Monday, September 16, 2013

Decline of Rome Parallels America

Rome did not fall in a day or a month or even a year but over decades. The decline of America has been underway for decades as well.  Rome reached its zenith under Augustus and it seems America reached its zenith under Eisenhower.  In fact most Romans were unaware that their society was in decline because one of the major problems they faced was so many outsiders clamoring to join the empire.  Today in America this is generally referred to as the “immigration problem” due to our porous borders.  Thousands of people are pouring across our borders seeking a better life, safety, work, and better conditions for their families.  For the most part these “illegal immigrants” are not well educated and have few skills.  This was true of the Roman Empire as well.  From the time of Caesar there had always been a problem with “Germans” crossing into Imperial territory.  This was never considered more than a small problem and as long as these immigrants worked hard and minded the laws no one cared.  But by the third century the Franks, the Saxons, the Vandals, the Ostrogoths, and the Visigoths where crossing into the Empire.  These people had few skills outside of their skills in battle and found it hard to assimilate into the structured Roman world.  The people illegally crossing into America today have become a flood and come from countries across South America and other parts of the world.  These illegal immigrants come with little education, few skills, and little knowledge of English, which makes assimilation into American life difficult and places a strain on the government programs.

But the Germanic tribesmen only became a problem for Rome long after the decline of Rome had begun.  With few skills the German warriors flooded into the Army and slowly began to transform the Roman Legions from a highly disciplined fighting force fighting in ranks to one using the German formations more suitable for their long swords and individual heroics.  The formidable American Army is not being weakened by an influx of foreign immigrants but it is being weakened by politicians establishing unrealistic rules of engagement.  The reality is armies are killing machines whose purpose is to crush the enemies of the state through all means possible.  But beginning with Viet Nam the politicians began to constrain the military for political reasons.  The Americans could not attack known Viet Cong supply routes or targets that would impact the civilian population.  The result was a humiliating defeat.  This same process is currently being applied in Afghanistan where the military is limited to military targets which are virtually impossible to distinguish form civilian ones. This politically correct control of the military impacts morale but reduces the effectiveness of the military in its operations.  Eventually the Roman Legions could no longer protect the empire and today the American military can not point to any victory since WW II.

Nevertheless the Roman Legions remained a formidable fighting force until the very end and the American Army remains a formidable fighting force even when being managed by poorly trained politicians.  But the decline of Rome was a combination of things just as the decline of America is the result of many things, religion being one of them.  Ironically the Romans like the Americas were very tolerant of religious beliefs.  While at various times the Romans did persecute the Christians that had many causes and was temporary.  While the Romans were tolerant of all religions the Christians were not which caused problems for the Roman government.  As Christian influence grew so did their intolerance.  Something similar is happing in America today except it is the Atheists who are waging war on Christianity with similar levels of intolerance.  This conflict between Christians and Atheists is also causing problems for the Government as the courts are increasingly being forced to decide on the rights of each group.  Frequently the courts are deciding in favor of the minority which causes unrest and reduces the credibility of the courts.

Once again the parallels with Rome can be seen.  The Roman courts were corrupt and for sale.  The Court system in America isn’t corrupt – at least not to the extent that the Roman courts were, but the American Court system is becoming increasingly politicized.  The courts are interpreting laws and the constitution in line with political polls or Supreme Court decisions.  However, the Supreme Court Justices are increasingly political appointees who “interpret” the constitution according to popular political positions.  Whether these decisions and interpretations are right or wrong is irrelevant because too often they are unpopular and do not represent the people.  The result has been the creation of the "right to not be offended" so the community as a whole must modify it's practices to accommodate the individual.  Once the law and the courts lose credibility with the majority the whole society becomes unstable.  This unrest is already visible in America today.

Perhaps one of the similarities between Rome and America lies in government and taxes.  Rome had a huge empire with all of the associated costs.  They had a large bureaucracy and a standing army of over a million men.  Like all governments Rome had to maintain (and pay) all of the troops, the administrators, maintain the roads, buildings, plus fund public works.  Like all governments these things were paid for out of tax revenues but as the Empire expanded the tax revenues were inadequate.  Of course the solution was to raise taxes on the wealthy.  This worked for a while but very soon they discovered that as the taxes increased the revenues went down.  Ironically later efforts to reduce the taxes did not translate to greater tax revenues because the wealthy were no longer wealthy and many had simply disappeared. 

The American tax system is more sophisticated than the Roman but the objective has always been to shift as much of the tax burden as possible to the wealthy.  This has worked for decades but the reality is it has worked because the government operates on borrowed money and a fiat currency and has not relied completely on tax revenues.  As the total number of taxpayers declines and the demand on the tax revenues increases the reliance on borrowed money and the printing press cannot be sustained,   Just like Rome the American government must maintain the infrastructure plus a military that is larger, more expensive, and more complicated than Rome’s.  These things cost money and the long term solution cannot be the printing press, but greater productivity and a good trade balance.

So is America in decline?  Is America following the pattern of decline suffered by Rome? Did America reach it’s zenith in the 1950’s?    America certainly has more technology and wealth than any other country but are we happier as a people?  Are you happy?  Obviously this is a matter of opinion but no one really knows that they are living in a golden age until it has passed and all that remains is the glow as it recedes into the past.

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