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Rome Wasn't Burnt In A Day

Politics / Global Economy Apr 24, 2014 - 03:50 PM GMT

By: Andrew_McKillop


The Sack of Rome

With highly suspicious precision on dates, and disputed by many sources, Wikipedia gives the date of Rome's fall as August 24th, 410 AD, following a two-year siege. In fact, Rome had been falling for a long time. It had fallen in different ways at different times, but at each event and in each of the run-up intervals, the Roman Empire had suffered repeated economic and monetary crises, and partial recoveries. The Sack of 410 by the Visigoths can be called the definitive or final fall of Rome but, here again this was in no way an overnight event. The complete loss of Imperial power and its exercize from the city of Rome is placed by many historians at about 435-445 AD. The process of terminal decline and fall therefore took at least 25 years.

Today's virtual empire of economic growth, starting in the 1970s, will probably follow the same process of firstly petering down, and then out, on a very similar timeline.

Wikipedia is forced to note that the “final siege” of Rome, by the Visigoths, was a restrained event “by the standards of the age”. The city of Rome had in fact been de-populating for decades, pushed out by Rome's declining wealth and ever more valueless and debased money, and pulled towards the expanding eastern area of the Empire and Roman North Africa. The will to fight had gone. The Visigoths of course ransacked and burnt some key symbolic buildings, in 410, but mass exodus from Rome was a later event, mainly due to simple lack of food supplies coming into the city.

The western and northern Roman Empire had collapsed, in reality, long before through a potent double action of economic decline and elite corruption. One example was that well before 410, entire Roman Army legions in the hinterlands were listed as full-strength on official rolls in Rome, and payrolls were issued accordingly, but these legions only existed on paper: corrupt officials pocketed the payroll for phantom legions. Rome's Emperors had become increasingly degenerate, and often mentally sick. As one example, the feeble-minded Emperor Honorius, at the time of the Aug 24th, 410 sacking, is said by the historian Procopius as taking the news of “Rome being destroyed” to mean that his pet chicken, called Roma had died and had cried out: "How could that be? She just ate out of my hand."

Not The Eternal City

The very first recorded sack of Rome is dated by historians to about 386 BC, but the previous sieges and invasions had been followed by what we call “economic recovery”, and by good luck. The Empire had grown, sometimes very rapidly. Each initial cull of wealth in conquered lands – followed be renewed economic and monetary decline – had enabled the Empire to shudder forward. Growth, therefore, was physical and geographic, but was only fleetingly economic.

The imperial system or model, and its economic base were in today's terminology “non-performing”.

Nothing uniquely sets apart the process of imperial decline, of Rome, and the decline of other empires. On the one hand there is failure of the imperial growth model – territorial conquest and short term or once-only wealth gains from pillage – and on the other there is institutional decline featuring elite corruption, nepotism, ruling class schizophrenia, and even madness. Study of “imperial reach”, in all historical time, from the Mongol Empire to the British Empire as well as preceding empires and today's Empire of Growth, tends to prove that the faster an empire grew, the faster it declines and contracts after it has “peaked out”.

In addition, in some cases the economic engine of decline was more important than the role of degenerate and corrupt elites, but in every case the two ran together. There was institutional decline, as well as economic.  Because of this fatal certainty, the fact of imperial decline is already an explanation for the so-called “multipolarity” of today's world, also featuring the Virtual Empire of globalization, the hegemony of the dollar, the cult of economic growth - and the increasingly-frenetic or desperate attempts to “revive growth”.

The Empire of Growth

Thomas Piketty's book “Capital” has correctly been described by several critics as an IMF-friendly set of arguments and proposed solutions for restoring growth to the global economy, and especially to the G7 countries. The sole target of restoring growth reflects the dire straits of G7 economies –  mired in stagnation and extreme debt and unemployment, and clearly dragging down the rest of the world's economy. Piketty contrasts the “Victorian capitalist model”, of almost zero wealth taxes and very low income taxes, with today's tax burdens. The Victorian model enabled the wealthy elite to pass on almost all of their amassed wealth, to their offspring. They were able to perpetuate capitalism.

This “tax paradise” is utterly impossible today. Big Government has big debts, and vast spending programs to finance, also. Piketty's “nice answer”, for the IMF and Big Government is to set, or increase the rate of wealth taxes where they already exist, because of what Piketty rightly identifies as the extreme or fantastic wealth in-equalities that exist today. This “wealth redistribution”, he asks us to believe, might restore economic growth after it has been shuffled into, and then out of government coffers. Ultra Keynesianism!

Unfortunately this is complete nonsense. Big Government will only, can only dilapidate wealth. When we turn to the “institutional decline” component of the decline process, we can be sure and certain that when Big Government gets even bigger, it also gets even more corrupt – as well as structurally inefficient. The Piketty book is however – with no surprise – popular among the elites and their glove puppet media, because he even dares to suggest that new and powerful wealth taxes would be “one-off wealth culling” taxes.

This is simply a joke. The respected economist Robert Gordon has well developed his “Growth Blip” theory, as a way to explain declining economic growth since at latest the 1970s. This concerns the technological and industrial components of falling growth, apart from or as well as institutional decline. The cult of Innovation has now become a pastiche version of earlier and real innovation. The clearest example is today's “recycled and reheated” dotcom boom, recycling gimmicks of early 2000-vintage which provide no real wealth increment at all, for society. This is virtual growth, and that is all.

Some critics have simply dismissed Piketty's plea as a 2014-version of the 1936 book by J. M. Keynes, his “General Theory”, but the major role of institutional decline in the 2014-version is nakedly obvious.  The same crony capitalist-big government elites which engineered and enabled, as well as pretended to be shocked by the 2008 crisis - are now believed to have been “self-reformed”. Almost any speech by Christine Lagarde peddles this absurd fairy story. The reformed elites will steadfastly set out to restore growth. You have to believe!

Mafia Economics

The IMF in particular beats the drum for wealth taxes as a way to “restore government finances”, as well as “reducing economic inequality and reviving growth”. In fact, Big Government is desperately sinking in its own debt, that it created, and is grappling for any quick one-time cull of wealth it can imagine is available. In fact, through the central bankster elite, all major world moneys have been trashed, which contrary to the elite's hope, directly results in average citizens wanting to save more, simply from fear. Tiptoeing away from the brink of disaster – a time hallowed elite waltz at the abyss – takes the IMF-approved escape route of punishing the simple act of having any savings at all, in the more-extreme cases such as the Cyprus bail out.

Piketty's Victorian wealthy classes, we can note, were able to pass on their savings to their offspring, but Ultra Keynesianism now decrees that All Savings are Evil.

In Victorian times the resort to Imperial conquest as a wealth culling exercize was elite-approved, but unfortunately and rapidly led to the Imperial Powers fighting among themselves – which was only to be expected, if not by the rather stupid elites themselves. Many historians describe World War I in those terms, but the major leaps of technological and industrial innovation directly following that World War, as described by Robert Gordon, enabled the ultra-rapid economic growth of the 1920s.

To be sure the banksters, brokers and traders followed that with the 1929 crash – easily called a “pure financial crash” and the very likely model for the coming crash – but they had had strong following winds. Today there are almost only headwinds.

The IMF and its coterie of approved authors and its Official Thought betray the at-least 25-year decline of institutional integrity. We are now invited to welcome the prospect of savings being taxed, to enrich Big Government, which will hand over a lot of its windfall gains to the casino-playing elite operating and massively rigging all financial markets. This will restore growth! We cannot be certain that Christine Lagarde has a pet chicken called “Roma” (or “Kiev”) but it is surely and certainly dead and the news will come very, very soon. The approximate 25-year shelf life of redundant “empires”, in this case the flimsy and failed Growth Empire, is now almost over.

By Andrew McKillop


Former chief policy analyst, Division A Policy, DG XVII Energy, European Commission. Andrew McKillop Biographic Highlights

Co-author 'The Doomsday Machine', Palgrave Macmillan USA, 2012

Andrew McKillop has more than 30 years experience in the energy, economic and finance domains. Trained at London UK’s University College, he has had specially long experience of energy policy, project administration and the development and financing of alternate energy. This included his role of in-house Expert on Policy and Programming at the DG XVII-Energy of the European Commission, Director of Information of the OAPEC technology transfer subsidiary, AREC and researcher for UN agencies including the ILO.

© 2014 Copyright Andrew McKillop - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisor.

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