The SECOND MAJOR CAUSE for the collapse of the Roman Empire has already taken a death-like grip on the U.S. and Britain. It could already be past remedy. Why can't we learn lessons from proven historical mistakes of others and avoid them? Read, in this second installment, of the shocking picture of wanton spending, time buying, and creeping inflation that threaten our very national security.
DISASTER is always unreal like phenomenal success. "I can't believe it's happening," exclaimed millions watching the moonwalk. "It just can't be," exclaimed weeping Frenchmen watching jackbooted German soldiers march proudly through the streets of Paris. "No! I don't believe it," said citizens of Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Brussels, and Warsaw a generation ago. Yet, there were signs of what was happening. It was not as if nation after nation, including the United States, had no ample warning of Hitler's intentions. But, millions refused to believe. Denial and disbelief never changed the inexorable march of history. To modern Americans and Britons to all the peoples of the English-speaking world it would seem the height of sheer folly ludicrous to the utter extreme to believe that right now America and Britain could be facing a shocking decline in power as serious as that which befell ancient Rome. Millions will say, "Oh, it just can't be." But it is. The sun has already set on the once-proud British Empire. That Empire is no more. British power has been dwindling at an alarming rate since World War II. And, even though millions of Americans have never had it so good, at least, on the surface, United States power is surely dwindling in many subtle ways but dwindling, nevertheless. There were deep, underlying causes for the collapse of the mightiest and proudest empire the world had ever known. Those causes have been carefully analyzed by leading historians who have had a plethora of information about Rome to draw from. Her history is better preserved than that of any other great empire of the past. The records of history have proved there were five major causes, as well as other contributing factors, which finally brought about the inevitable. The people denied it. The leaders didn't believe it. But Rome DID FALL, didn't it? It is deeply significant that all five of the major causes for the collapse of that ancient empire are rife within the U.S. and Britain now! And it may already be too late to change. We could have passed the point of no return. Yet, millions just cannot believe it is true.
Behind the Faηade of Wealth
What a paradox! Americans and Britons, on the average, earn more money and possess more material goods and gadgets than ever in the history of their nations. Yet countless millions are hopelessly head-over-heels in demoralizing debt. Governments, too, on all levels seem locked in an endless struggle against insolvency. Higher taxes and new taxes never seem able to bail them out. Prosperity, it seems, can be a very deceptive thing a continuous chasing after the mythical bucket of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Character? What's That?
Contrary to what many people, including some economists, may believe, the true test of a nation's greatness lies not in the continued growth of its economy, or its GNP "gross national product." The test lies, instead, in the intellectual, moral and spiritual character of its people. Character? A "character" is a sort of a "wild Joe" to the thinking of most young people today. Like in, "He's a real character." Hardly anyone seems to know the meaning of the word anymore. But ignorance doesn't hide the unpleasant truth of contemporary history. Paul Einzig is the Edward Gibbon of his day. He has written a book that should be rocking the British people and Americans, by inference back on their heels. He entitles it, Decline and Fall? Britain's Crisis in the Sixties. In it he says, on pages 10 and 11: "Over and above all, recent years have witnessed a progressive debasement of the British character... Selfishness and impatient greed demanding the advent of a millennium immediately have gained ground and 'growth-hysteria' has become a national disease... Hard-faced trade unionists quite frankly admit that the only thing in which they are interested is to get the maximum of exclusive advantage for their members, and seldom worry about the effect of their selfishness on the rest of the community... "If the debasement of the British character is allowed to continue too long, the point of no return might be passed at some stage." By this, Einzig means that in a severe national crisis, the British people today may not have the character to meet it head-on as did their forebears in 1940.
Wealthy Empires Vanished
The character of its people is the most important ingredient of a nation's greatness. Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, Spain and France all had their turn in being the richest in the world. But instead of saving them, their riches only led them to ruin. History records in detail that the relentless rise of taxes, debts, and inflation was one of the five major reasons leading to the thunderous collapse of the proud Roman Empire. Briefly rehearsing Part One of this series that began last month, the five reasons for Rome's fall deduced from the writings of Edward Gibbon and other noted historians of the Roman world are: (1) The breakdown of the family and the rapid increase of divorce. (2) The spiraling rise of taxes and extravagant spending. (3) The mounting craze for pleasure and the brutalization of sports. (4) The mounting production of armaments to fight ever-increasing threats of enemy attacks when the real enemy was the decay of the society from within. (5) The decay of religion into myriad and confusing forms, leaving the people without a uniform guide. Last month, we saw that the basic building block of early Rome the one key element that contributed to its greatness more than anything else was the family. And the most important feature of early Roman family life was the authority and the respect for that authority of the father. Rome grew strong. Rome grew wealthy. But, true to the downward pull of human nature, with affluence came a gradual erosion of family ties just as has occurred in Britain and the United States since the end of the Second World War With the loosening of the family bonds came the loss of time-honored values and virtues. One of those was thrift and an appreciation of money and wealth. Writes historian William Stearns Davis in his book, The Influence of Wealth in Imperial Rome, pages 163, 164, 167: "As an almost unavoidable corollary of the huge Roman fortunes, went the accumulation of huge debts... Even men of grave and respectable habits caught the mania of their age, that of living beyond their incomes... "The typical Roman of birth and fashion [the upper class like average Americans today], may then be imagined as regularly in debt, and frequently on the brink of ruin."
Mania of Our Age, Too
Total debt in the United States, both public and private, stands at an astronomical 1.6 trillion dollars! This enormous sum is double what it was only ten years ago. Broken down, the statistics show: Families and individuals owe well over $500,000,000,000. This goes mainly for home mortgages, installment credit, charge accounts, and personal loans. A slightly higher total, roughly $600,000,000,000 is owed by corporations. Despite higher interest rates, the prospect of even higher interest in the future is fueling an unprecedented expansion in plant and equipment. On the public level, the national debt amounts to about $300,000,000,000. This figure doesn't reflect items once included in the debt which, if they were, would push the total to nearly $380,000,000,000. Just to finance this enormous sum eats up over $15,000,000,000 in interest per year. State and municipal governments across the U.S. owe a total of $133,000,000,000. This segment of public indebtedness has risen alarmingly in recent years. Where economists and sociologists show biggest concern, however, is the growing debt burden of Mr. and Mrs. Average American. Private debt accounts for 73 cents out of every dollar owed in the U.S. roughly three times higher than total public debt. Individuals, on the average, have to pay over 21 cents out of every take-home dollar just to meet payments on money already owed. Every fifth American family is in serious financial condition. Personal bankruptcies are outstripping business fold-ups by a ten-to-one ratio.
Money may be tight, but credit is becoming easier to obtain all the time. It's primarily due to the "credit card craze" fueled by the entry of huge banks into the field of commercial credit. How many of you have received in your mail unsolicited bank or oil company credit cards with your name already imprinted on them? By the end of this year there will be over 50 million cardholders of the two main bank credit cards in circulation. Some of the member banks issuing these cards under franchise have run little or no credit checks on their prospective users. One bank in Chicago reportedly handed out its cards to bystanders at a parade. All of this is put into perspective when one realizes that enormous profits can be made in the consumer credit field. Banks often earn a true annual interest of 18% on merchandise charged on credit cards. And on those "instant cash" deals where the customer can borrow money merely by presenting his card it is possible to reap as high as 24%.
Great Britain, South Africa
The average hire-purchase debt (installment credit) has reached $176.40 for every home in Britain thanks to a 15 percent spurt in new business near the end of 1968. A breakdown shows that the finance houses, which handle most of the motor trade's hire purchase business, advanced 18 percent more new credit in the third quarter of the year against the second quarter, while hire-purchase business in the shops and stores was up by eight percent. In South Africa, increasing numbers are collapsing under the burden of personal debt. During 1967, 312,277 South Africans were forced to court because of debts which they could not pay. "South Africans," reported an Afrikaans-language newspaper, "are no longer afraid to appear in court because of debt. After all, 'I'm not a criminal. It's just a debt,' they reason." Most people get into debt, said the paper, because it is so easy to obtain credit on appliances and gadgets which are not necessary for ordinary living. So much for debt. Now taxes.
Taxes, Taxes and More Taxes
By modern standards, ordinary taxes in the Roman Empire were low throughout the second century (A.D.). But in the third century, to meet rising military expenses, the demands of the soldiers, and the extravagances of the emperors, there were frequent confiscations of property and periodic exactions from the wealthy class. "The most disastrous policy in its immediate effects was extravagant spending by the government of the Empire. Part of the money went into the magnificence of the cities, part into the maintenance of the army and of the vast bureaucracy required by a centralized government. Gradually the soldiers and the civil servants became dominating pressure groups. "The expense they entailed led to strangling taxation with repeated devaluations of the currency that fatally weakened the middle class and decimated its natural leaders... Disintegration followed the stifling of initiative" (Haskel, The New Deal in Old Rome, pages 231, 232). That was Rome. Every American and Briton is more than well aware of the voracious tax bite which gobbles up a bigger chunk of his income with each passing year. Latest statistics reveal that all U.S. taxes combined federal, state and local consume a phenomenal 37 cents out of every dollar of national income. Much tax money goes to support the vast bureaucracy of government on all levels. Nearly one job in five is a government job. More than $1 in every five spent in the entire U.S., for all goods and services, is a government dollar. Federal government income and spending increase every year. In the six years of the Johnson administration, total annual spending rose by $73,000,000,000 from $111,000,000,000 to over $189,000,000,000. Yet income never seems to match the outgo. There have been only eight balanced federal cash budgets in the past 40 years!
PERSONAL DEBT (IN THE UNITED STATES) Has grown 1000% in 24 years and increases more than $1,000 a second! Has doubled since 1961. The average family of 4 owes $11,000 in personal debt. Banks own 70% of all cars!
States Scramble for Money
State and municipal taxes are rising astronomically, too. All indications are that 1969 will go down as the biggest in history for the adoption of new and increased taxes at the state level. Cities are finding themselves at the end of the rope on taxation. With the exodus of the white-collar middle class to the suburbs, city tax bases are crumbling. Yet city and county employees across the country notably police, firemen, sanitation workers, hospital employees are demanding costly new wage contracts. Little wonder that there are growing signs of a tax revolt in parts of the United States. More and more local bond issues are being turned down by irate voters. School districts have to pare budgets as a result. High schools in Los Angeles, for example, have been forced to curtail inter-scholastic athletics as a result of a bond issue rejection. In 1902, the total bill for taxes of all kinds in the U.S. amounted to $18 per capita. By 1948, it had risen to $377; by 1960, $709. In 1968 it was more than $1,000. This year should see another rise.
British Stop Fighting It
Tax-weary Britons are almost resigned to harsh austerity budgets every time there is a panicky run on sterling. In what some termed the harshest budget in British peace-time history, the government in early 1968 imposed staggering tax hikes. It also put a temporary ceiling on wages and invoked a "soak the rich tax" the likes of which were previously unknown. Some recipients of investment income over a certain level actually found their entire earnings from stocks completely taxed away! Taxes are so severe now that the principle of "live today, forget tomorrow" has gripped the British public. Stores report a buying spree for cars, refrigerators, clothes, carpets everything. Crowds at soccer matches are the biggest and rowdiest in 20 years. Betting shops and bingo halls have more customers than room for them. "People have no reason to save their money," says a secretary in London. "If you keep it the government will soon find some way of taking it from you."
Tax Evasion and "Loopholes"
When taxes get nearly unbearable the temptation to evade them becomes great. "A volume might be written on the subject of financial corruption in the last century of the Western Empire. When one wanders through the maze of enactments dealing with fiscal oppression... and evasion, one knows not whether more to pity the weakness of the government, or to wonder at the hardened... audacity of the classes which were leagued together in plundering both the treasury and the taxpayer. "In the early part of the fifth century, the province of Africa, so essential to the very existence of the capital, yet held by so precarious a tenure, appealed... to the Emperor for relief from its miseries. The complaints relate almost entirely to oppression and injustice in the collection of the various branches of the revenue. The upper classes secured immunity from their proper burdens, or succeeded by unfair assessment in shifting them on to the class less able to bear them... "Alike in Africa and Gaul, the great landowners at this time, taking advantage of the evident weakness and difficulties of the government, either evaded or delayed their payments" (Dill, Roman Society in the Last Century of the Empire, pages 270-271). How similar conditions have become in the U.S. and Great Britain today. Recently, there was the shocking revelation that thanks to giant-sized legal loopholes some American millionaires paid no income tax at all in 1967. Additional scores of individuals with incomes in six figures also paid nothing. It has been estimated that $50,000,000,000 in possible tax revenue slips through the federal government's grasp because of leaks in the tax structure. The biggest loopholes, of course, benefit the wealthy. Congress is finally beginning to constrict a few of the more gaping holes. In Britain, tax evasion whether legally or illegally has become a virtual sport. The British Empire, explains historian Einzig, quoted earlier, was built up and maintained by the devotion of the people to the cause of their country. Now that devotion seems to have almost vanished. The "every man for himself" attitude predominates. Says Einzig: "While before and during the War British people were probably the most public-spirited people in the world, today they probably rank among the least public-spirited. One of the manifestations of this change in the attitude of the British people has been the increase in the degree of tax-avoidance and tax-evasion. "Britons have become much more reluctant to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's. Admittedly this is largely Caesar's own fault... Taxpayers have become increasingly reluctant to surrender an increasingly large proportion of their incomes to governments which are so keen on wasting their money. "Many thousands of accountants and solicitors are busy advising their clients how to avoid their taxes lawfully. But many millions of the lower income groups, too, have found ways, even without receiving professional advice, for evading their taxes unlawfully... Nothing is ever said about all this, yet the sum total of all such loss of revenue must surely exceed that of the total losses through evasion by the rich" (Einzig, Decline and Fall, pages 29-30).
The Welfare State
Most people have heard of the "bread and circuses" of Rome the doling out of free food and the endless series of bloody games and contests, intended to keep a restless population under control. "Welfare (itis)" was a disease which sapped Rome's vitality. "The free distribution of corn at Rome has been characterized as the 'leading fact of Roman life.'... Just before the establishment of the empire, over three hundred thousand Roman citizens were recipients of this state bounty. In the time of the Antonines (around 150 A.D.) the number is asserted to have been even larger... In the third century, to the largesse's of corn were added doles of oil, wine, and pork. "The evils that resulted from this misdirected state charity can hardly be overstated. Idleness and all its accompanying vices were fostered to such a degree that we probably shall not be wrong in enumerating the practice as one of the chief causes of the demoralization of society at Rome under the emperors" (Myers, Rome: Its Rise and Fall, page 523). The same disease has progressed to advanced stages in Britain and America today. Britain already has a Scandinavian-style "womb-to-tomb" welfare state. Its excesses are such that they have even fostered one of the most famous contemporary comic strips throughout the English-speaking world a ne'er-do-well flop of a husband called "Andy Capp." In the United States the welfare load is almost beyond the power of cities and large states to handle. Here are some of the staggering statistics: In the states of California and New York live 2Ό million people on relief 1 out of every 4 welfare recipients in the country. One million people are on welfare in New York City one out of every eight people in the city. In the past prosperous decade, nearly 3 million Americans have been added to the dole, so that today 10 million people receive welfare of some form. Nearly 6 million Americans subsist on free surplus food allotments or cut-rate food stamps. The biggest headache of all is aid to families with dependent children, which has grown phenomenally in the last few years. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, head of the Council on Urban Affairs, reports that the heart of the problem is dependent children from broken families. "The poor of the United States," he says, "today enjoy a quite unprecedented de facto freedom to abandon their children in the certain knowledge that society will care for them." The looming crisis over welfare is what prompted President Nixon to propose a revolutionary overhaul of the entire welfare program. In a speech on nationwide television, he assailed the existing hodge-podge of state-administered programs as a "colossal failure" that "breaks up homes" and often penalizes those who work. The new proposals are intended to "reward work" and encourage families to stay together. But the initial cost of implementing the new program, if approved by Congress, will be expensive. It will add $4,000,000,000 to federal government costs in the first full year of operation. And under the new plan the welfare roles, which now total 10 million people, would increase to more than 22 million. Thus, about 11% of the U.S. population would qualify for some welfare assistance. Welfare, once begun, becomes a virtual "state within a state" proposition; difficult to reform, nearly impossible to reduce in scope and cost.
Rome Grew Big Then Fell
Rome grew big, powerful and prosperous. Then in gradually deteriorating stages that perhaps few in that day detected, she became indolent, sick and pitifully weak, unable even to defend herself against the rampaging attacks of her enemies. Rome's power and prosperity didn't insure her lasting success. Neither can a purposeless, aimless America or Britain devoted solely, it seems, to the "good life" and "getting it now" insure its future in peace and security. The U.S. and Britain have grown BIG when will we fall? Rome had other flaws in her national character too. We'll describe the next fatal flaw in Part III of this series next month. Meanwhile, if you are experiencing financial difficulties, why not read our free reprint article, "Will You Ever Get Out of Debt?" It contains much helpful information on the subject of family finances.