Thursday, April 19, 2012

The More Things "Change"...

For those who have had a modicum of exposure to writings of the classical historians it becomes obvious that although history does not repeat itself there are similarities and parallels to present day events which are unfolding even as this screed is being composed. Although many scholars have an acquaintance with the works of  Edward Gibbon and his 6 volume magnum opus "History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" published between 1776 and 1788, Gibbon was forced to make use of centuries old primary sources and was not the first to opine on the causes of the disintegration of the first and greatest of the western hegemonic empires. A more contemporary historian and witness to the events attending the disintegration of the western Roman Empire was the pagan Greek Zosimus  who resided in Constantinople during the last decade of the 5th and the first decade of the 6th centuries.

By the 4th century, the Roman economy and tax structure were so dismal that many farmers abandoned their lands in order to receive public entitlements.
At this point, the imperial government was spending the majority of the funds it collected on either the military or public entitlements. For a time, according to historian Joseph Tainter, “those who lived off the treasury were more numerous than those paying into it.”
Sound familiar?
In the 5th century, tax riots and all-out rebellion were commonplace in the countryside among the few farmers who remained. The Roman government routinely had to dispatch its legions to stamp out peasant tax revolts.
But this did not stop their taxes from rising.
Valentinian III, who remarked in 444 AD that new taxes on landowners and merchants [the "wealthy"] would be catastrophic, still imposed an additional 4% sales tax… and further decreed that all transactions be conducted in the presence of a tax collector.
Citizens of the opinion that in 2012 governments do not concern themselves with such low level economic activity as yard sales, had better think again.  After all; "it's for the children" and the benefit of the local treasury.
Indeed, many citizens of the empire in lieu of abandoning their free holdings for flight to the cities sought protection from the imperial tax collectors by joining the cause of the invading Visigoths.
"Many Roman peasants even fought alongside their invaders, as was the case when Balkan miners defected to the Visigoths en mass in 378  and destroyed an imperial army sent to suppress them. Others simply vacated the Empire altogether."
In the later stages of the Roman Empire, emperors clipped the edges from circulated gold coins and used the shavings diluted with cheap base metals to strike new coins of the same nominal value. This occurred as the emperor decreed that taxes were to be paid with only unclipped coins. Compare this practice with the central bank printing up new banknotes backed by nothing and being the first to spend them before the economy has suffered price inflation caused by the increase in the money supply.
If you, dear reader see a similarity to the events described above and western civilization in this year of our Lord 2012, welcome to the party.

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