There is no exact time that anyone may point in the history of the Roman Empire for attributing the beginning of that empire’s collapse because the factors added up over time. The factors were so apparent to some of the Romans that from time to time a politician would try to make changes but the corruption in the Roman Senate was by that time so complete that the only idea for change might come from a benevolent dictator. Let us examine the Roman Empire and the United States because there seems to be a number of similar factors at work in both instances that should raise concern. The comparison Roman time is about 170 B.C. and the United States time is 2014.
Let us examine some Roman Empire factors that lead to their demise and apply them to the United States now to see if there are similarities or not.
Greek and Romans valued civic virtue and this may have propelled their societies into greatness. Civic virtue is when most of the citizens in a society participate and decide the future of their nation as best as they can. Each citizen has the right and duty to participate in the political process. Over time the power of the people in the Roman Empire was taken away through mechanisms that the growing rich class applied through their wealth.
The United States in 2014 it was determined that a political elite overtook the political process. Civic virtue opportunities were pulled away from the vast majority of Untied States citizens. This determination was documented in a research study that was published, Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens by Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page. Please note that this research is based on the views of the citizens of the Untied States. It is how they feel about their country. They seem to have been subjugated by the political process and might no longer be in possession of civic virtue.
It is humane nature that everyone seems to work for their own best interests. They surely take this attitude into the voting booth with then when they case their ballot. If you apply this “rule of selfishness” to the population of a country you should see that the selfishness of all of the people really works best for the nation. If a nation allows the selfishness of just a few to rule then the rest of the people fail to feel they are a part of the country, part of the process, part of the rewards and failures. A country is an organization structure with geographical boundaries who’s purpose should be to function for the betterment of all its citizens.
Rome became a hugely wealthy empire as the results of winning battles and collecting booty and then taxing conquered lands. This resulted over time in a growing class of citizens that used their wealth to pay for election results in the senate and sway the government to serve their elitist needs. Population figures for how many oligarchs ruled did not achieve correctness until about the second century A.D. which is recorded as approximately 600 Senators made up the elite and 30,000 men made up the second tier of the aristocracy. Rome had a population of about one million. “The slave population of Rome approached 500,000 on its own, probably half of which were owned by the 600 men of the Senate.” So one can only imagine the exact numbers for 170 B.C..
Many of these rich people were also able to buy huge tracks of land because, in those times this was the best way to hold and keep wealth. The Roman Senate slowly became corrupt in that it served the needs of this rich oligarchy because the empire gathered great wealth and naturally some individuals gained immense portions of it through some corrupt political processes such as bribery and using connections.
The United States has gained great wealth from its wars in the form of arm sales to other countries and increased trade. Out of winning any war with a country it gains political influence. The United States will not occupy a country like Rome did but instead leaves a political system in place that is friendly toward the US. The US will even will prop up that government so long as it follows the policy wishes of the US including arms sales.
The United States is one of the most wealthy countries on the planet but it has continually decreased the tax rate for the wealthy individuals and corporations while adding to the tax rate of the middle and lower classes. This is one factor that has led to the decrease of the middle class. This wealth transfer has been used to diminish national civic virtue in the middle and lower classes.
Quite similar to Rome, the United States the huge agribusiness has also made the small farm unprofitable.
Quite unique to this century and not for ancient Rome is the factor of technology. “Ancient Rome was an agrarian and slave based economy whose main concern was feeding the vast number of citizens and legionaries who populated the Mediterranean region.” Quite unlike what may have happened in the Roman Empire the United States today has a vast complex technology and part of this construction has allowed for foreign workers to take jobs out of the United States. Many employment positions have moved off shore because some tasks can be done by phone from another country at a much lower cost.
In Rome as more lands were conquered and less Italian men were available to fight, soldiers from other countries were enlisted as replacements. The increase of foreign soldiers was one more factor toward the demise of the Roman Empire. It is true that workers in India, for example, do not count toward the this counties civic virtue factor but, in both cases there is one less person to support the nation in this respect.
Technology, in the form of automation, has removed large numbers of workers form the work force. The corporate elite quest for maximizing profit is more important than employment. Robots do not vote, can not strike, and do not require over time or benefits. This is just one more example of loosing another civic virtue person out of our population.
Another devious ploy by the ruling class is to declare workers as management and not pay for extra hours worked. Thus a single individual might put in the hours that normally it would take two people. This practice helps keep more people from being employed.
Most recently it was reported that in California middle class jobs are in contraction. Lower, entry level jobs have increased to make the employment numbers seem high.
In both ancient Rome and in the United States today there is an increase in wealth and power in the elite class while the yeoman citizen is struggling.
A natural method for the oligarchy to apply control over the Roman Senate was to pay for elections. Paying for election results by rich Romans cemented in place a separate class of citizens that were not beholden to rest of the Roman citizens needs.
The United States “Supreme Court” ruled that United States oligarchs can spend as much money as they want to influence elections. (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 2010). Two “Supreme Court” justices allegedly attend events that are put on by two of the riches men in the United States.
The election process in the Untied States is based on money; who can raise the most money and spend it wisely to gain political office and thus resulting power and influence that is applied in accordance to who funded the campaign. The ideal of one person one vote is non existent in the United States.
Ancient Rome had a governing body called the Senate where the senators were following the wishes of the oligarchs.
The United States now finds that the legislative body is not yet fully corrupt but dysfunctional.
The Roman Empire party grew out of the yeoman farmer, small plots of land that served the needs of a family and were effectively the means of employment, substance and personal value. The men on those farms had a idealistic stake in being a soldier and wining wars to save their nation. Needing men to fight wars to expand the empire allowed these small farms to be swept up by the rising oligarch class because there were so many huge drawn out campaigns. By 170 B.C. a whole class of people, the yeoman farmer, who effectively served the civic virtue population, were diminished. The individual Italian who once had a business, home and family was now a professional warrior who had allegiance to his commander. The Roman Empire failed to offer benefits but his commander did and thus loyalties shifted.
In Rome Italian agribusiness grew with cheap slave labor that competed with the small farmer to such an extent that the small farm could not compete.
In the United States, there are stark similarities. It is the business model that a class of people, called stockholders, can own a company by purchase, not work a minute toward making it a profitable, gain value from other peoples work. The company will try to maintain near poverty wages by thwarting unions, adding automation, cutting benefits when they can all to the point to raise the value of the company for the people who own it by legal means.
In the United States a whole laundry list of mechanisms are used to make big business bigger and diminish the smaller start up enterprises.
In the United States some businesses have become too big to fail.
Influx Of Slaves
The concept of civic virtue totally fails anyone who works as a slave. You work for your master and not the country. The Roman Empire gained a huge influx of slaves that were purchased to work for the more wealthy class of people on large farms. Humane labor wages decreased. Small farmers could not compete. This was one more factor that seems to have aimed the Roman Empire downward.
In the United States it is estimated that we have 18,000 slaves still being bought and sold now. This is such a low number that it should not impact the social political trajectory. The way we treat our minorities, typically new arrivals to this country and are classified as being in poverty could place this population into a real low level of feeling or exercising any civic virtue.
Following is one of many examples of the United States taking action that puts workers close to the level of slavery: “ The unions that represented workers at meatpackers were busted and strikebreakers (mainly migrant workers from Mexico) were brought in to operate the slaughterhouses and meat processing facilities. Pressure from fast food chains for lower prices resulted in sharply lower costs for raising animals and a vast increase in the speed of the slaughtering and butchering. Today, the meatpacking industry has some of the lowest-paid jobs in America.”
Some Romans did realize that their social political system was begin corrupted and tried to make changes. Tiberius Gracchus tried to pass a land law to restore the small farms but the now wealthy land owners using their wealth and bribes were just as stupid as our current rich class in not correcting the course they were on. He was put to death by the rich.
The United States is still a most powerful county on the planet. There are two attack points that can diminish its current empire ranking. The first is external arising from any future conflict with China, Russia or Iran. The point of this article is to make you aware that there is another way under appreciated factor that entails the citizens of this country.
Updated September 26, 2020