We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Terence Kealey on the fall of the Roman Empire

The dominant ‘story’ of economic development is that science gives birth to technology, and technology makes money. But who pays for science? That has to be the government, the community, all of us. Because, who else will? So, economic development depends on a strong state, because only a strong state will pay for all that science.

Terence Kealey, in his book The Economic Laws of Scientific Research, tells a different story. Strong states destroy freedom. Weak states allow it, and thus allow capitalism, which pays for technology, which stimulates, pays for and is in its turn stimulated by science (the causal link between technology and science is that technology causes science at least as much as science causes technology), and technology also (Kealey accepts the usual causal link about this bit) causes increased prosperity.

The early chapters of this book supply an excellent potted history of pre-industrial Western Civilisation and its development. Here are the paragraphs that describe the fall of the Roman Empire:

So unconcerned with research did the Roman State become, that the Emperors actually suppressed technology. Petronius described how: ‘a flexible glass was invented, but the workshop of the inventor was completely destroyed by the Emperor Tiberius for fear that copper, silver and gold would lose value’. Suetonius described how: ‘An engineer devised a new machine which could haul large pillars at little expense. However the Emperor Vespasian rejected the invention and asked “who will take care of my poor?”.’ So uncommercial had the Romans become, their rulers rejected increases in productivity. In such a world, advances in science were never going to be translated into technology. Thus we can see that the government funding of ancient science was, in both economic and technological terms, a complete waste of money because the economy lacked the mechanism to exploit it.

The fall of the Roman Empire was frightful. The growth of the Empire had always been based on conquest, and the Empire’s economy had been fuelled by the exploitation of new colonies. When the Empire ran out of putative victims, its economy ceased to make sense, particularly as the mere maintenance of the Empire, with its garrisons and its bureaucrats, was so expensive. From the beginning of the second century AD, the State had to raise higher and higher taxes to maintain itself and its armies. It was under the Emperors Hadrian and Trajan, when the Empire was at its largest, that residual freedoms started to get knocked away to ensure that revenue was collected. Special commissioners, curatores, were appointed to run the cities. An army of secret police were recruited from the frumentarii. To pay for the extra bureaucrats, yet more taxes were raised, and the state increasingly took over the running of the economy – almost on ancient Egyptian lines. In AD 301, the Emperor Diocletian imposed fixed wages and prices, by decree, with infractions punishable by death. He declared that ‘uncontrolled economic activity is a religion of the godless’. Lanctantius wrote that the edict was a complete failure, that ‘there was a great bloodshed arising from its small and unimportant details’ and that more people were engaged in raising and spending taxes than in paying them. The origins of medieval feudalism emerged from the Roman Empire as it decayed. To ensure that the peasants continued to work under an economy which had lost its free-market incentives, Constantine promulgated a law in AD 332 which bound all coloni to the state as serfs. Their children were glebe adscripti, tied to the soil. To reinforce state control on all aspects of the economy, the city trade guilds or collegia imposed compulsory, hereditary trades on all. An edict Of AD 390 forbade children of the workers in the mint to marry outside their caste or trade. The towns shrank, and the population condensed on the patriarchal, self-sufficient, isolated estates that adumbrate the medieval European villages. Indeed, the word ‘village’ derives from the Latin villa, indicating that the feudal villages originated as the private estates of Roman magnates. And the Roman Catholic Church, once adopted by Constantine as the official religion, started to burn heretics. Religious and intellectual freedom, the great gifts of the Graeco-Roman period, were extinguished. No new technology emerged.

Contrary to myth, the empire did not collapse in the face of unstoppable barbarian hordes. The numbers of barbarians were always small (a mere 80,000 vandals took the whole of Roman Africa in less than a decade). The empire fell because many of its citizens had emigrated to the freer, more pleasant barbarian lands (under the late empire, the population fell from 70 to 50 million) and, crucially, the invading barbarians found themselves welcomed as armies of liberation by vast numbers of oppressed people. The empire had been warned. In De Rebus Bellicus, published anonymously around AD 370, the author called for tax cuts, new technology, and political freedoms: ‘In the technical arts, progress is due not to those of the highest birth or immense wealth or public office or eloquence derived from literary studies but solely to men of intellectual power . . . [the barbarians] are by no means considered strangers to mechanical inventiveness.’ The author blamed the greed of the rulers for the desperation of the poor: ‘This store of gold meant that the houses of the powerful were crammed full and their splendour enhanced to the destruction of the poor, the poorer classes of course being held down by force. But the poor were driven by their afflictions into various criminal enterprises, and losing sight of all respect for the law, all feeling of loyalty, they entrusted their revenge to crime. For they often inflicted the most severe injuries on the Empire, laying waste the fields, breaking the peace with outbursts of brigandage, stirring up animosities, and passing from one crime to another, supported usurpers.’ Unfortunately, this very sensible tract was never shown to the Emperor, Valentinian I, even though Ammianus Marcellinus tells us that he was one of the emperors who actually was interested in inventions.

The empire collapsed, not for a lack of Hellenistic science – there was plenty of that – but because it abandoned capitalism. It was a plunder empire, not a market empire. For plunder, it forsook free trade, and it therefore forsook the developments in technology that the free market would have fostered, and it also forsook the development of technologically inspired science. Since new technology is effectively synonymous with economic growth (see the discussion in Chapter 7), we can say that, in modern terms, the empire failed to raise its GDP per capita.

The fall of the Graeco-Roman hegemony teaches that the government funding of academic science will not generate useful technology in the absence of an appropriate, capitalist economy. This is so different from the conventional history that we must underline it. A standard textbook like Buchanan’s Technology and Social Progress emphasises, in the author’s own italics, on the very second page, that ‘A strong state, in short, is a necessary precondition of industrialization’ but we have shown that, historically, the reverse is true. In antiquity, it was the strong states that suppressed technology, and the weak ones that fostered it, because the weak ones were too weak to rob individuals of their freedom. As we shall see, it took the Dark Ages and their attendant chaos to liberate the human spirit and so fructify commerce, technology and a healthy science.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on VK

34 comments to Terence Kealey on the fall of the Roman Empire

  • MayDay72

    …Interesting…

    Are there any other similar historical declines or collapses of great ancient empires (pre-industrial revolution) for related reasons (i.e. distrust of new technology, heavy taxation, increased trade barriers, etc.)?

    What about the Chinese? They definitely had advanced science, an educated populace and engaged in trade on a global scale. This was mainly during the Ming dynasty. Of course all the major trade expeditions of this time (Ming period) were sponsored by the state and were quasi-military operations. Their goverment became increasingly bureaucratic and centralized. Eventually maritime trade was discouraged and halted. They thought that it was more imprortant to divert valuable resources to their military operations in the West (Mongolia, etc.).

    I found a useful page on Chinese history here. I thought this part was interesting and relevant to this post:

    “In the last century of its existence, the Ming Dynasty faced numerous internal and external problems. The internal problem was tied to official corruption and taxation.”

    Were there similar issues contributing to the decline of other civilizations (Greek, Egytian, Mayan, etc.)?

  • Guy Herbert

    Agreed, interesting.

    Another problem with state-funded science is it too easily becomes state-directed science. Research likely to produce politically approved ends tends to be favoured, and sometimes reality must yield to political demands, as under Stalin.

    This is not to say state-funded science can’t be good science. Most of modern science has benefited from some sort of state funding. But the institutions that do it ought to be as independent as possible.

  • ” and that more people were engaged in raising and spending taxes than in paying them.”

    A situation we are fast approaching now and not just in Britain but pretty much across the entire developed world.

  • Phil Bradley

    Agreed, interesting! China and Japan had a similar experience, as did arguably the Arab world.

    I think Guy is a little too generous in his analysis. A lot of science is little more than pandering to political and social prejudices (particularly noticeable in the Global Warming ‘debate’). The current academic system where it takes perhaps half a working lifetime to get tenure and full professorship, probably encourages a go-with-the-flow and keep-your-head-down mentality, as does the political correct climate in universities. Although, I suspect the situation may be different in elite institutions.

    I note that Terence Kealey wants to take his university fully private and market driven. A man of his convinctions!

    BTW the second link is broken.

  • How can you all be so smart, yet at the same time, be so ignored by every mainstream politician and so many voting citizens?

    What’s the point of being right when nobody listens?

    The question may be slightly off topic, but it does relate to the given story.

  • mark holland

    Has anyone else here seen programmes like ‘Industrial Revelations’ on the Discovery Channel. The engineering is spectacular, the inventions are imaginative but what I really like about it all is that everything done through enlightened self interest. The Duke of Bridgewater didn’t have his canals built for his customers benefit alone. He did it to get more of his coal to Manchester and faster. Heck, I believe even Robert Owen of New Lanark wasn’t simply being an altrusist. His building houses and providing health care for his employees would have increased their productivity and, hence, his profits.

  • “‘A strong state, in short, is a necessary precondition of industrialization”

    Well, thats clearly a false statement. Compared to modern times the 19th century British government was hardly “strong”, and yet Britain was the first nation to industrialise. I’ve seen arguments that suggested that the reason why government response to the Irish potato famine was because the British government of the day was such a small organisation it simply did not have the resources available to it to cope with the situation.

    I don’t think the likes of Sir Robert Peel were advocates of a strong state, quite the contrary.

    Incidentally I do think the government should fund research, and I agree that those conducting the research should be free of government interference – a difficult thing to achieve, admittedly…

  • Kevin L. Connors

    Fascinating, Brian. I’ve read several reviews of Kealy’s work, but none mention his history going all the way back to the Roman Empire. This book just jumped several spaces on my “to read” list.

    BTW: Of interest to many here might be this review by Frank Forman, where he relates Kealy’s work to the crisis in publicly funded health care.

  • Brian,

    That’s very interesting. I think it is very obvious that something like that must have happened just looking at the world from a broad point of view. Greek science, some technological development, then Rome for a numbe of centuries, and then, well, nothing. Technological progress then took another thousand years to get going again. The question of why the ancient world didn’t turn into a technological civilization is one of the key questions of human history, I think, and it is a question that the people who actually study the ancient world aren’t generally especially interested in.

    I think there are obvious parallels between the Roman Empire as described here and the Soviet Union, too. That’s another empire that put a lot of effort in “science” but which failed to turn it into “technology” and was in fact rather contemptuous of the idea of doing so. The difference was that in the present, the world did not have one dominant power.

  • Theodopoulos Pherecydes

    I believe it was jolly old Diocletian who discovered the magic of reducing the weight of the coinage while leaving the denomination the same thus institutionalising inflation in the Roman Empire.

  • Dave O'Neill

    The key problem is the fact that the Roman economy was based on a very advanced form of slavery and mechanisation and machinary and slavery don’t go together.

    From the perspective of the Romans the last thing you want a bunch of disgruntled slaves sitting around watching the machines. Pretty soon they might get the wrong idea.

    It’s slave labour that is the problem, not necessarily the state involvement.

  • Brian Micklethwait

    The second link is now fixed. Apologies. It’s to a review of the entire book by Antony Flew. He is a bit critical of the actual “laws”. I haven’t got to that bit of the book yet.

    Michael:

    The technological stagnation was during the high Roman Empire. (In its early days Rome was, as were the Greeks in their early days, quite inventive.) The so called “dark ages” were … well, put it this way, Kealey’s next chapter is called: “The So-called Dark Ages”! During the next thousand years after Rome’s fall there were lots of important inventions, and Europe by, say, the 12th century, was way, way ahead of Rome technologically.

    The point is, the darkness of the Dark Ages was the thinness of the historical record, not the absence of any actual achievements. But you’re right, it took a long time for things to really come alive and start buzzing. That only happened with the Italian City states, Venice, Florence and so on, with a highly honourable mention to 12th century France.

    I’m glad commenters liked this stuff. Maybe long (-ish – and well chosen!) chunks from the best books is a posting formula we could use more here. Although, I don’t know the copyright situation with that.

    Incidentally, talking of copyrights, one of the Italian inventions that Kealey singles out for praise is the Patent.

  • Brian,

    History is alive and the fall of the Roman Empire is a lesson for the present which many historians have taken. However, Kealey’s concentration on the role of science and technology is, whilst interesting, not fundamental. Even a full-blow, freedom-loving Rome with a libertarian senate would not have scratched the surface of the deep cultural sickness that had pervaded the state.

    If one is looking at parallels with the present day they exist a-plenty. The starkest and most fundamental is the destruction we allow of our own traditions and mores, by and large in the pursuit of self-gratification. Close behind that is the weakness of understanding, the blind altruism that permits a river of foreign humanity to flow into our midst.

    These are great moral failings then and now, against which any failing in the promotion of science and technology is decidedly minor.

  • Brian Micklethwait

    Guessedworker

    I couldn’t agree with you less.

    One of the very best things about the best bits of the West (USA and the UK definitely tagging along behind) is the way that rivers of humanity flood in and join in, and absolutely central to this is the radically progressive tradition of technological activity that is now thoroughly bedded down in our civilisation, unlike in Ancient Rome. There’s nothing altruistic about the USA’s immigration policies. They’re one of the big reasons the USA is racing ahead of (e.g.) Japan now.

    It’s the stagnant social and economic systems which don’t attract foreigners, like (again) late Imperial Rome, whose population fell, as Kealey explains.

    And far from the pursuit of fun being an attack on our great traditions, that’s one of them, for goodness sakes.

    And nor do immigrants “flooding” into the USA challenge USA tradition. THEY ARE USA TRADITION!!!! And they damn well know it. They quickly become state of the art Americans, and raise state of the art American families.

    I’m less optimistic about similar processes working their magic in the UK, and even less so about the same thing in continental Europe, but somewhat optimistic about that even so.

  • T. Hartin

    “And nor do immigrants “flooding” into the USA challenge USA tradition. THEY ARE USA TRADITION!!!! And they damn well know it. They quickly become state of the art Americans, and raise state of the art American families.”

    Not to highjack this thread into an immigration flamewar (which, come to think of it, we haven’t had for awhile), but this is primarily true with respect to legal immigration only, and even in that arena is less true as the ideal of assimilation into American culture is diluted by multi-culti diversity crackpottery.

    Illegal immigration and unassimilated immigrants (illegals tend not to assimilate) are a potentially major problem for any nation, especially one built primarily on a shared culture rather than a shared ancestry.

  • Brian Micklethwait

    T. Hartin

    What I’m about to do is to take your comment and make it into part of a new posting. If anyone wants that flamewar, we can have it in a place deliberately devoted to that topic.

    At the risk of hijacking my own comments section, I really didn’t liike the way the comments on a posting I did a few days ago about how well the Conservatives might or might not be doing was turned inot a ruckus about whether Britain should or should not join the EU.

    So, immigration comments there please, and only comments that relate to Kealey’s ideas here.

    Sieg Heil!

  • Brian Micklethwait

    As promised a few moments ago, we now have that separate immigration posting. See above: “Here’s where we’ll have the immigration flamewar please”.

  • Dark Ages:

    From about 500 AD to sometime before 1000 AD, more or less. In greater england from starting a little earlier as the empire loses *official* tracK of it. (I’m sure the Neustrian (greater Normandy +/-) roman bureaucrats kept an eye on it.

    The invasion of England by Scandinavians and Normen in 1066AD is not dark age stuff (it was documented, historical and unlegendary) , early middle ages would be better.

    1200 is middle ages, good and solidly, and as another writer made the point the technical arts had progressed, or at the very least not declined.

    Even the dark ages were darker in our imagining today that they were in reality. There’s that whole Carolingian thing on the continent, for instance. Which while it wasn’t a modern medieval state still managed to field serious sustained, multi-year, long distance military campaigns, encourage literacy, etc…

    And the Late Roman empire is a pretty murky place, what with the various germans, assorted Huns, and gauls running about torching the bureaucrats’ & aristocracies’ libraries & tax archives.

    I’m more fascinated why the inventions of the time, be they: metal piston pumps, that navigational calculation computer mecganism, and much else, and just general knowledge of how things are done, never seemed to acquire wide distribution.

    It seems that all over the ancient world people came up with spiffy technology, and yet it never seemed to “catch fire” and start little revolutions.

    A lack of capitalisnm to make it paying proposition (“Heck, I know how to make it better, but would get a penny for it. why bother?”) , or patents to make sure that someone had an interest in making it widespread so they could collect rents, or simply that ancient world mindset, lack of justice, lack of literacy, that disallowed small embers from catching fire?

    Fred

  • Dishman

    For this, I’ll describe human motivations as “The Hunger”.
    When a culture directs The Hunger in ways that increase it, it prospers. People work harder and more efficiently when they’re doing something because they want to. It’s hard (and ineffective) to coerce behavior along whatever lines. Laws are much more effective at inhibiting behavior.

    In the fall of the Roman Empire, those with power became more interested in eliminating threats to that power than increasing the power by expanding the culture. Technology had contributed to the growth and wealth of Rome, but the elites started to see it as a threat to their power. In this regard, I would say that the passage describes a symptom of the malady, rather than the malady itself.

    If the Emporers had had any notion of what technology could do, they might have felt differently. Even if they only knew lust for power, they would have found great value in surveillance, long-range bombers and a great many other things we now enjoy.

    For the lust for wealth, I (as an engineer) am far wealthier in many regards than even an Emporer. My horse (motorcycle) is many times faster than his fastest, and will run at that speed for well over an hour. Should I desire to travel to Rome, I could be there in a day from further away than he even knew existed. Most every day, I eat foods from distant, exotic lands. My bath is always at the temperature of my choosing. I could spend my whole day watching gladiatorial games of many different kinds. My wine is as good as the best that ever graced the emporer’s glass. I can seek the consultation of thousands of wise (or foolish) people in an instant. When I speak, my words can arrive at any corner of the globe in a heartbeat. And I give all this great wealth no particular thought.

    Locked within their perspective, they considered themselves to be powerful and wealthy, not realizing that there existed power and wealth beyond what they could imagine. They turned away from new power and wealth, instead trying to preserve what meager bits they had. Power became a tool to suppress and control.

    They started to see life as a zero-sum game.

  • Bravo Dishman! Bravo!

    Well said. I particularly enjoyed your paragraph about the relative wealth of the Emporer. However, in the future, you should be careful with what you write…you may end up being quoted. 😉

  • Ken

    I had no idea the Roman Empire so closely paralleled the world of “Atlas Shrugged”, complete with Directive 10-289.

    That certainly makes a better explanation for the Empire’s decay and fall than the idea that it was done in by rampant sexual immorality and general licentiousness, which I have heard from time to time.

    It only leaves open the question of how the empire held together so long…

  • Cydonia

    Brian:

    “Incidentally, talking of copyrights, one of the Italian inventions that Kealey singles out for praise is the Patent.”

    I could swear that when I heard Kealey talk at last year’s LA Conference, he seemed to be suggesting that patents are unnecessary. Oh well. Better read the book ….

    Cydonia

  • Phil Bradley

    Fred

    I’m more fascinated why the inventions of the time, be they: metal piston pumps, that navigational calculation computer mecganism, and much else, and just general knowledge of how things are done, never seemed to acquire wide distribution.

    One factor was the rise of a monlithic, militantly orthodox religion in the West that devoted its energies to suppressing heresies – effectively controlling the dissemination of knowledge. Arguably this persisted until the invention of the printing press eroded the Church’s hold over the possession and dissemination of knowledge.

    The situation in the East (the old Eastern Roman empire) was different and scientific knowledge (lost in the West) was preserved and enhanced. Islam continued this tradition and much of what we know of the Greeks came down to us through the Arabs.

  • TomD

    “Who pays for science? That has to be the government”

    I totally reject that statement. The driving force behind almost all of the world shaping inventions of the last century has been the profit motive.

  • Fred said: I’m more fascinated why the inventions of the time, be they: metal piston pumps, that navigational calculation computer mecganism, and much else, and just general knowledge of how things are done, never seemed to acquire wide distribution.

    It seems that all over the ancient world people came up with spiffy technology, and yet it never seemed to “catch fire” and start little revolutions.

    You were referring to the Antikythera mechanism? I agree. (This is first century BC, so that was the earlier innovative period, I suppose). One cannot help but think that subsequent history would have been very different if developments like this were more widely propagated, yes.

    Brian said: The point is, the darkness of the Dark Ages was the thinness of the historical record, not the absence of any actual achievements.

    What’s the reason for the thinness of the historical record? Is it just the loss of a central Roman bureacracy, or is there more to it than that?

  • Toward the end the Romans were reeling under unbearable tax burdens which had started out small and became progressively worse. Their biggest problems were a bloated bureaucracy addicted to revenue and an elitist military which no longer cared and was out of touch with its traditional Patrician base.

    I am not sure it is completely fair to link the stingy, paranoid Tiberius to developments hundreds of years later. Emperors came and went, often installed and then assassinated by the Praetorian Guard to the point where chaos reigned despite the characterization of the government as “strong.” It must be borne in mind that the strong emperors had a great deal of influence over events, and could anticipate and correct problems. If their policies were good, things could go well.

    Ken is absolutely right that “rampant sexual immorality and general licentiousness” had nothing to do with Rome’s demise. The modern fundamentalist/moral conservative complaint assumes such a thing as guilt over human sexuality — an idea which would have baffled the Romans (and maybe did towards the end).

    A wonderful, thought-provoking piece!

  • Phil Bradley

    Following on from my point about religion. Its interesting to note that christianity was an apocaleptic religion (and arguably still is). The christian world-view was that history started with the perfection of the garden of Eden and the world would end chaos and death prior to the resurection. Their view of knowledge was that in the beginnning all was known and knowledge was progressively lost, which conveniently explained how the Greeks seemed to know more than contemporary peoples. This gave rise to the view that new knowledge could not exist and to seek it was a sin.

    On a linguistic note, our word for trying to discover knowledge – ‘research’ comes from the notion that to find the answer to any question you must go back and re-read the ancients (greeks) again, as they clearly would have known.

  • veryretired

    There is a passage in “Atlas Shrugged” in which James Taggert (I think) is trying to explain his mindset. He complains that the problem is that everything changes all the time, nothing ever just stays the same. It is a remarkable and insightful segment. It ends with the character practically crying and saying “Why can’t we just stop and rest for a while? We just need to stop and let things remain the same, so we can catch our breath” (paraphrase, beg pardon)

    Beyond any doubt this feeling, that things would be ok if they just remained the same familiar pattern or background, is a fundamental human yearning that cuts across culture. You can see it not only in the ruling classes, who obviously want their privileged position to stay as it is, but in many of the laboring and peasant classes as well. There was a great deal of hostility toward new methods and innovations if they meant that the guild of potters or tailors or whatever was threatened by a new competative environment.

    Freedom consists of having choices. If the choices consist of finding new ways to make a living because someone just made your old way obselete, it is understandable that a very common reaction is to try to ban the threat, and keep things the same.

    There are many cultures around the world that never experienced much of what we consider “natural” development. Very little technology, innovation, or change in traditions. For them, the bustling Western desire to “find a better way” is not the obvious improvement we think it is. If anyone else here happens to remember, safety and security were the 1st level bases for Mazlow’s Hierarchy. (A management/organizational theorist from the 60’s and 70’s)

    We are always surprised when anyone rejects the obvious benefits of industrial capitalism. It would be easier to comprehend the hesitation, and perhaps slow our urge to throw rocks from the moral high ground, if we could try to feel the fear that rapid, sudden change inspires.

  • This column brings to mind the differences between former colonial powers Spain and England. Spain took the part of the New World where the wealth was ready-made and waiting to be plucked; England took the part where colonists had to work to produce it. (Of course, mercantilism ruled some market sectors, and some of the work was, ahem, forcibly outsourced – but most of the wealth of the New World was created by free men.) Spain built plunder while England built trade. Spain redistributed wealth, England produced it. Spain kicked out the commercially successful Jews, England embraced the commercially successful Lombards and named a bustling-with-business street in London after them. Today’s Spain is an economic basket case; the UK, despite its socialism, is still one of the commercial powers of the world.

  • RonG

    Might I suggest that some of the reasons’s the Roman Empire fell include:
    1.Slavery. If Adam Smith is correct and the interest of the state is advanced by each individual seeking their own interest within legal bounds, then slavery introduces a class who do not benefit from their efforts and they have no incentive to be productive and thus they will be less productive than the equivalent number of free workers, and the state suffers an opportunity cost. As well, much of the work of the legions was not just protecting against outside invaders, but the putting down of slave revolts. This is an additional cost that is incurred by a slaveholding state. Also, slaves pay no taxes to the state where the freeman does. One might argue that the slaveowner pays the taxes, but it is my suspicion that the richer slaveowners were also the ones in the position to use their influence to reduce their own tax burden. Thus the more successful the legions were, the more slaves were brought into the empire, and the greater the eventual costs to the state.
    2. There was considerable technology developed by the Empire, but there was a stigma attached to trade and industry. The best educated thus were not involved in improving the productivity of industry or even agriculture. Afterall, that was what slaves were for. Instead, they gravitated towards government, and thus we find that tax collectors increase beyond the ability of taxes to support them.
    3. As well as the stigma attached to trade, there was among the few who investigated natural sciences, a lack of a formal method. Some observations were made and theories developed but there was a lack of experiment and re-evaluation of theory ie. no scientific method. As well, there was not the exchange of information among those of similiar interests that mail and salons gave to the modern Europeans. Some might say that part of the problem was that the Roman numeral system may have made quantitative observations more difficult, and produced a reliance on qualitative observations.
    4. The stigma attached to trade also mitigated against those with the most capital from entering industry, and this starved the beginning of a more capital intensive free enterprise system.
    5. Succession was always a problem, The man who stuck the knife in the previous emperor might not be as competent. Or even if they were competent, their skills may be in areas not conducive to economic growth. They may have been good generals (or not) and the had the skills of obtaining money to finance the army ( they may have been good at plucking the goose ) but they had no idea about how to run a civilian economy; it may have not occured to them that maybe instead of plucking the goose bare, they could grow the goose larger and pluck just as much with less hissing. And sometimes, you came up with a Nero or Caligula. It is truly amazing how much more competent are the leaders thrown up by a parliament.
    6. Since conquest was always a big source of funds for the empire, once the empire was thrown on the defensive by its enlarged borders, those funds dried up, and more reliance was placed on taxes.
    7. I also seem to recall ( corrections gratefully accepted ) that one of the accomodations to some of the German tribes allowed into the empire was the granting of the best estates and land in Gaul, as well as tax-exempt status, in return for their services in protecting the empire. This reduced funds to Rome, but did not appreciably reduce the need for legions because misunderstandings and renegings constantly occured.

    This is just my understanding from some first year history courses, as well as some independant reading. I make no guarentees regarding the accuracy of anything I’ve written.
    But perhaps I’ve spread shot wide enough to have hit some of the target.

  • Peter

    I recommend people to read the book by David Landes “Poverty and Wealth of Nations”. where he compelling argues that the Roman empire demise was a benefit to development, because the notion of central control was finally diminished.

  • M. Simon

    veryretired,

    People feel losses more acutely than equivalent gains.

    In fact it is starting to become clear that however much a problem feelings are, rational thought is impossible without them.

    People without feeling can’t make choices.

    If you can’t make choices rational thought is impossible.

    Policies will need to become more harmonious to human nature.

  • Roman empire demise was a benefit to development, because the notion of central control was finally diminished.

    Hah! Central control was the story of Dark/Middle Ages Europe!

  • aazad

    How did the government of Roman Empire cause the fall of Roman Empire?