Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Economic policy in the Roman Empire

In the Preface of The Social and Economic History of the Roman Empire, Rostoftzeff summarizes his findings. I quote here only the part of his summary which seems to me to be the basis of economic policy, and the conditions and assumptions upon which policy was based, starting on page xi:

... the State required more money and labour to maintain internal peace and security. Confining itself, as it did, to the problem of State life and being indifferent to economic progress, the government did nothing to promote and foster the latter. Rather, it helped to accelerate the process of stagnation by protecting the city bourgeoisie and taking very little thought for the prosperity of the masses.

In our time we call that supply-side economics. The excerpt continues:

Thus the burden of supporting the life of the State lay entirely on the working classes and caused a rapid decline of their material welfare. As they were the chief consumers of the industrial goods produced by the cities, their diminished purchasing power reacted adversely on the development of commerce and industry and greatly aggravated the torpor which had come over them.

Their supply-side economics led to the "rapid decline" of the standard of living for the working classes, and their "diminished purchasing power" made the economy sluggish. The excerpt continues:

The decay had definitely set in as early as the beginning of the second century. The wars of that century demonstrated the hopeless economic weakness of the Empire and awakened the interest of the Emperors in economic problems. But, even when they realized the danger, they were helpless to cure the disease. Their constructive measures were puerile and brought no relief.

•   Bad economic policy created the problem. 

•   Bad economic policy was unable to solve the problem.

•   Economic decline implies decline of civilization.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

"Small Business Week"


Small Business Week?  One week out of 52. Really?  That's not gonna change anything.  It won't improve conditions for small business. To change things, every day would have to be Small Business Day, all year long.

Presumably, things cost a little more at a Small Business store. Are you willing to spend the extra money? Do you even have the extra money to spend? Maybe, for one day of Small Business Week. Maybe, for the whole week. But how often do you go to the store? And will it every time be to a Small Business -- even for just the one Week? I have my doubts.

Small Business Week is just something to make shoppers feel good about themselves. Or maybe, I dunno, maybe it's just to make us feel good about Google.

If you want to change things, you have to change policy

If you want to make things better for small business, you could start by equalizing the tax advantage created by the business income tax. I've said this before. The business income tax is a tax on Net Income. Pretty much all the money a business spends is subtracted from taxable income; that part of business income is not taxed. That's why business people get a receipt every time they spend money: to document the spending, so they can write it off.

Rule of thumb, the income a business spends is not taxable income. Therefore, the more a business can afford to spend, the more of a tax break the business gets. Big business gets a big tax break. Small business gets a small tax break. THIS IS WHY SMALL BUSINESSES SO OFTEN FAIL, AND WHY BIG BUSINESS CONTINUES TO GROW BIGGER.

The solution is simple: tax gross business income instead of net business income. This will eliminate the tax advantage for "bigness".

This solution increases the tax base by a large amount. If we do it, we must also reduce tax rates by a large amount. For me what makes sense is to reduce the business income tax rate so that revenue to the government stays unchanged. I mean, assuming the existing business tax revenue to government is at the level we think is right, we want to keep it at that level; the tax rate should be reduced enough to make that happen.

In total, then, the business income tax will generate about the same amount of revenue after the change as it did before. That doesn't change. What changes is that the tax advantage for bigness disappears. Business that spend small amounts (and have relatively small gross income levels) will pay less income tax under the new plan. Business that spend large amounts (and have relatively large gross income levels) will pay more income tax. The tax advantage for bigness disappears. The tax advantage for bigness disappears even if the tax rate is a flat rate that applies to all businesses regardless of size. (But whether or not to adopt a flat rate is another question.)

And since the income tax is a tax on income, not on spending, even the high profit high-tech firms like Google will lose the tax advantage for bigness. And Amazon and Meta.

If you want to change things, you have to change policy. 


Capitalists will object to the idea of taxing gross business income, because most of that income is "their" capital. They earned it once, they paid tax on it once, and they think they shouldn't have to pay tax on it ever again. They think their property is sacred.

Render unto Caesar.

In my experience as an employee, it seemed to me increasingly true that employers were moving into the realm of "divine right", like kings in Europe in the Middle Ages. Divine right is the ultimate expression of "property is sacred".

"Property is sacred" is incompatible with the redistribution of wealth. Big or small, these kings of U.S. business will want "their" money to remain untaxable. But untaxable revenue has a tax advantage that only draws more money in. If all of that money remains "sacred" and untaxable, concentration of wealth is the inevitable, inescapable result.

  • The tax on net business income gives the biggest tax advantage to the business that spends the most.

  • A tax on gross business income using progressive tax rates gives the biggest tax advantage to the business with the lowest tax rate. This option could offset the problems created by our long reliance on the net business income tax.

  • A flat tax on gross business income equalizes the tax advantage; this should be the long-term goal — unless human nature is more problematic than I think.


When the growth of wealth outpaces the concentration of wealth, civilization grows. When the concentration outpaces the growth of wealth, civilization declines.

Finally, then, the issue is whether we allow capitalism to have its way, so that wealth continues to concentrate until civilization can no longer survive, or whether we reverse the concentration of wealth and allow civilization to recover.

And while I'm on the topic of second thoughts...

As long as the Supreme Court is willing to ignore precedent, perhaps they should reconsider their decision that corporations are people.

Monday, June 27, 2022

"Slow but constant" is a clue

Simkhovitch, V. (1916): “Rome's Fall Reconsidered”. Political Science Quarterly Vol. 31, No. 2. Open Access at JSTOR

Simkhovitch, from page 216:

The expropriation of the Roman peasantry, the concentration of ownership of land in the hands of the few, to which the Romans ascribed the ruin of the Empire, is also a very gradual process and runs parallel with the process of soil exhaustion. Compared with the seven-jugera holdings of the early Republic, the hundred or hundred and fifty acre plantations to which Cato refers are large estates. These " estates " of Cato, which in size correspond to an average American farm, gradually disappear and their place is taken toward the end of the Republic and under the Principate by vast domains measuring thousands and thousands of acres. The process of transformation was slow but constant.

"The process of transformation was slow but constant." Slow but constant is a clue.

There must have been some force, some economic force that was driving the concentration of land ownership in ancient Rome. The transformation was slow, so the force was a subtle one. The transformation was constant, so the force was persistent.

If the force was persistent, it can only have been the result of policy. To borrow a phrase I read long ago, it was either a sin of commission or a sin of omission: It was either something policy did, or something policy failed to do. Either way, economic policy was at fault. We know this, because the resulting force was persistent.

If the force was subtle, it is because it was not recognized as a problem. Yes, the loss of small farms was recognized as a problem and yes, the rise of the latifundia was recognized as a problem; but the force driving the concentration of land ownership was apparently beyond the grasp of the ancient Roman mind.

How could they fail to recognize it? Perhaps the explanation is simple: Perhaps they did recognize it, but as a good thing. Simkhovitch (page 230) relays the story of the Euboean Hunters:

The local orator introduced to us by Dio goes on urging the citizens to take up the cultivation of abandoned land, for deserted land is a useless possession. Let anyone cultivate as much as his capital may allow him to do, for it may save the remaining population from its two cardinal ills — idleness and poverty. The orator is suggesting that the land should be given to anyone rent-free for the first ten years, and later on for a moderate tax upon the productivity of the soil, but the tenant should not pay any taxes upon his cattle.

After the first ten years, in other words, tax the income but not the wealth of farmers reclaiming the land. Tax the income, but not the wealth. This was the recommendation of the "local orator", a self-identified owner of "a vast acreage." This orator obviously thought taxes were necessary, but that taxes on wealth were harmful. Thus, not taxing cattle was recognized as a good thing.

Hey, everyone likes a tax break. Who would object to the orator's plan? Evidently, no one.


Well I'm surprised. I didn't expect to be writing in favor of a wealth tax. My point is simple, really: It is easy to overlook the harmful effects of an economic policy if we think of it as good policy. Reevaluation is always necessary. Reconsideration. Follow-up analysis. Afterthought. Hey, call it second-guessing if you want. Certainly it would have been better (for ancient Rome) to observe the concentration of land ownership, and wonder if perhaps the economic policies they liked so much were actually creating the problem: would have been better than letting it continue until it killed off civilization.

And follow-up analysis is just what Vladimir Simkhovitch was doing, two millennia later, in "Rome's Fall Reconsidered". Maybe that's why I like the essay so much.

Monday, June 20, 2022

The economic factor, seven is not enough, and the dirt on Cicero

I count fourteen posts on this blog that refer to Vladimir Simkhovitch and his essay "Rome's Fall Reconsidered". I don't have the energy just now to go thru them all. But if at any point I said that Simkhhovitch says exhaustion of the soil was the cause of Rome's decline, I take it back.

Simkhovitch opens his essay, gathering the thoughts of ancient Roman authors regarding the cause of the "progressive disintegration" of Rome. His method is to quote, paraphrase, and evaluate their views.

The consensus he reports first is that the latifundia -- the large estates -- were the source of the problem. But on the second page he reports the "more popular" view that corruption was the source of the problem:

corruptio, the corruption of morals, the corruption brought by wealth, the corruption brought by poverty, the all-pervading moral corruption of Rome.

He follows up, on the third page asking: "What is the cause of this moral corruption and degeneracy of which all Roman writers of the period complain?" Quoting Horace this time, Simkhovitch says

The great deeds of the Romans were the deeds of a sturdy farmer race, of the "mascula proles rusticorum militium, docta versare glebas Sabellis ligonibus" -- and these farmers' sons existed no longer. If they could not maintain themselves on their farms, still worse were the chances for a respectable existence in Rome; there they lost what little they had and became demoralized, dependent paupers.

The two complaints, the two Roman explanations of their own decline and disintegration reduce themselves, therefore, to one single explanation. For it is clear that the latifundia and corruption are but different aspects of the same social phenomenon. If the moral disintegration was due to the disappearance of the self-supporting, self-respecting farmer class, and the inordinate wealth and fantastic luxury of the small upper class, the latifundia were but a real-estate expression of the same phenomenon.

The ancient Romans, he adds, "were quite conscious that the latifundia and corruption were but different aspects of the same phenomenon." 

"We are therefore justified," Simkhovitch concludes, to say that

the contemporary witnesses of the decline of Rome had but one explanation of its cause; but while some emphasized its moral aspect and others its economic, still others ... emphasized the political effect of the economic and moral disintegration of Rome.

For me the economic factor always drives the rise and fall; the moral aspect is a result; and the political effect arises because people see the economic problem as a political problem. But economic problems, I always say, require economic solutions. I don't know if Simkhovitch agrees with me on this, but he allows me to think what I think.

On the next page (p.204) Simkhovitch asks why the small farms disappeared. This he cannot answer by referring to the ancient Roman texts, as he finds little information. He accounts for the lack of information, saying literature and history focus on great men and great events, not on "the day-by-day life of the most humble."

What little information there is, he says, "seems to suggest violence." He rejects violence as the reason the small farms disappeared, saying the ancient authors are "shocked" by the violence, and that people "are shocked only by the unusual." The violence being unusual, Simkhovitch cannot accept it as the reason the small farms disappeared from ancient Rome.

I should point out that by violence, he seems to mean "avarice, leagued with power" (p. 204).

His question -- why did the small farms disappear? -- has not been answered. Simkhovitch tries again, using a different approach:

What do we know about Roman farmers that is not legendary in its nature?

We know, he says, that in the early days of the Roman Republic,

they considered seven jugera as ample for the support of a Roman farmer and his family. That is supposed to have been the size of the allotments after the expulsion of the kings...

Seven jugera is between four and five acres of land. I for one cannot picture that as "ample". But observe Simkhovitch's careful choice of words: seven jugera is supposed to have been the size of farmland allotments in the early Republic, based on legend. Then, in the historical era, they considered seven jugera as ample for the legendary era. We know this because they wrote of it, but we still don't know if seven jugera actually was ample.

Simkhovitch finishes his thought:

... after the expulsion of the kings; that was the size of the allotments in the colonies established by Manius Curius after his great conquests.

He says "that was the size of the allotments" when Manius Curius took newly conquered territory, divvied it up, and gave it as payment to his soldiers. There is no supposing this time. There is no holding at arm's length. Instead, there is history.

Perhaps seven jugera was ample; perhaps it was not. Those stories are legendary. But the size of the allotment (seven jugera) is historical. 

Simkhovitch adds:

It is he [Manius Curius] who is credited with the statement that "the man must be looked upon as a dangerous citizen, for whom seven jugera of land are not enough."

Perhaps Simkhovitch says this to reinforce the view that the seven-jug allotment size is not legendary. But, bringing it up, he makes me wonder if Manius Curius said it in response to soldiers' complaints that the seven jugera allotments were too small.

The legendary allotment size of seven jugera "after the expulsion of the kings" refers to after 509 BC. The historical allotment size of Manius Curius, seven jugera, refers to some time around 283 BC when, according to Wikipedia's "Manius Curius Dentatus", he "drove the Gauls from their territory, clearing the way for the establishment of a colony at Sena."

Cicero (106 - 43 BC) lived some two centuries after Manius Curius but he warns of the danger of excessive governmental generosity (De Officiis ii, 72):

Gaius Gracchus inaugurated largesses of grain on an extensive scale; this had a tendency to exhaust the exchequer. Marcus Octavius inaugurated a moderate dole; this was both practicable for the state and necessary for the commons; it was, therefore, a blessing both to the citizens and to the state. [emphasis added]

It might also be noted that Cicero relied on the property-is-sacred mantra (De Officiis ii, 73), saying 

the chief purpose in the establishment of constitutional state and municipal governments was that individual property rights might be secured. For, although it was by Nature's guidance that men were drawn together into communities, it was in the hope of safeguarding their possessions that they sought the protection of cities.

And this was in the land of latifundia, where estates were the size of Roman provinces.

Protecting individual property rights meant to Cicero protecting the rights of the wealthy to the extent that the poor, in payment for their military service, should not be granted farmland allocations large enough to actually be profitable. An economic policy aligned with Cicero's thinking would have created the latifundia as the small farmers went broke and sold off their land.

I'm going with the theory that the decline and fall of Rome was caused by bad economic policy.

Friday, June 17, 2022

What economics is


The economics of the individual agent's decisions about resources is referred to as microeconomics, while macroeconomics studies the interactions in the economy as a whole.



Every so often a sentence sticks in my mind. This is one of them:

Indeed, E. Khalil [1996] is right in arguing that Robbins’s conception of economics has won out over that presented by Alfred Marshall or Karl Polanyi, yet the issue has not yet been entirely settled.
Jérôme Maucourant. "The ambiguous birth of political economy: Montchrestien
vs. Cantillon". 2011. HAL Id: halshs-01016945

The topic is the definition of economics, or what econ "is". That's important. The issue has not yet been entirely settled. That's important. Definitions are attributed to Lionel Robbins, Alfred Marshall, and Karl Polanyi. That's important. And, E. Khalil said it and Jérôme Maucourant repeated it. That's important, too. But somehow, I don't get any information from that sentence. So it litters my mind like an empty beer can on the side of the road.

It litters in my mind until I do something about it. I did something about it before, but with no success: There are presently nine posts on my offline development blog containing the name Maucourant. Only one of them made it to EconCrit, and it doesn't mention Lionel Robbins.

I have to be finished with that important sentence. I need my brainspace for other things. So I went looking. The reference, from the Maucourant paper, is:

Khalil E. L. [1996], “What is economic action? From Marshall and Robbins to Polanyi and Becker”

I found the Khalil paper, but I refuse to pay to access it. All I want is a paragraph or two, for context. But, eh, I don't need it.

 I know of Robbins and find him sometimes interesting[1] but I have no idea what his "conception of economics" was. Google's featured snippet, from the National Library of Medicine (of all places!) says

In his landmark essay on the nature of economics, Lionel Robbins defined economics as "the science which studies human behaviour as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses" (Robbins, 1935, p. 16).

To me that sounds like the standard version I was taught in Econ 101 back in '77:

Recalling that wants are unlimited and resources are scarce, economics can be defined as the social science concerned with the problem of using or administering scarce resources (the means of producing) so as to attain the greatest or maximum fulfillment of society's unlimited wants (the goal of producing).
Campbell R. McConnell. Economics: Principles, Problems, and Policies, sixth edition, p.25.

McConnell is more cautious and wordy than Robbins, but little different otherwise. The key ingredient for both of them is the relative scarcity of resources.

The scarcity of resources? How does that stack up to problem of insufficient aggregate demand? You can't have it both ways.

I checked Marshall. The featured snippet leads to a page at Vancouver Island University that attributes this sentence to Alfred Marshall:

Economics is the study of mankind in the ordinary business of life.

The understatement doesn't interest me. A page at Exam Notes says Marshall was

the first Economist who denied the wealth-related definitions of Adam Smith, which was in vogue for a long time...

Now that's interesting.

I checked Polanyi. Google's featured snippet turned up a paper by Daniel Ankarloo: "Some Notes on The Economic Theories of Karl Polanyi". Ankarloo's paper presents Polanyi's view in a way that stands in strong contrast to the "scarcity" focus of Robbins and McConnell:

To orthodoxy the economy is the choice between scarce means in relation to preferred ends. Economizing means allocation of these scarce resources. This according to orthodoxy is ”the economic problem”. Polanyi calls this a formalist definition of the economy. Its validity is relative to the historical development - and fact - of a market society (a specific form of economic organization) but, in essence, the substance of the economy is to provide a physical environment to sustain human life.

The substance of the economy is to provide a physical environment to sustain human life. It doesn't get any more clear than that.

That clear thought, by the way, reminds me of Vladimir Simkhovitch's summary of the "fundamental trouble" and cause of Rome's decline: "labor could not support life". Reminds me, too, of the toast Keynes made to "economists, who are the trustees not of civilization, but of the possibility of civilization." If economists fail in their job, labor does not support life and civilization does not survive.

That is the crux of the matter, right there.

I don't deny that scarcity plays an important role in economics. But I point out that scarcity only exists in relation to wants and needs: If there is no demand for buggywhips, then buggywhips are not scarce.

What's worse, and what is seriously wrong with Robbins's definition of economics, is that it describes only microeconomics -- "the individual agent's decisions", as SOAS says. For the consumer, scarcity reduces employment and increases costs, with the result that improvements in the standard of living are "scarce". For the producer, the scarcity of resources increases costs and reduces profits. The real concern for the producer is not scarce resources but scarce profits. 

Worst of all, Robbins's statement justifies unnecessary costs that magnify the problem of scarcity, costs like those generated by excessive finance, and excessive debt, mostly in the private sector.

When Lionel Robbins described economics as the study of the "relationship between ends and scarce means", between scarce supply and limitless demand, he was describing only micro-economics. To be fair to Robbins, I should say that his definition dates from the early 1930s, and macro-economics wasn't even invented until Keynes published his General Theory in 1936.

However, Campbell McConnell cannot rely on the excuse that he didn't know about macro-economics. Nor can the economic "orthodoxy" that Ankarloo mentions. 

 The problem of scarcity is the problem of individuals in our economy. It is not the problem of our economy.

The economic problem today is often said to be the insufficiency of aggregate demand. That thought is unduly oversimplified, but I basically agree with it. And from this perspective, the perspective that aggregate demand is insufficient, one has to ask: Resources are scarce, you say? Your thinking is outdated, and your focus is wrong. The economy changes, brother.

Microeconomics is the science of making more profit. It is the science of business.

Macroeconomics is the science of making the economy work better. It is the science of promoting the general welfare

What we need, in these troubled days, is a science and study of monetary imbalance -- the imbalance that leads to extreme economic inequality, for example; the imbalance between the quantity of money and the quantity of debt; and the imbalance created for example when some types of income are taxed and others are not. We need a science of monetary balances.




NOTE 1: For example, Robbins said:

To move in any direction from a position of equilibrium is to encounter increased resistance: This is the fundamental conception.

That is from "Remarks Upon Certain Aspects of the Theory of Costs" by Lionel Robbins, from 1934.

It's not on topic, but it is the best description of equilibrium I ever read.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Simkhovitch on social science and economic history

Well I finally got to the end of the Simkhovitch essay, again.

From the conclusion of Rome's Fall Reconsidered :

But it is a mistake to think that social science is dealing with life. It is not. It deals with the background of life. It deals with common things, with what lives had in common, common conditions of existence, common purposes that these conditions suggest. They can and must be scientifically explained and determined, if social science is to be taken seriously.

Scientific determination is accurate determination. What forces that circumscribe and govern our life must we unquestionably accept? Obviously, the physical forces. Under certain conditions we are born, we live and die. The limits of our mortal existence we cannot transgress. Nor can we change the heavenly course of suns and planets; we do not govern the seasons of the year; they regulate our life.

Within the laws of nature our lives begin and end. They limit and compass our existence. But the laws of nature without our active participation do neither feed nor clothe us. This active participation we call our work, our labor. Social labor varies in its productivity. At all times this productivity had and has its limits. These limits of the productivity of our labor become, for society, physical conditions of existence. Within these limits our entire social life must move. These limits life must accept as mandatory and implacable; to them it must adjust itself.

The history of the productivity of our labor is the foundation of a scientific economic history, and the backbone of any and all history. Every law, every statute, every institution has obviously some purpose. But how are we to understand the purposes of the past if we know not the conditions which those purposes were to meet? The accurate knowledge of the productivity of our labor can explain to us why things were as they were, why they became what they are and what one may expect from the future.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Property rights

Still reading Simkhovitch on ancient Rome.

 From page 234 (35 of 44 in the PDF):

... the degree of depopulation was such as to compel extraordinary measures. And so it came to pass that morals and children became political issues. Recall the puritanic campaigns of Caesar's heir, remember the laws against adultery, and laws restricting the property rights of unmarried men and childless couples.

So it is possible to restrict property rights under certain circumstances. It is not easily done, but it can be done.

As Simkhovitch tells the tale, ancient Rome had to keep conquering its neighbors so that it could take their grain, so that the Roman people had something to eat. To keep conquering its neighbors, Rome needed strong armies. And to build strong armies, Rome needed a growing population.

From this point of view, depopulation was unacceptable. A growing population was necessary to assure military success. This reason was good enough that laws restricting property rights were acceptable. It didn't work, of course, and Rome eventually expired. But it wasn't the changes to property rights that caused the fall of Rome.

I argue that changes to property rights — changes that limit the concentration of wealth — are essential to our continued survival as a civilization.

Friday, June 10, 2022

Similarities (us and them)

Still reading Simkhovitch on ancient Rome. Caveat: I know little-to-nothing of history. I quote things and offer my impressions. If I have something wrong, let me know.

Simkhovitch's topic is the decline of population. Beginning on page 234 (35 of 44 in the PDF), he writes:

We have no statistical data for Rome... Certain, however, it is that the degree of depopulation was such as to compel extraordinary measures. And so it came to pass that morals and children became political issues. Recall the puritanic campaigns of Caesar's heir...

Simkhovitch goes on for about a page, listing "puritanic campaigns" of Augustus and later emperors, and comes to this thought:

In the beginning of the fourth century we find still more far-reaching alimentary attempts. To put an end to infanticide Emperor Constantine in 315 orders his fiscal administration to provide for the children of all poor parents residing in Italy, who have not the means to provide for and educate their children.

Today, "right to life" concerns are presented as an entirely moral issue. No concern is expressed about our slowing population growth. At least, no concern about population growth is expressed as a right-to-life concern, far as I know.

Simkhovitch quotes Emperor Constantine in Latin, something like letting children die is a crime we can not permit and says:

The sentiment is a noble one, but back of all these measures is the more and more pressing necessity of maintaining the Roman population if the Roman state is to be maintained.
You can't populate an adequate army if your population is inadequate.


I can't end it there. I have to leave you with Simkhovitch's view of the Roman Emperors' efforts:

They were trying to affect the results of a certain given situation, without in the least affecting that situation itself.

They were concerned about the decline of population, but did not address its cause.

Thursday, June 9, 2022

The first great land reformer of Rome

Still reading Simkhovitch on ancient Rome.

I hesitate to post some of the thoughts I want to post because I know little-to-nothing of history. If I post something and get it right, you may have known it already anyway. But this hesitation is killing me.

"Rome's Fall Reconsidered", by Vladimir Simkhovitvh, published in 1916, presents the argument that the fall of Rome was caused by "exhaustion of the soil" and the consequences of that exhaustion: declining farm productivity, rising farm debt, and the consolidation of small farms into big farms and of big farms into latifundia, which were farms as big as some of the Roman provinces.

On page 228 (p.29 of 44 in the PDF)

Roughly speaking, Roman political and economic life found itself involved in a series of vicious circles. It is only too well known that as long as Italian land was productive and of value, the struggle for that land was the keynote if not the very content of Rome's political struggles. The wealthy were either in lawful possession or were unlawfully using the public land, and hence they were opposed to its subdivision among colonists.

Rome was not without patriots and prophets, to whose vision it was revealed what the Fates had in store for it. They were the great land reformers – and according to tradition they all had to die. Thus, Spurius Cassius, a consul and a triumphator, is said to have been executed in 486 B. C. 

Who? (I have trouble with this when I'm watching TV, too. I can't remember the names, so I can't follow the plot. And you thought I was kidding about my memory!)

Spurius Cassius. I looked him up. Wikipedia says:

Spurius Cassius Vecellinus or Vicellinus (died 485 BC) was one of the most distinguished men of the early Roman Republic. He was three times consul, and celebrated two triumphs. He was the first magister equitum, and the author of the first agrarian law. The year following his last consulship, he was accused of aiming at regal power, and was put to death by the patricians.

I love it; I love the irony. The first of the great land reformers, trying to improve conditions for the poor, was put to death by the wealthy for aiming at regal power. Wikipedia says:

The strife between the patricians and plebeians was a recurring theme throughout the early history of the Republic, and in time cost Cassius his life.

The Republic was founded, according to legend, in 509 BC. When Spurius Cassius died in 486 or 485 BC, the Republic was still brand new. The "strife between the patricians and plebeians" in those years must have been the "Conflict of the Orders" that came to a head after the monarchy was abolished.

Anyway, the Roman Republic was still in diapers when Spurius Cassius wrote the first agrarian law of ancient Rome.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

On the difference between slaves and freemen

I'm still reading and re-reading Simkhovitch's "Rome's Fall Reconsidered". At one point he writes: "Varro had advised against the use of slaves for work in marshy lands, and advocated taking chances with the health of hired freemen" because of the spread of malaria. It's better for a free man to get malaria than for a slave to get it -- better for Varro's readers, the owners of the slaves.

As for myself, I think it is sad that we still have to dwell on the evils of slavery. I think we need to focus today on the evils inherent in the idea that property is sacred. For if we do not cut short the concentration of wealth that arises because we honor the "property is sacred" principle, it will soon be too late to prevent the return of slavery on a massive scale.

Monday, June 6, 2022

Why we can't fix the economy, for example

So it happens that the true causes of things are hardly discussed in the markets and meeting-places. It is the future, not the past, that worries politicians. Remedies, not causes, are what they are bound to discuss.