Print Blog Article

Roman Style America

Wed, Oct. 19, 2016 Posted: 03:41 PM


If only we’d learn our history, we might avoid repeating it—particularly Roman history.

Way back in the fourth century, B.C. leaders in the Roman government set price controls on wheat. When there were shortages, the government would buy up stockpiles and then sell it at a fixed price below market price.

Farmers were not able to do anything about the government control. Then the government took even more control and decided to give away grain to Roman citizens. With such a terrific deal for all the citizens, the farmers decided to just give up farming and head to the city for free food.

It didn’t take long for one-third of the Roman citizenry to be taking the hand-outs.

What to do with so much cost to the government? The Roman officials decided to just debase the currency. They soon learned that devaluing the currency came with a bite: inflation.

But whatever you do, don’t review the bad decisions, just compound them.

By A.D. 284 Roman Emperor Diocletian thought massive government spending projects were needed.

To undertake the massive increases in military spending along with huge building endeavors, and the bureaucracy to implement it all, he used forced labor and raised taxes to exorbitant levels.

Of course, projects of this size never come in under budget. Thus, it was necessary to debase the currency—again. Ironically, the government wouldn’t take its own debased currency for tax payments—the poor citizens had to pay with the real deal. And when they couldn’t, they became slaves to the state to pay the bills—on time.

Lesson learned? Not yet. By A.D. 301 the Edict of Diocletian became law. In short, the government controlled all the pricing, manufacturing, and sales.

Anyone caught producing or selling outside those controls were given a death sentence. History records how disastrous this was. Mobs and rioters were the norm.

Finally, the Roman Empire weakened and eventually became, well, history. Without a foundation of a free society with respect for individual rights and a free market, Rome was just another failed civilization.

But it does offer wisdom for those who turn to history for the lessons it can teach.

Karen Farris