People Were Looking for the HBO Series

By December 26, 2007Economy, Taxation

The Financial Times has released the list of its 10 most read stories in 2007 according to its website. NRO has the list here:

1. Learn from the fall of Rome, US warned
2. Chinese military hacked into Pentagon
3. Iran on course for nuclear bomb, EU told
4. Google’s goal: to organise your daily life
5. Pelosi backtracks on Armenia ‘genocide’ bill
6. Industry caught in carbon ’smokescreen’
7. Vista marks end of an era for Microsoft
8. Memo to Obama: win Iowa or lose the race
9. Gates warns on US immigration curbs
10. Globalisation backlash in rich nations

Fascinating that the story about GAO Comptroller General David Walker’s demographic and fiscal admonitions ranked first. We’re generally sceptical of stories comparing the United States to Rome — it’s a good subject for a best-selling book, sure, but one that lends itself to glib and facile analyses. Or really forced ones, depending on the author.

Besides, everyone knows it was overtaxation that caused Rome’s fall.

UPDATE (8:10 p.m.): And bloggers are emulating Caeser.

UPDATE (3:10 p.m. Friday): Welcome, holiday readers from Instapundit, and thank you, Professor Reynolds. In case you’re interested, the phrase “fall of Rome” has indeed appeared in rock ‘n roll lyrics — Elvis Costello, of course, back when his preachifying was more metaphorical.

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Mikey NTH says:

    There was also the governmental problem of every general imagining himself the next emperor. With the threat of constant civil war and the damage these coups and attempted coups did to the provinces and the Legions, Rome had a severe problem.

    Which emperor am I supposed to obey today?

  • tioedong says:

    Fall of Rome? Don’t forget the weakening of the West from very well known medical problems:
    Lead Poisoning, malaria, Justinian’s plague, possible mini cold age/famine…did I leave anything out?

  • Protagonist says:

    Joseph Tainter’s The Collapse of Complex Societies is informative on the Rome = USA fallacy. Rome fell because of diminishing returns from the process that built it–military conquest and patronage to its citizens from the spoils thereof. It simply ran out of stuff to conquer, yet maintained the same conquering army that needed to be fed and paid.

    Despite heated rhetoric saying otherwise, the US does not engage in true wars of conquest. War does not pay off for the USA, and never has. Instead, Tainter suggest that the USA maybe better compared to the Mayan civilization: a peer polity among others which had to maintain huge administrative and cultural/monumental institutions to prevent external threats or internal dissolution.

    If the US did collapse, it’d be for the better and would cause more efficient acting by peoples and governments. It would probably dissolve into 50 or so different polities, with relatively peaceful relationships and uniform laws and culture. Laws would be few and strictly enforced among these states, with a general “Constitution” that would be honored more in the breach than in the observance.

    Another scenario is the “Chacoan” society, where individuals just drop out of society en masse rather than live in a stifling polity with onerous civil duties and limited opportunity for fulfillment. This would occur if there was some huge development in technology (think Star Trek-esq replicators and supercomputers) that gave a viable alternative to depending on other people for material wealth or personal growth.

  • Shannon Love says:

    Military over extension is a myth.

    Empires rise when they have a lean and relatively egalitarian government and social order. They fall when they lose those competitive advantages. That’s all there is to the story in every instance.

    Creeping bureaucracy, centralization of power, the loss of egalitarian culture and merit based promotion and leadership doom empires, not over extension.

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