Taxes brought down the Roman Empire and so will America

roman coin

April 17, 2012
Vilnius, Lithuania

During the final collapse of the Roman Empire, perhaps there was no greater burden on the average citizen than the extreme taxes he was forced to pay.

Emperor Diocletian’s tax “reforms” in the 3rd century were so rigid and unwavering that many people were driven to starvation and bankruptcy. The state went so far as to hunt widows and children to collect the taxes owed.

In the 4th century, the Roman economy and tax structure were so bleak that many farmers abandoned their land in order to receive public rights.

At this point, the imperial government was spending the majority of the funds it collected on military or public rights. For a time, according to historian Joseph Tainter, “those who lived on the treasure outnumbered those who poured into it”.

Seems familiar?

By the fifth century, tax riots and all-out rebellion were rife in the countryside among the few remaining farmers. The Roman government had to regularly send its legions to eradicate the tax revolts of the peasants.

But that hasn’t stopped their taxes from going up.

Valentinian III, who noticed in 444 AD that new taxes on landowners and traders would be catastrophic, always imposed an additional sales tax of 4% … and further decreed that all transactions must be carried out in the presence of a collector.

Under such a debilitating regime, rich and poor alike wanted the barbarian hordes to deliver them from the burden of Roman taxation.

Zosima, a late 5th century writer, joked that “because of this tax exaction the town and country were full of lamentations and complaints, and all … asked for help barbarians “.

Many Roman peasants even fought alongside their invaders, as was the case when the Balkan miners defected en masse from the Visigoths in 378. Others simply left the Empire.

In his book Decadent Societies, historian Robert Adams wrote: “[B]In the fifth century, people were ready to abandon civilization itself to escape the terrible burden of taxes.

In a thousand years perhaps, future historians will write the same about us. It’s not that far-fetched.

In the economic decline of any civilization, political elites regularly appeal to a very limited playbook: no more debt, no more regulation, no more restriction of freedoms, no more debasement of currency, no more taxation and no more money. insidious application.

In addition, the propaganda machine is shifted into high gear, ensuring that the peasant class is too deceived by patriotic fervor to notice that it is being plundered by the state.



And just in case someone gets out of the box or starts to think too much, they give a handful of people badges, weapons, and the power to terrorize the population.


Whether it’s direct taxation in the form of outright theft or indirect taxation in the form of inflation, these tactics have been used for millennia to maintain the privileges of one elite at the expense of all others. .

This time it’s no different.

At $ 780 billion, the U.S. government’s budget deficit for the first six months of fiscal 2012 is greater than Indonesia’s overall GDP. It’s absurdly unsustainable, but there is no end in sight to reckless spending habits… let alone paying back what is owed.

Meanwhile, a massive US debt worth $ 5.5 trillion matures over the next three years. And foreigners are unlikely to continue to generously lend their hard-earned savings to Uncle Sam at rates below inflation.

Moreover, given the millions of new rights beneficiaries, intragovernment agencies like Social Security are unlikely to have the cash available to pay off a significant portion of this debt.

That leaves the old, tried-and-true options – direct confiscation of the people through debilitating taxes and capital controls, and indirect confiscation through painfully higher inflation.

Like the Romans of the 5th century before us, people may be ready to abandon civilization itself to escape the burdens placed on them by today’s ruling class. Only, by the time this happens, it might be too late to start doing anything about it.

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David C. Barham