The Thinker

Fraying at the edges

From this point on, Rome had to support herself without the wealth of the eastern part of the Empire on which she had previously been able to draw. Yet the vast bureaucracy which that wealth had spawned and the 300,000-strong army it had funded were both still there, and the only way to support them was by raising taxes.

So began a chain of events which was to lead to the fall of the Western Roman Empire within less than two hundred years, destroyed by it own taxation system. Higher taxes devolved on to tenant of either land or building as higher rents. After a time the tenants had less surplus with which to support their families, so the birth-rate fell. At the same time, administration and collections of the new taxes demanded more bureaucrats, and in order to support them taxes had to raise again, so the population declined further. It was this descending spiral that ruined the West, as the economy faltered and began to grind to a halt.

James Burke
“Connections”, 1978

Life is keeping me very busy, too busy to blog in any meaningful fashion. However, I did find the following excerpt from James Burke’s Connections interesting. I see many parallels with the current state of the United States.

The combination of the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire survived for about a millennium, a remarkably long period. The United States has been a republic for 234 years. Although never officially an empire, since its ascendancy at the end of World War II, the United States has carried many of the traits of empires.

Unlike the Roman Empire, high taxes are not currently our problem. At least our federal taxes are currently lower than they have been in generations. Rather, deficits are a symptom of our own republic fraying at the edges, as is the political disunity now in Washington. Curiously, deficits are not really buying us the services that we need to remain an empire. Much of it is going toward unproductive uses, such as needless wars in foreign countries, inefficient health care delivery systems and wasteful agricultural subsidies.

Considering the Roman Republic and Roman Empire existed for a millennium and we have existed for but two hundred and thirty four years, it is reasonable to wonder how much longer our empire has. From the looks of things today, unless we get ourselves together, prioritize what is important and find more productive ways to achieve our aims rather than through force of arms, it may be a much shorter period than we think.


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