Welfare State: Will America Suffer the Downfall of Ancient Rome?
The fall of the Roman Empire was one of the most dramatic and drastic events in history. The Roman Empire had amassed a great nation that spread three continents, created new technology and innovations that served as ancestors of modern industry, and established the political foundation of the modern western nation.
However, the last Emperor of Rome, Romulus Augustus, was toppled from power in 476 CE. What happened to have brought such a behemoth down? How did this impact their world and our own? But most importantly, what can we learn from it?
The Fall of Rome has been quite the interest piece of scholars and historians for some time. Historians have researched the problem and often place the blame at their decadent nature. The Romans had become vain and hostile people, thinking themselves superior to others. A small class of elites (1%ers) owned much of the land and enslaved large segments of people.
The Senate was there for show with real power being vested in the Praetor. This individual often came to power by some awful political maneuvering and sometimes through murder. In essence, the average historian blames it on rich people unilaterally controlling the country, the corruption and negligence of government, and the income gap between them and the rest of society.
However, this assertion seems to be too pointed and gives hints of the personal bias that often wafts within the scholarly community. These were issues of the Empire, to be sure, but they were not the causes of its decline. Instead, the Fall of Rome can be boiled down to a single word: Welfare.
The Roman Empire did indeed have an income gap but not between the wealthy merchants and their workers, but between government officials and their people. The Senators and Praetors of Rome amassed great personal fortunes from taxation and crony capitalism. This was in addition to the fact that the Roman political structure had gone from being a democratic republic (to an extent) to an autocratic rule. Why would people allow their freedoms to be taken away while simultaneously allowing themselves to be abused? Because most were stuck in “welfare slavery”.
Beginning in the 1st Century CE the Roman government came to the realization that the people posed a threat to their gravy train. They decided that the best way to ensure continued, unopposed control and prevent political uprising from the populous laid in a greater control of the people in their everyday lives.
They established Panem et Cercenses (Bread and Circuses) where the government would spend large sums of money supplying free food to the poor and sporting events to keep them interested in things other than the erosion of their freedoms.
To do this, they continually had to raise taxes which often led to a continual growth in the “takers” at the expense of the “makers”. It got to a point when government spending became untenable but there was no getting out. Some Romans had for generations been on welfare and knew no other way of self-sufficiency. To do away with the program would invite political backlash. So instead they neglected their institutions. They downsized the military and subsidized it out to German tribes.
They devalued the currency from a coin having about 94% silver in it to a coin with about .02% within a century. This led to hyperinflation, price hikes, and wealth flight to the east (where the economic situation was not as bad). These in turn were the reason the Germans were successful in their overrunning of Roman territory and its eventual defeat.
How does giving welfare equate to welfare slavery, you might ask? I pose to you this. What is the relationship between master and slave? A master provides the slave with a place to live, food, water, and basic amenities. The slave provides the master a lifetime of labor and service.
Now look at it from the government’s perspective. They will take money from others to provide these basic services to you. Why? Is a politician habitually a philanthropic humanitarian or shameless, power hungry shyster? They use welfare to keep themselves in power and people ignorant or apathetic to their corruption. Just as it was in Rome, so shall it be in the United States.