This Lady Makes ME Feel Ignorant!

31 08 2009

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For instance, did you ever wonder why the USA grew so quickly after World War II into the most prosperous nation on earth?

… even though the only other developed countries that existed then, Japan and the countries of Europe, were mostly broke and unable to buy our products?

This has always been something a mystery to me.

Please see this post by Ms. Patrice Ayme for the most likely answer:

http://patriceayme.wordpress.com/2009/08/30/where-anti-americanism-comes-from/#comment-914

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Here’s another post from the know-it-all Ms Ayme, who does, in fact, seem to know a very great deal about a lot of things:

http://patriceayme.wordpress.com/2009/01/31/small-state-great-depression/#comments

What’s convenient for me about this second of Ms Ayme’s posts is that scattered among the many sweeping assertions in it are some that I can competently evaluate. The main subject Ayme addresses that I know something about is the ancient Roman Empire. And what she says about how that empire fell seems right to me, according to knowledge I’ve gleaned from  reading good scholarly studies of that fall.

In 27 b. c., Roman Emperor number I, Augustus, emerged from a civil war to create the Empire and then rule it magnificently. For more than 200 years the Empire remained prosperous and relatively peaceful. But by 300 a. d., the Empire had  stopped expanding, had debased its currency, and had rigidified socially.

The Empire’s long land border, running overland for thousands of miles like a jagged noose thrown around the Mediterranean far from its shores, and constantly exposed to enemies and barbarians all along its length, required a huge standing army to defend it.  A steady, massive flow of money was required to support that great military establishment and the imperial government.

As long as the Empire was expanding, new conquests constantly brought in new money from pillage and from heavy taxes and tributes on newly-conquered peoples. But eventually the Empire stopped expanding, a long-standing practice of debasing the currency led to persistent inflation, and the Imperial government responded by increasing internal taxation. Wealthy Roman business owners responded to that development (and to the high costs of labor and materials in and around the city of Rome) by exporting their capital and their enterprises to the borders of the Empire, where taxation was easier to escape and wages were lower.

Those ancient “entrepreneurs” found good markets on the periphery.  Stuff the owners fabricated could be sold there about as easily as back in Rome because many of the peoples on the periphery of the Empire had been conquered, civilized, and thereby put on the road to greater prosperity by the Romans centuries earlier!

In response, the Imperial government continually raised taxes on those farmers, fabricators, and merchants it still had under its complete control in Italy and environs. The amount of blood that could be sucked from those turnips continually went down, though, as the increasingly economically-deserted Center made less and traded less. And as the unfortunate stay-at-home Roman craftsmen, et al., struggled to survive or escape, the state put into effect new laws  that held them to their farms, crafts, or businesses. Like some divorced fathers today who have large child support obligations to meet, farmers and craftsmen of all sorts in Italy were not allowed to quit!

Meanwhile, Rome’s financing of its imperial arrangements was being weakened by another disintegrative factor. Great agricultural estates that had always existed in the agrarian parts of Italy grew ever larger as they absorbed the land and labor of small farmers who failed, and the skills or mere hard labor of craftsmen who went on the lam from their effective slavery to the Roman state. As those estates grew, they became increasingly independent of the Roman central government and the surrounding economy, beginning to turn gradually into the forerunners of the almost completely independent feudal estates that would characterize Western society after the fall of the Empire.

In the late imperial period the owners of these immense estates increasingly managed to resist paying the heavy taxes the smaller fry did, and as a result of that factor and the earlier “escape” of business and skilled work to the periphery of the Empire, both the Roman central government and the  Roman army became weaker. The now-anemic Roman state could no longer afford the immense price of fully defending its border.

Continually pressed against the Empire’s northern and northeastern borders by the unstoppable Huns from central Asia, barbarians made continual inroads, and military conflicts within the Empire became harder to put down. Things slid predictably downward.

In 330 a.d. the capitol of the Empire was moved by the the Emperor Constantine to his new city of Constantinople (now Istanbul) in the East. The Empire was essentially divided into a western and an eastern empire, with the western empire being the weaker part.

In 410 a.d. Rome was sacked by the Visogoths.

Constantinople survived as capitol of the Eastern Empire, with its hold on that empire continually diminishing.

This rough summary of what I’ve read* about the reasons for the fall of the Roman Empire essentially confirms what Ms Ayers say about the empire in her second blog post referred to above.

Advantage, Patrice Ayme!

By the way, dear reader, does the above sorry scenario from about 1700 years ago sound at all like anything you see going on around you here in the 21st Century?

And do you also see the differences?

Hints:

Where are our Huns and barbarians?  Seen anything of the Evil Empire recently?

How much do the nuclear submarines we’re still buying now that the E. E. is gone still cost us?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia_class_submarine

Does Osama bin Laden have a nuclear submarine fleet?

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*This post has summarized the analysis presented in the best, most coherent study of the decline and fall of the Roman empire I’ve ever read:

The Awful Revolution—The Decline of the Roman Empire in the West by F. W. Walbank (Univ. of Toronto Press 1969)


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