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How Mises Explained the Fall of Rome

How Mises Explained the Fall of Rome

An excerpt from Mises’ classic work, ‘Human Action’.

Observations on the Causes of the Decline of Ancient Civilization

Knowledge of the effects of government interference with market prices makes us comprehend the economic causes of a momentous historical event, the decline of ancient civilization.

It may be left undecided whether or not it is correct to call the economic organization of the Roman Empire capitalism. At any rate it is certain that the Roman Empire in the second century, the age of the Antonines, the “good” emperors, had reached a high stage of the social division of labor and of interregional commerce. What brought about the decline of the empire and the decay of its civilization was the disintegration of this economic interconnectedness.

Several metropolitan centers, a considerable number of middle-sized towns, and many small towns were the seats of a refined civilization. The inhabitants of these urban agglomerations were supplied with food and raw materials not only from the neighboring rural districts, but also from distant provinces. A part of these provisions flowed into the cities as revenue of their wealthy residents who owned landed property. But a considerable part was bought in exchange for the rural population’s purchases of the products of the city-dwellers’ processing activities. There was an extensive trade between the various regions of the vast empire. Not only in the processing industries, but also in agriculture there was a tendency toward further specialization. The various parts of the empire were no longer economically self-sufficient. They were mutually interdependent.

What brought about the decline of the empire and the decay of its civilization was the disintegration of this economic interconnectedness, not the barbarian invasions. The alien aggressors merely took advantage of an opportunity which the internal weakness of the empire offered to them.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

New Data Reveal the Hidden Mechanisms of the Collapse of the Roman Empire

New Data Reveal the Hidden Mechanisms of the Collapse of the Roman Empire

Alaric Sack of Rome
The reasons for the fall of the Western Roman Empire have remained a mystery for modern historians, just as for the Romans themselves. Yet, recent data from the Greenland ice core provide us with new data on collapse of the Empire, showing how fast and brutal it was – a true “Seneca Collapse.” Could our civilization go the same way? (above: the sack of Rome by the Visigoths of King Alaric in 410 AD).
The Ancient Romans never understood what hit them. Nor did later historians: there exist literally hundreds of theories on what caused the fall of the Roman Empire. In 1984 Demandt listed 210 of them, ranging from moral decline to the diffusion of Christianity. Today, some historians still say that the fall is a “mystery” and some attribute it to the improbable piling up of several independent factors which, somehow, happened to gang up together. 
 
Why is it so difficult to understand something that was so massive as the fall of the Western Empire? There is more than one reason, but one is the lack of data. We have scant written material about the last centuries of the Empire and very little has arrived to us in terms of quantitative data. Things are changing, though. Modern archaeology is generating astonishing results telling us a lot about the mechanisms of the collapse of the ancient Empire. For instance, look at this graph: (from Sverdrup et al., 2013):    
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Five Things You Should Know About Collapse

Five Things You Should Know About Collapse

The Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca was perhaps the first in history to identify and discuss collapse and to note that “the way to ruin is rapid.” From Seneca’s idea, Ugo Bardi coined the term “Seneca Effect” to describe all cases where things go bad fast and used the modern science of complex systems to understand why and how collapses occur. Above: the Egyptian pyramid of Meidum, perhaps the first large edifice in history to experience collapse. 

1. Collapse is rapid. Already some 2,000 years ago, the Roman philosopher Seneca noted that when things start going bad, they go bad fast. It takes a lot of time to put together a building, a company, a government, a whole society, a piece of machinery. And it takes very little time for the whole structure to unravel at the seam. Think of the collapse of a house of cards, or that of the twin towers after the 9/11 attacks, or even of apparently slow collapses such as that of the Roman Empire. Collapses are likely to take you by surprise.

2. Collapse is not a bug, it is a feature of the universe. Collapses occur all the time, in all fields, everywhere. Over your lifetime, you are likely to experience at least a few relatively large collapses: natural phenomena such as hurricanes, earthquakes, or floods – major financial collapses – such as the one that took place in 2008 – and you may also see wars and social violence. And you may well see small-scale personal disasters, such as losing your job or divorcing. Nobody at school taught you how to deal with collapses, but you’d better learn at least something of the “science of co,plex systems.”

3. No collapse is ever completely unexpected. The science of complex systems tells us that collapses can never be exactly predicted, but that’s not a justification for being caught by surprise.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

As the World Turns

As the World Turns

In the liberty movement, we often refer to the historical tactic of the Roman “bread and circuses” when describing the deliberate mass distraction of the public of today. In the era when Roman emperors supplanted the senate and dominated political and social life, it was deemed advantageous to create various forms of “entertainment,” often violent, in order to keep the citizenry preoccupied and thus less likely to physically act against the power structure as the empire suffered economic decline. The use of bread and circuses continues into our era, but the method has been refined and the manipulations have become in some ways more subtle.

For example, in ancient Rome the horrors of the Colosseum were meant to keep the public’s attention AWAY from the government. Today, the soap opera of government keeps people’s attention away from the true power brokers within global finance.

The White House itself has been molded into just another reality TV show, and mainstream media coverage has been relentless. With Donald Trump (no stranger to reality TV) at center stage, it is difficult for the citizenry to gauge what is politically legitimate and important. What we are bombarded with is an ever escalating drama between Trump, his staff, and the media, and instead of ignoring the theater many people are desperately seeking to interpret the meaning behind a show that is actually meaningless.

Every two weeks or so another episode develops in which Trump, playing the character of the brash and aggressive “populist,” fires one of his cabinet as if The Apprentice never ended, but was simply transferred to the Oval Office. Some people find this entertaining as it is Trump doing what he is most recently famous for doing. Those on the political left interpret this as reckless abandon and confirmation that their fears over Trump being ill suited to the presidency are justified. Still others in the liberty movement who originally supported Trump’s campaign are perhaps desperately looking for vindication. They wanted so badly to avoid the inevitable evils of a Clinton regime that they are now willing to give Trump a pass on almost anything, and they argue that the endless turnover in the Trump White House is Trump fulfilling his election promise of “draining the swamp.”

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Donald Trump: Wise Emperor or Condemned to Damnatio Memoriae?

Donald Trump: Wise Emperor or Condemned to Damnatio Memoriae?

About one year ago, shortly before the US elections, I published a post on Cassandra’s Legacy where I wondered what Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton would look like if they were Roman Emperors. I reasoned that the Roman Empire of the 1st and 2nd Century AD was facing many of the same problems which the American Empire is facing nowadays: declining resources, excessive costs, overextended military apparatus, and others. I concluded that Hillary Clinton might have resembled Emperor Trajan, who embarked on a difficult and ultimately self-defeating military attempt to expand the empire. Trump, instead, might have looked like Emperor Hadrian, Trajan’s successor, who took the opposite path: stopping all wars of expansion and consolidating the Empire within its borders.

One year after Trump’s election, it seems that my interpretation was correct. Trump is doing more or less what Hadrian did some 2.000 before him. Apart from not having engaged in new wars, Trump’s tax plan has a very transparent purpose, that of decoupling the US from the globalized economic system. (an interesting discussion on this point is provided by Dr. D. on “The Automatic Earth“). That may not be so apparent by listening to what Trump says, but the insults, the threats, and the outrageous behavior are mainly noise that masks the direction in which the Trump administration is trying to move – and it is like steering a transatlantic liner. It is slow.

In short, Trump is engaged in reversing the grand plan that the Neocons had devised in the 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union. At that time, the idea of a US-led World Empire seemed feasible and the plan was explicitly laid out in the “Project for a New American Century” published in 1996.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Rome: A Eulogy

Rome: A Eulogy

When we find ourselves in times of trouble, we could do worse than plunge into The Academy of Western Civilization.

So let me take you down on a stroll around the ultimate theo-geopolitical space: the Eternal City, a.k.a. Caput Mundi (“wonder of the world”).

In Adonais, Shelley urged “Go thou to Rome” and “from the world’s bitter wind / seek shelter in the shadow of the tomb”. What better refuge than Rome’s ruins, stressing loud and clear that fragmentation and mortality are mere illusion, and reality is enduring unity outside time.

Since Petrarch arrived from Avignon in 1341 to sing its praises, Rome in the Western mind has represented the ultimate threshold, the ultimate shrine. It’s still easy to picture Freud at the Forum comparing the vertical sequence of Roman ruins to the layers of memory in our psyche. Or Fellini in La Dolce Vita also interpreting Roman life as a vertical sequence, cinematically playing with images from different historical eras.

The mythical origins of Rome point to a resurgence of Troy vanquished by the Greeks. The foundation – and development – of Rome involves Mars as the father of Romulus and Remus, and Venus giving birth to the “gens Julia” of which Caesar sprang up. Greek-Latin antiquity is a formidable theo-geopolitical space. Vanquished in Troy, Mars and Venus got their revenge in Rome.

An empire lasting five centuries could not but still be imprinted in the Western psyche. It’s a pleasure to revisit Suetonius describing how Augustus embellished Rome for the glory of the empire. Or Lucretius, two centuries after Epicurus, presenting the world as issued from a flux of matter and composed by the congregation of every atom in the universe.

Our collective psyche is familiar with what happened after the reign of Marcus Aurelius; the Germans to the west and the Parthians to the east threatened the borders of the empire.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Euro – a disaster – failed monetary unions past and present

Euro – a disaster – failed monetary unions past and present

A glance at history

The beginnings of monetary union can be traced back to attempts to unify the coin standard. Emperor Augustus successfully unified the coins in the Roman Empire – for over 400 years the gold coins were minted almost exclusively with the seal of the Roman Emperor. The fall of the Roman Empire, caused among other things by its multiculturalism and multinationality, led to the disintegration of the state and to the deterioration of the coin value through a lower proportion of gold or silver. Until the 19th century, the fragmentation of the right to mint coins to the regional rulers led to the fact that the profit resulting from the creation of money from the difference between metal value and production costs and the value of the coins issued was no longer allocated only to a feudal ruler. In the 19th century, completely new methods of creating money emerged for the ruling classes – paper standards were gradually introduced. The paper standard should no longer be based on gold or silver parity, but should be secured by appropriate policy of the central bank, especially by influencing interest rates. In the 19th century, monetary unions were developed, on which the idea of the euro was based. All failed.

In 1865, the Latin Monetary Union unified the currencies of France, Italy, Belgium, Greece and Switzerland. A French franc corresponded to an Italian lira, which corresponded to a Belgian franc, etc. Greece and Italy were then as now debtor countries. The Union’s objectives were similar to those of the euro zone today: to simplify trade and make countries more competitive on world markets.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Rome’s “Empire Without End” and the “Endless” U.S. War on Terror

Rome’s “Empire Without End” and the “Endless” U.S. War on Terror

Replaying the Roman Civil Wars in Reverse Since 9/11

L’incendie de Rome, Hubert Robert (c. 1785)

That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

Three days after 9/11, as the Twin Towers continued to burn, a near-unanimous United States Congress passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). The lone dissenter, Representative Barbara Lee, warned that the resolution gave a “blank check to the president to attack anyone involved in the Sept. 11 events — anywhere, in any country, without regard to our nation’s long-term foreign policy, economic and national security interests, and without time limit.”

Representative Lee was right. In the sixteen years since 9/11, these 60 wordshave been used to justify at least 37 military operations in 14 countries under George W. Bush and Barack Obama alone, many targeting groups that played no role in the attacks. The Trump administration, too, continues to pursue covert military actions under the AUMF that only occasionally emerge into the news cycle — as with the mysterious deaths of four US soldiers in Niger this October. Expressing surprise at their presence, Senator Lindsey Graham, member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, acknowledged, “This is an endless war without boundaries, no limitation on time or geography.”

I felt a shock of recognition as I read Graham’s words. Earlier that evening, my graduate seminar on empire in the Roman imagination had discussed Jupiter’s prophecy in the first book of Virgil’s Aeneid:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Romans and Us. Why State Violence is on the Rise 

The Romans and Us. Why State Violence is on the Rise 


The Spanish police injured hundreds of people, including women and the elderly, during the referendum for the independence of Catalunya, in 2017 (image source). It was not the worst that states can do – and have have been doing – to their citizens, but it is an indication that state violence is on the rise. Perhaps we can find reasons for this trend if we look back at history, all the way to ancient Rome. The Romans were extremely cruel and violent, perhaps an effect of their reliance on slaves. In our case, we have replaced human slaves with fossil slaves (fossil fuels) but, as they are abandoning us, we risk to return to the violence of ancient times.

The more you study ancient Roman history, the more you realize how similar to us the Romans were. The economy, money, commerce, travel, bureaucracy, laws – so many things in our world find a parallel in the Roman world, even though often in a much less sophisticated form. So, if you were to use a time machine to be transported to ancient Rome, you would find yourself in a familiar world in almost all respects. Except for one thing: you would be startled by the violence you would encounter. Real, harsh, brutal violence; blood and death right in front of you, in the streets, in the arenas, in theaters. It was not the random kind of violence we call “crime,” it was violence codified, sanctioned and enacted by the state.

When we think of violence in Roman times, we normally think of gladiator games. Those were surely bloody and violent, but just part of the story of how the Roman state managed violence. The Roman courts meted capital punishment with an ease which, for us, is bewildering. Poor people, slaves, and non-Roman citizens were especially likely to be declared “noxii” (plural of noxius) and condemned to death.
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Homework Assignment

Poor old Karl Marx, tortured by boils and phantoms, was right about one thing: History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce. Thus, I give you the Roman Empire and now the United States of America. Rome surrendered to time and entropy. Our method is to drive a gigantic clown car into a ditch.

Is anyone out there interested in redemption? I have an idea for the political party out of power, the Democrats, sunk in its special Okefenokee Swamp of identity politics and Russia paranoia: make an effort to legislate the Citizens United calamity out of existence. Who knows, a handful of Republicans may be shamed into going along with it. For those of you who have been mentally vacationing on Mars with Elon Musk, Citizens United was a Supreme Court decision — Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission 558 U.S. 310 (2010) — which determined that corporations had the right, as hypothetical “persons,” to give as much money as they liked to political candidates.

This “right” devolved from the First Amendment of the constitution, the 5-4 majority opinion said — giving money to political candidates and causes amounts to “freedom of speech.” The Citizens United ruling opened the door for unlimited election spending by corporations and enormous mischief in our national life. Then-President Obama — a constitutional law professor before his career in politics — complained bitterly about the opinion days later in his State of the Union address, saying that the court had “reversed a century of law to open the floodgates, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections.”

And for the next seven years he did absolutely nothing about it, nor did the Democratic Party majority in congress. Rather, they vacuumed in as much corporate campaign money as possible from every hokey political action committee (PAC) from sea to shining sea, especially in the 2016 presidential election starring Hillary “It’s My Turn” Clinton.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Cycle of Civilization

COMMENT: Interestingly enough, in Switzerland the -in majority- leftish and Pro-EU government has been trying to push Switzerland into EU for years as you’re aware of.

Now the SVP is fighting against a new international contract, called “institutional agreement” which would give (amongst others) the EUGH the Supremacy Clause over Switzerland – end of Swiss direct democracy plus all still existing “state” rights (despite 60% – 80% of all new regulations/laws are already taken over from Brussels..)

REPLY: While the revisionists want to claim that the Civil War was only about slavery when in fact the overwhelming majority of Confederate soldiers owned no slaves, they say history is written by the victor not the loser. There is never a single reason for any war. Iraq was claimed to be protecting the people who Saddam Hussein was gassing. The weapons of mass destruction was thrown in for good measure to make it sound urgent when it was Dick Cheney and his greedy buddies looking for oil. Nevertheless, the Civil War was really part of the Cycle of Civilization. We band together creating large governments and then we disband and move back to tribal jurisdiction. This Cycle of Civilization has been going on for thousands of years.

Indeed, this trend is part of the Cycle of Civilization we must understand run the course throughout history of human existence. The Roman Empire took over states and absorbed them to dominate the Western World. Previously, those states suppresses tribes to create states with a central power. When Rome fell, it broke up not into states, but back into tribes and then feudalism. As invaders reemerged, then these feudal castles banned together for a common defense.

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In the Footsteps of Rome: Is Renewal Possible?

In the Footsteps of Rome: Is Renewal Possible?

Once the shared memories of these values are lost, the Empire ceases to exist; there is nothing left to reform or renew.
Is renewal / recovery from systemic decline possible? The history of the Roman Empire is a potentially insightful place to start looking for answers. As long-time readers know, I’ve been studying both the Western and Eastern (Byzantine) Roman Empires over the past few years.
Both Western and Eastern Roman Empires faced existential crises that very nearly dissolved the empires hundreds of years before their terminal declines.The Western Roman Empire, beset by the overlapping crises of invasion, civil war, plague and economic upheaval, nearly collapsed in the third century C.E. (Christian Era, what was previously A.D.) — 235 to 284 C.E., fully two hundred years before its final dissolution in the fifth century (circa 476 C.E.).
Meanwhile, the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire) faced similar crises in the seventh and eighth centuries, as its capital of Constantinople was besieged by the Persians in 626 C.E. and the Arab caliphate in 674 C.E. and again in 717 C.E. The invasions which preceded the sieges stripped the empire of wealthy territories and the income those lands produced.
In both cases, the Empire not only survived but recovered a substantial measure of its former resilience and stability. Fortune delivered strong leadership at the critical moment: leadership that was able to protect itself from petty, self-aggrandizing domestic rivals, force the reorganization of failed, self-serving bureaucracies, inspire the populace to make the necessary sacrifices for the common good, win decisive military victories that ended the threat of invasion, and generate a moral claim to leadership via personal rectitude and/or participation in a religious revival.
Absent such strong, stable, legitimate leadership, neither empire would have survived their existential crisis.

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The End Of Empires: Rome Vs. America: “The Populace Is Just As Stultified And Easily Distracted Now As It Was Then”

The End Of Empires: Rome Vs. America: “The Populace Is Just As Stultified And Easily Distracted Now As It Was Then”

obama-caesar

The year was 451, and the battle of Chalons (also known as Catalaunian Fields and Campus Martius) was fought between a coalition of Roman legionnaires, Germanic Visigoths, and Gauls against the Huns.  Flavius Aetius was the Roman commanding general, and he led his forces to defeat Attila, king of the Huns and commander of the Hun armies.  The loss caused Attila to withdraw and skirmish into Italy, but again (this time through diplomacy and concessions) he withdrew in 452, returning into what is now modern Hungary.  Attila died in 453, and the Hun menace to Europe had ended.

Aetius had been the declining (and fragmented) Western Roman Empire’s best chance to restructure itself.  He had fought in Gaul and throughout Italy and Europe for decades, sometimes even with support from the Huns before Attila began his quest for empire.  A master strategist, tactician, diplomat, and warrior, he effectively stemmed the collapse of the Western Roman Empire for another 25 years.  In all probability, he may have been able to turn things around for a longer period of time.

This was not to be, as he was assassinated by none other than the Emperor Valentinian III and his henchman Heraclius on 22 September 454.

The emperor killed the very man who had protected and assured his throne, and worse: now there was no true strategist to take the reins of military command.  The last great Roman general was no more, and the Western Roman Empire continued to decline and fragment.  Odoacer, a half-Hunnish barbarian general rallied forces to mutiny against their (and his) previous commander, Orestes, the Roman Senior military general, in the Battle of Pavia on August 23, 476.  Orestes was captured and killed.  Less than two weeks later, on or about September 4, 476, Romulus Augustulus, the last Roman emperor and the son of Orestes was deposed by Odoacer.

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The Three Stages of Empire

The Three Stages of Empire

I consider it self-evident that we are in the third and final stage of self-serving Imperial decay.
Though Edward Luttwak’s The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire: From the First Century CE to the Third is not specifically on the rise and fall of empires, it does sketch out the three stages of Empire.
Here is the current context of the discussion of Imperial lifecycles: the U.S. defense budget is roughly the same size as the rest of the world’s defense spending combined:
Luttwak describes the first stage of expansion thusly:“With brutal simplicity, it might be said that with the first system the Romans of the republic conquered much to serve the interests of the few, those living in the city–and in fact still fewer, those best placed to control policy.”
The second stage spread the benefits of Empire much more broadly:
“During the first century A.D., Roman ideas evolved toward a much broader and altogether more benevolent conception of empire… men born in lands far from Rome could call themselves Roman and have their claim fully allowed, and the frontiers were efficiently defended to defend the growing prosperity of all, and not merely the privileged.”
The third stage is one of rising inequality:
“In the wake of the great crisis of the third century, the provision of security became an increasingly heavy charge on society, a charge unevenly distributed, which could enrich the wealthy and ruin the poor. The machinery of empire now became increasingly self-serving, with its tax collectors, administrators and soldiers of much greater use to one another than to society at large.
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Donald Trump and the collapse of the Western Empire

Donald Trump and the collapse of the Western Empire

 
In this post, I argue that the ascent of Donald Trump in the US presidential race is a symptom of the ongoing breakdown of society, in turn caused by the loss of control generated by resource depletion. At the bottom of this post, you’ll find a simple system dynamics model describing the situation and generating another example of “Seneca Collapse” 

Donald Trump seems to have taken everyone by surprise. Whether or not he gains the Republican nomination, and whether or not he becomes president, he took the media by storm: people writing on blogs and newspapers are reeling from the impact, asking themselves: where the heck did this come from? What is he? A God? The reincarnation of Hitler? Or of Mussolini? The devil? Or what? Personally, I don’t claim to have been less surprised than most by Trump but, rethinking about the situation, I think it is reasonable to say that something like Trump was unavoidable. He is, really, best defined as the visible effect of the ongoing social phase transition. A discrete change in our path in the direction of collapse.

For a good number of years, I have been studying the reasons for the collapse of societies. And, at the beginning, I tended to explain it as mainly the result of the depletion of crucial resources; crude oil, in our case. But, the more I think about that, the more I understand that the relation between depletion and collapse is far from being straightforward.  A society can very well collapse without running out of anything; think of the case of the Soviet Union. When it collapsed, the Union had still plenty of mineral resources, but it couldn’t find a way to exploit them in a convenient manner.
…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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