Why Great Nations Fall- A look at Rome’s fall and what the US could learn

“History repeats itself, and that’s one of the things wrong with history.”  Clarence Darrow

This is a familiar quote to us all, but how often do you actually stop and wonder what we, as a culture or as a nation, are repeating?  As a self proclaimed history nerd, I like to look back over history and wonder what has happened before and what are the correlations to what we are seeing, living, experiencing today.

The United States is often seen as the greatest nation since what nation?  Rome.  Before Rome, there were several kingdoms that had practiced domination of the region.  There was only one that was as long lasting as Rome.  As a nation, Rome was founded on the republic ideology and with this as its backbone, it brought in a new era of innovation, economic progress, and expansion.  This was a country that lasted longer than any other kingdom did at that point in history.  So why did it fall?

Like Rome, the United States has held a similar torch of achievement until recently.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of similarities between where the nation of Rome found itself prior to its great demise and where we, as a nation, find ourselves.  Here are just a couple of similarities: economic mismanagement, societal entitlement, decay in the military strength, influx of varying cancers.  For this post, let’s look at the economic mismanagement and societal entitlement.

One of the major economic downfalls of Rome was inflation.  Emperors like Nero had debased the currency in order to keep up with the demand for coin.  By doing this, the true value of the coin was diluted to more of a representative value of the silver or gold it once contained.  When you add to this vice the overspending seen through several emperors, you see the gradual decline of the once economically sound nation.

In order to raise new revenue, the nation would often raise taxes or acquire new territory.  Rome’s wealth was originally in land, but this gave way to wealth through taxation.  As Rome continued its expansion, it quickly found itself out of territory to dominate and had to depend solely on the revenue generated from taxes.  This severely limited the amount of revenue coming into the nation and with the continued increase in spending by emperors and nobility trying to out do the generations before, this began a very dangerous collision with economic failure.  The weight of the tax burden fell largely to the middle class at the time. Rome’s wealth was originally in land, but this gave way to wealth through taxation. Ironically, the same is happening now.

In addition to this economic downfall, as a result in the increase of the tax burden for owning land and working it, the bulk of the population moved to the great cities to find work in a trade.  This left Rome weak due in large part to the forced dependence on other nations to produce its food.  This dependence was a consequence of its own doing, but also led to a weakened state of being since it could no longer consider itself truly independent.  Once the tear in the seam of the nation began, it slowly ripped the very fabric of the nations economy.

So, when you have a ton of people in the city without work, what happens?  Crime went up, begging went up, there were more protest against the wealthy and the list goes on.  In case you read that and thought I was referring to common day US I wasn’t, but you’re getting the point.  In order to try to keep law and order while providing for those in its cities, Rome began what it called bread and circuses.  That’s right, the general public would be invited into an arena and entertained while they received their daily portions of food.  This large crowd of people was not responsible for working for their food or paying for it, so as time went on, the beast known as entitlement began to overtake the nation.  The once proud, independent, economic powerhouse was beginning to have severe cracks in the foundation.  Add to that, the riots that would often occur when something go in the way of bread and circuses, then you have complete mayhem and a government trying to keep the peace at any cost, including, borrowing from the future.

Economically, in Rome’s last days, it was holding its empire as if it was built on strong marble when actually, it was being supported by 2x4s.  When one of those boards would break, the government would rush in to put two or three more in its place.  Over time, the boards began snapping quicker than the nation could replace them.  This opened this once great nation up to numerous other attacks both internally and externally.

If you were to look at the state of the union known as the United States, we have seen a similar decline economically.  We have gone from leading the world in innovation and economic sustainability to a nation dependent on everyone else for substance than itself.  Additionally, over time, our nation has perpetuated a sense of entitlement similar to that of Rome’s bread and circuses, but we call it welfare.  Truth be told, there’s nothing well about it.  Rather than letting the private sector economy correct itself, the government, like Rome, has continued to put one 2×4 after another under its cracking foundation.

Taxation has become so invasive, we, as once free Americans, find ourselves just bearing with the burden.  There is an entire sector of our nation who would rather go to the modern day version of bread and circuses and not have to work for anything they are given.  This slow chipping at what was once a republic can be seen throughout the last twenty years from the abuse of the welfare system to the current Occupy Wall Street (or as I like to call them, Occupy anything but a Job).

History, like the Grim Reaper on Dicken’s Christmas Carol, points its skeleton finger back to previous “once great nations” and harkens us to remember their mistakes.  We need reform.  We need to go back to the Republic ideals.  We need to remember our battle chant against taxes when we first became a nation.  We need to help motivate the generations coming to continue to build a nation rather sitting on their backsides waiting for a handout.  We need to remember Rome.

Join me as we continue to look at the other similarities between the fall of Rome and the sliding of America.

Trent Cotton has spent a number of years in management and business consulting. After spending some time in the field, he joined the HR department, beginning in recruiting and eventually serving as the Department Head of HR for one of the major lines of business. With such a varied background, he works to bring all of these together to help organizations incorporate best practices into their business to help them succeed. In his free time, he also writes a lot on his other blog, Christian Men, Christian Warrior.

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