Monday, July 09, 2007

Modern Day Romans

A web page was sent to me via e-mail. I have thought for some time that we seem to have become modern Romans. The founding fathers of our country tried to set up a system of government that would prevent a repeat of history, but maybe some things just cannot be prevented. Maybe human nature is just too strong.

The web page is called How the Selfish Class Gains Power and Wealth. Here is a quote from that page:

The [Roman] Senators were so wealthy that there was little they could do to squander their wealth; there was also little they could do beyond enjoying it, getting even wealthier by the year, and holding public office. Of course public office also gave them the means and the information necessary to gain even more wealth and to avoid paying most taxes. There was one tax, specifically levied on the senatorial class, which they did not avoid, since it confirmed their class status, but it was insignificant. Public office also gave them the means to take advantage of any government spending when possible. In fact it was the best investment they could make.

Are our contemporary would-be "Senators" at all similar?

In the United States we have a founding myth of the "self-made" man, but social mobility is actually declining rapidly, especially at the highest levels of our society. The top one percent of income earners, and even more, the top one-tenth of one percent of income earners are gaining wealth at a rapid rate, while the bottom 90% of Americans are losing wealth in relative terms. The creation of a senatorial class, that is a wealthy class based on inheritance, connections and the power that goes with it, is progressing rapidly.

Does the existence of a dominant selfish class increase society's wealth? Free market apologists would have you think so, but if you look at the example of the Senators in the Fifth Century, the answer would have to be a resounding "No!"

The Senators couldn't help but be wealthy by the accidents of their births. Unless they were intentionally improvident they couldn’t help but become wealthier, and yet their wealth did subtract from the wealth of society as a whole. How did this work? Wasn't it true that if you did business with a Senator that you would gain wealth and that you in turn would create additional wealth when you did business with others? Wouldn't it also be true that since Senators had large amounts of wealth, their wealth would create little (or large) industries to service them? Didn't that add to total wealth? So goes economic doctrine, but it didn't work that way in the Fifth Century, and it probably doesn't work that way now.

The article is somewhat long, but it sets out the argument well. Here is the main page where you can find links to even more information.

1 comment:

P M Prescott said...

By the fifth century there became no tax base to run the empire on and that more than anything led to the demise of the Legion, public services such as roads, aquiducts and baths.
Another time period of analogy that defies the trick down theory is pre-revolution France.