When Elite Privilege Breaks


Finding parallels with Rome is a fun topic for writers, and just recently I came across some very interesting ones. They grabbed my attention, and they may grab yours as well.

These passages (in bold) are from The Rise of Western Christendom: Triumph and Diversity, A.D. 200-1000, by Peter Brown:

[E]mperor, military, and civilian populations alike needed the idea of a “barbarian threat” to justify their own existence.

Just as our grand states need terrorists to justify their existence, immigrants to threaten the populace, and outsiders to blame.

Note also that the “civilian populations” required a barbarian threat. That directly translates to today’s defense workers, intel agency workers, militarized police forces, and all the millions who’ve merged their identity with “our heroic protectors.” With no big threat, all of that becomes meaningless.

The peasantry had to increase production so as to earn the money with which to pay taxes.

Have you noticed how obsessively young people work these days? People talk about Millennial slackers, and there are some, but I see young families where both parents have to work full time, who work on their smart phones long after business hours, and who are taxed to the hilt without remorse.

My complaint with these millions is not that they’re slackers; it’s that they’re allowing themselves to be driven too hard. They shouldn’t take the abuse they do. They are working harder than their parents did… too hard.

Rome slowly lost its grip on the imagination and on the value systems of the inhabitants of the empire and their neighbors in the course of the fifth and early sixth centuries.

This is going on now. Who still believes in politicians as virtuous leaders? As noble statesmen? Who believes that school systems are serving the citizens rather than themselves? Who doesn’t have horror stories to tell about the police?

And how many people in other countries believe in the God-ordained, virtuous United States?

To the extent that Hollywood informs our imaginations, our Rome is holding on, but only because it more or less controls Hollywood. And that may fail as well; cracks may already be appearing.

[T]here was one thing the fourth-century Roman state did well, which was to extract money from its subjects.

This one is interesting, because while it’s true that our Rome is superb at skimming money from its subjects, it gets an equal or greater amount through what we can call for simplicity’s sake “money printing.” Rome couldn’t do that.

The collection of taxes offered unparalleled opportunities for enrichment for landowners, tax collectors, and bureaucrats. What was gathered through taxes was redistributed at the top, in the form of gifts and salaries paid in solid gold. This process created a swaggering new class….

Can you say, “top one or two percent”? And note that the money was “redistributed at the top,” precisely as now. Redistribution goes to the first hands at the spigot of printed money; to Wall Street, being the one and only destination for investments; and to those who purchase favors from the state. These people have indeed formed “a swaggering new class.”

So, putting all of these together, we get:

  • Fears, manufactured or otherwise, to keep the state thriving.

  • People overworking themselves to keep up with the burdens placed upon them.

  • People who no longer believe the myth of the glorious state and its righteous leaders.

  • States that excel only at stripping money from its masses and (now) creating it out of thin air.

  • Stripping the masses to redistribute money at the top, thus creating a new, luxury-purchasing class.

I think those are rather interesting parallels. And so are the consequences that followed:

[W]e end, around the year 600 A.D., with a world of smaller units, ruled by low-pressure states.

Decentralization, in other words; in my opinion a very good thing.

[T]he villas of the West had been turned into farmhouses.

Notice that the “elite dwellings” were now being turned into working buildings and non-elite dwellings. When centralization and enforced privilege break down, non-elite people return to prosperity.

[I]n one way, the barbarian invasions and the civil wars of the early fifth century did prove decisive. They broke the spine of the empire as a tax-gathering machine.

Here again, I think of money printing rather than tax gathering only. And if the fraying of our “empire” results in “breaking the spine” of money printing and tax gathering, many of us will be thrilled. And given that these systems can only remain intact if the populace is mindlessly compliant, breaking them may not be as difficult as it seems.

Within a century, they had overturned one of the “pillars of bigness” on which not only the court and the army, but the economy and the high pitched social structure of the later Roman empire [sic], had depended.

The pillars of bigness: One nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all, and so on. This self-congratulatory myth needs to be overturned if we ever hope to live in a sane, just world. So does “we’re the biggest badass on the planet.”

[I]f anyone was happy in the early Middle Ages, it was the peasantry. Freed at last from the double pressure of landlords and tax collectors, they settled back to enjoy a low-profile golden age.

As I’ve detailed in the subscription letter, the so-called “Dark Ages” were a period of liberation for non-elite people.

And how might we – the peasantry, the people of flyover country – feel about a world without tax collectors, money-scammers, and self-righteous oppressors? I think most of us would welcome it as a golden age.

So, there you have them. I’m not saying that all these parallels will turn out precisely this way, but they do make a very interesting model to work from.

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Paul Rosenberg

The Blow That Killed America 100 Years Ago

1913“There is a lot of ruin in a nation,” wrote Adam Smith. His point was that it takes a long time for nations to fall, even when they’re dead on their feet. And he was certainly right.

America took its fatal blow in 1913, one hundred years ago; it just hasn’t hit the ground yet. This is a slow process, but it’s actually fast compared to the Romans. It took them several centuries to collapse.

The confusing thing about our current situation is that America – and by that I mean the noble America that so many of us grew up believing was real – has long been poisoned. Its liver, kidneys, and spleen have all stopped functioning. Its heart beats slowly and irregularly. But it still stands on its feet and presents itself as alive to all those who would let their eyes fool them.

And I’m not without sympathy for those who want to believe. They find themselves in a world where politics is almighty, and where their comfort, prosperity, and perhaps their survival all hang in a delicate balance. They don’t want to upset anything, and questioning the bosses is a good way to get yelled at.

But just because someone wants to believe doesn’t make it so. We are not children and we are not powerless. We Producers should never be intimidated by those who live at our expense. So let’s start looking at the facts.

1913: The Horrible Year

For all the problems America had prior to 1913 (including the unnecessary and horrifying Civil War), nothing spelled the death of the nation like the horrors of 1913.

Here are the key dates:

February 3rd:

The 16th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, authorizing the Federal government to impose income taxes on individuals. An amendment to a tariff act in 1894 had attempted to do this, but since it was clearly unconstitutional, the Supreme Court struck it down. As a result – and mostly under the banner of bleeding the rich – the 16th amendment was promoted and passed.

As a result, the Revenue Act of 1913 was signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson in October. Income taxes began in 1914, with the government swearing (as in, “only a crazy person would say otherwise!”) that the rate would never, ever go higher than one or two percent.

And, by the way, the amendment was introduced by Senator Aldrich of Rhode Island, to whom we’ll come again shortly.

April 8th:

The 17th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, taking the powers of the states and transferring them to Washington, by mandating the popular election of senators.

Previously, senators were appointed by state legislatures, restraining the power of the national government. This change gave political parties immediate and massive power, nearly all of which was consolidated in the city of Washington.

The amendment was ratified in the name of restraining the rich and making government into a force for good. It was true that state governments were often corrupt, but the implied idea that Washington was pristine was and remains a bad joke. A structure featuring small, separate pockets of corruption is far less dangerous than one featuring a single, large seat of corruption, to which oceans of money are gathered. As Thomas Jefferson wrote:

It is not by the consolidation or concentration of powers, but by their distribution that good government is effected.

December 23rd:

Woodrow Wilson signs the Federal Reserve Act, which had passed Congress just the previous day. This system – called the Aldrich Plan, and promoted by Senator Nelson Aldrich of Rhode Island – gave a monopoly on the creation of dollars to a consortium of large banks.

The Act was passed, by the way, in the name of financial stability.

And Senator Aldrich? Wikipedia says this about him:

He… dominated all tariff and monetary policies in the first decade of the 20th century… Aldrich helped to create an extensive system of tariffs that protected American factories and farms from foreign competition, while driving the price of consumer goods artificially high… Aldrich became wealthy with insider investments in streets, railroads, sugar, rubber and banking… His daughter, Abby, married John D. Rockefeller, Jr., the only son of John D. Rockefeller.

I’ll leave you to connect the dots on Aldrich, his family, the Rockefeller banking empire (Chase Manhattan and others), high political offices (such as Governor and Vice President Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller) and so on.

The Combination

Here is why I say that these three changes of 1913 killed America:

They robbed every producer in America of their money and handed it to politicians.

Until 1913, ordinary people kept their money. Carpenters, grocers, and repair men were able to make business loans and to retire on stock dividends. Once the income tax came in, however, politicians were empowered to skim off more and more of their money, which is precisely what happened. While the modern skim is multi-faceted, the average producer is now stripped of half his or her earnings every year, leaving politicians to spend it.

They consolidated all power in Washington DC.

This is precisely what James Madison wished to avoid when writing the US Constitution. (Again, note the Jefferson quote above.) By depriving the states of their remaining power, the City of Washington had no opposition. Since then, the Washington government has taken over practically everything on the continent and is choking it to death… a lot like the city and empire of Rome before it.

They created a money empire that took over almost everything.

When you start talking about the immense power of central banking, people generally turn away from it, because it’s just too much to take. So, let me say it this way:

How much money could you make, if you knew precisely when interest rates would go up or down?

A lot, right? Well, that’s exactly the power that these bankers have – because they’re the ones who set the rates.

Then, with that money, and with that foreknowledge, how many politicians could you pay off? How many pieces of legislation could you buy? Through all the financial problems of the past few years, which is the one group that has been protected at every step? Ever wonder why?

I could add more, but I think my point is made. America, as we grew up thinking of it, is dead. Whether the carcass hits the ground in days or decades is almost irrelevant; it’s over.

The question that remains is what we’ll do about it.

Paul Rosenberg