadn’t set it up so that it’s impossible to start, grow or run a business we wouldn’t be looking the black hole in the mouth.
It isn’t just one state. It’s the entire country and if the policies that created the problems do not change, well we can look to the fall of the Western Roman Empire as a happy time compared to what’s going to happen. We’ve come so far and risen so high, but if people do not understand that none of it’s permanent, we will still fall.