Times are Bad
There is a very popular quote floating around on the internet at the moment being used to illustrate a point. The quote is from the famed Roman speaker Cicero. In it he says,
“Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book.”
You see it is hilarious, because that is what everyone is saying right now!
It is also incredibly sinister because he said that just before the fall of the Roman Republic and the beginning of what Europe knew as the Dark Ages. There are a few other things of note to mention about that time that might set alarm bells ringing in your heads.
Everyone in the empire was racked with massive personal debt that was making it impossible for people to progress in life, keeping them pinioned in fearful situations and stifling any attempts at creativity. No new businesses were being created and Rome as a whole was suffering for the lack of innovation. It actually got so bad that laws were being brought before the senate to abolish all personal debt, to let the Empire recover from this tangled web that it had strung itself up in. Needless to say the wealthy upper class Optimate party were not amused at the thought that they might lose out on all of that hypothetical money and interest so they hired some young gentlemen with clubs to discourage voters from the other side of the argument from attending the forum. The laws did not pass.
Earlier even than the major debt crisis, the Roman Republic ran into a more immediate problem relating to the consolidation of wealth. The laws of Rome said that to serve in the Roman Legions you had to be a full land-owning citizen. Unfortunately those personal debts had come into play over the years and the vast majority of property was now owned and rented out by a minority of incredibly wealthy individuals so Rome was left with no standing army. Nobody had a stake in their country any more. They were just people that happened to live there, not Roman citizens. As a military culture this was a problem that could not be ignored in the same way that the later economic depressions would, the laws were changed so that every man who served in the Roman army would in fact be granted a parcel of land as a reward for their service, generally in one of the freshly conquered territories. This law was passed under the guidance of a gentleman known as Julius Caesar, someone who was much more interested in making Rome a power to be reckoned with than pandering to the dead weight of his country’s already bloated upper classes.
By saddling the lower classes with insurmountable debt Rome crippled itself as a world power and by passing an ancient version of America’s GI Bill the Empire grew to dominate the world. Just some food for thought in the upcoming election year, after all, “Times are bad.”