Rand Paul: USA crumbling like Roman Empire. Wrong. 2

JISHOU, HUNAN — The USA now is just like the Roman Empire before it collapsed, says Rand Paul, GOP nominee for Senator from Kentucky.

Wrong.

Here’s what he said to a Tea Party crowd in Shepherdsville:

"In the latter days of Rome, the economy was crumbling, the emperor ... would placate the mob with bread and circus -- food and entertainment to placate them since the economy was in shambles and dwindling around them," Paul told several hundred people gathered for the rally in a Bullitt County park.

 
"Now in our country, as our economy is in shambles, they give us Cash for Clunkers and a stimulus check and they tell us to go to the mall and spend your money and everything will be OK ... That's not how you become prosperous as an individual or a country," he told the crowd of supporters.

And the crowd cheered wildly, I’m sure. (“Yay! The USA is falling apart. Yay! Let’s go to Shoney’s afterward to browse the salad bar!”)

Comparing the USA to the declining Roman Empire is as sensible as equating President Obama to Adolph Hitler, the latter of which right wingers (like Glenn Beck) seem to do on a daily basis anyway.

Paul is partly right, the economy of the Western Roman Empire was in the crapper, but he conveniently skipped the reasons. (This is assuming he and his audience know anything about history, which I suspect is not the case.)

Let’s review.

At the height of its power, the Western Roman Empire stretched from Spain east to the (unfriendly) Persian Empire and the (mostly friendly) Eastern Roman Empire, and from northern Africa to the middle of Europe. To maintain this vast domain, the Roman emperors had to build roads and aqueducts, and maintain armies of legionnaires to keep everyone under control.

Rome had a lot of enemies. The Germanic tribes to the north, the Huns to the northeast, the Persian Empire and the Arabs to the southeast, the Gauls, the British, the Picts … the list goes on. Then there were all the people within the Empire who really didn’t want to be in the Empire.

To pay for all this, the emperor raised taxes … a lot. Apparently, Rome didn’t really produce anything; it filled its state coffers with plunder from the lands it conquered. But no further conquests meant no more plunder, and so the government had to tax, tax, tax.

Heavy taxes did two things: they drove tradespeople out of the cities, because food in urban areas became so expensive they left to grow their own in the countryside; and they made keeping marginal land under cultivation pointless, since any harvests could not cover the taxes on the land and crops.

Then there was runaway inflation, since the currency was devalued repeatedly. So Roman citizens were getting less bang for their denarii. There was no reliable imperial budgetary system. The slave economy meant there was effectively no middle class with any buying power. (Slaves can’t buy anything; rich folk don’t need anything.)

Then there was infighting within the military, which relied heavily too much on German mercenaries. And several plagues decimated the population.

Now let’s compare this sorry state of affairs with the USA.

Overextended? Nope. Although, our infrastructure is kinda falling apart.

Surrounded by enemies on all sides? Nope. Our biggest nearby “enemy” is Cuba, and then maybe Venezuela. At last report, Canada and Mexico still mostly liked us, possibly because we are not trying to invade them.

Need for a vast standing army to control a restless population? Nope.

Heavy taxation? Nope. Europeans get taxed a lot worse than Americans are.

Farmland being abandoned? Nope. Cities being abandoned? Well, sorta, but not as bad as Rome had it back then. Lack of a budgetary system? Nope. Slave economy? Not any more.

Military infighting? One general notably lost his job recently for stepping out of line. Mercenaries? There’s Xe, but fortunately its influence seems limited. Plagues? Only if people stop getting their kids vaccinated. (I see whooping cough is becoming a problem in southern California, because the unvaccinated kids are screwing with the herd immunity.)

True, the Roman emperors gave the masses “bread and circuses,” to distract them, but it was a waste of time and money. In comparison, Washington’s recent stimulus packages were admittedly just bandaid solutions for a serious economic downtown, but they weren’t a complete waste of money.

Ultimately, what really brought the Roman Empire to an end was an invading army marching into Rome and telling the emperor to get lost. I don’t see that happening in the USA any time soon.

So, basically, Rand Paul is wrong. Again.

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2 thoughts on “Rand Paul: USA crumbling like Roman Empire. Wrong.

  1. Reply Elfer Jul 4,2010 1:46 pm

    Good points. However, the Roman capital at the end of the Western was located in Ravenna, not Rome. The late Roman Empire had limited abilities to collect taxes because of the fragmentation of its authority, the empire was a puritanical Christian state, and had not staged “bread and circuses” type entertainment for nearly a century before its end.
    Finally, there was no army that deposed the last Roman emperor, merely a local king, who in a bloodless coup, replaced the Emperor with himself. Unfortunately, the Eastern Roman Emperor declined to recognize the new “Emperor”and the façade of an imperial government disappeared.

  2. Reply eljefe Jul 5,2010 8:46 am

    Elfer –

    Thanks for the corrections. Ancient history is not my strong suit. The Empire had a multitude of problems that led to its demise. Collecting taxes was but one of many. (Here, the IRS seems to be much more effective. Sigh.) There was no “bread and circuses” entertainment because there was probably no money (and perhaps no audience) for it. Besides, throwing Christians to the lions was quite a bit out of fashion by then.

    Maybe we can say I was being metaphorical about an army marching into Rome, uh, Ravenna. (Shh! Don’t tell anyone I was wrong in the literal sense.) I do vaguely remember now that the imperial capital had moved from Rome, but such details escaped me when I wrote the post.

    In any event, Rand Paul was even more wrong than I was, and that’s saying a lot!

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