Originally published at Washington’s Blog, January 7, 2016 •
Widespread corruption destroys empires.
By way of example, corruption was one of the main causes of the collapse of the Roman Empire:
The Praetorian Guard—the emperor’s personal bodyguards—assassinated and installed new sovereigns at will, and once even auctioned the spot off to the highest bidder [and see this]. The political rot also extended to the Roman Senate, which failed to temper the excesses of the emperors due to its own widespread corruption and incompetence. As the situation worsened, civic pride waned and many Roman citizens lost trust in their leadership.
The Ottoman Empire started its decline when the sale of offices, bribery and corruption became widespread. Indeed:
Most historians point to “degenerate Sultans, incompetent Grand Viziers, debilitated and ill-equipped armies, corrupt officials, avaricious speculators, grasping enemies, and treacherous friends.
The Yuan Empire (led by the Mongols) also collapsed due to corruption:
The decline of the [the Yuan empire] was a result of a number of factors, these being incompetent and rivaling leaders, corruption, revolts, decadence, factional struggles, assassinations, external attacks, and disease.
Toward the end, corruption and the persecution became so severe that Muslim generals joined Han Chinese in rebelling against the Mongols.
Former history professor at the University of Alabama Larry Clayton notes:
The [Roman] republic evolved into an empire and the empire grew corrupt from its own tremendous power. There arose, like mushrooms after a long rain, self-indulgent vices driven by pride and power. An oft quoted observation noted:
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” wrote the English essayist and historian Lord Acton in 1887.
Long after the Roman Empire disappeared, other empires, notably the ones of France, England, and Spain began with the conquest and settlement of the New World. By the end of the nineteenth century, European nations had created economic, military and commercial empires across much of the globe.
Watching the rise and fall of empires is like watching a predictable ballet or opera, or even a Hollywood movie, all with distinct beginnings, middles, and ends, marked by triumph after triumph, crisis after crisis, and then the resolution of it all at the end. The curtain drops. The lights come on. The European empires lasted until the Second World War, and then crashed.
We come full circle to our question, “why do empires fall?” An empire falls when it becomes so self-important that it loses touch with the values that produced it. They begin to think they are destiny of the world.
There is a glowing sense of power that is irresistible, and those who get to the controls lose touch with the ancient virtues that gave their people their value and worth.
Indeed, an ancient Chinese principle holds that empires collapse when:
Corruption becomes rampant in the imperial court, and the empire begins to enter decline and instability.
(Indeed, Bastiat showed that corruption at the top leads to lawlessness among the people.)
As we’ve exhaustively documented, corruption is rampant in the the U.S. today.
In addition, widespread corruption leads to runaway inequality. Specifically, one of the biggest causes of runaway inequality is that the big banks are manipulating every market, and committing massive crimes. Fraud disproportionately benefits the big banks, makes boom-bust cycles more severe, and otherwise harms the economy … all of which increase inequality and warp the market. These actions artificially redistribute wealth from honest, hard-working people to a handful of crooks. And corrupt government officials have aided and abetted this.
Runaway inequality – in turn – leads to the fall of empires … through unrest or revolution.
Indeed, inequality was one of the main reasons for the fall of the Roman Empire … and inequality in America is much worse than in Ancient Rome. In fact, inequality in America today is twice as bad as in ancient Rome , worse than it was in in Tsarist Russia, Gilded Age America, modern Egypt, Tunisia or Yemen, many banana republics in Latin America, and worse than experienced by slaves in 1774 colonial America.
Institutional corruption is also leading to a lack of trust … which is collapsing the economy.
Indeed, the U.S.A. is following the pattern of ALL past empires as they declined:
- They financialize their economy … going from manufacturing to speculation
- They incur very high levels of debt
- They overreach in costly military adventures
- They become arrogant and lazy
- They collapse soon after their peak
No wonder the American Empire is starting to collapse …
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