Leftists everywhere are are talking about how the victory of Trump is the beginning of the end. That the US as we know it is doomed. And as they destroy their country in “protests” (riots) because Donald Trump is going to destroy the country too (I know, it makes no sense) I think it’s important to talk about what the “end” entails. Is it a bad thing and are their instances in history we can look to as to what we could expect? I think the answer to both questions is easily found. We need to look no further than the Roman Empire and its collapse.
The Fall of Rome
Rome fell for a number of different reasons. One theory says Christianity is what brought it down. 1 The basic idea behind this theory is that Christianity was a very inclusive religion, and that once Rome accepted it and adopted it as its state religion, the Roman State became more inclusive as well. Prior to the acceptance of Christianity, the ability to become a citizen and serve in the army was a guarded privilege. Once this privilege became more common in the decline of the empire, it caused that sense of unity in being “Roman” to disappear thus causing its downfall from within. While this seems like a fascinating theory, I don’t think it is the reason Rome fell. It may have contributed to its demise, but Rome was failing and Christianity, if it had any effect at all, was simply a small contributing factor to the economic troubles the empire had for itself.
The chart above shows the decline of the quality (silver content) of Roman currency. You can see they began to inflate their money supply (through coin clipping or mixing in base metals) in order to pay for expansions and any other stately need. This increase in the money supply then meant that the purchasing power of the money decreased. When the scarcity of something increases, it’s safe to assume that its price will diminish compared to other goods. Money is not exempt from this economic rule.
Above we can see that the US Government has done much the same thing to our modern money through central banking and inflationary monetary policy. Like the Roman Empire, the US government has sought to increase the money supply through inflation in order to pay for war and foreign interventions. And just like Rome, this economic policy will be its downfall. We are seeing it now. The average American, much like the average Roman at the time, is aware that something is wrong but cannot posit exactly what it is. They turn to demagogues like Trump or Sanders for fallacious populist answers and get “Bread and Circuses” to distract them from the troubles that are at their front door.
Mises points out the following in his treatise on economics, Human Action:
“What brought about the decline of the empire and the decay of its civilization was the disintegration of this economic interconnectedness, not the barbarian invasions. The alien aggressors merely took advantage of an opportunity which the internal weakness of the empire offered to them. From a military point of view the tribes which invaded the empire in the 4th and 5th centuries were not more formidable than the armies which the legions had easily defeated in earlier times. But the empire had changed. Its economic and social structure was already medieval.” 2
At its height, the Empire had a high division of labor. It would be fallacious to say that this was the kind of free market Anarcho-Capitalists argue for, but it was definitely a hampered but developed economy. Trade was strong, which fostered this division of labor, and it’s what allowed the Empire to remain strong and protect its frontier borders. As the currency degraded in quality, it’s logical to say that its effectiveness in defending its borders would decrease too. This is all due to the destruction of the division of labor caused by monetary manipulations within the Empire. Mises further notes:
“The showdown came when in the political troubles of the 3rd and 4th centuries the emperors resorted to currency debasement. With the system of maximum prices, the practice of debasement completely paralyzed both the production and the marketing of the vital foodstuffs and disintegrated society’s economic organization. The more eagerness the authorities displayed in enforcing the maximum prices, the more desperate became the conditions of the urban masses dependent on the purchase of food.
Commerce in grain and other necessities vanished altogether…
…A tendency toward the establishment of autarky of each landlord’s estate emerged. The economic function of the cities, of commerce, trade, and urban handicrafts, shrank. Italy and the provinces of the empire returned to a less advanced state of the social division of labor. The highly developed economic structure of ancient civilization retrograded to what is now known as the manorial organization of the Middle Ages.” 3
Medieval monetary inflationary policies, coupled with price controls, caused prices to be unstable which caused problems within the markets and cities. This caused people to flee the city and return to a less advanced kind of division of labor. A more subsistence and primitive form of living which in turn reduced production. Reduced production meant reduced support and resources for maintaining the borders until nothing could be defended. What we are really seeing here is the Austrian business cycle theory. Monetary policies that distorted the market created a bubble (the boom) which would eventually burst (the bust). The return to the simpler division of labor was the market attempting to correct itself since its current path was no longer sustainable. Unfortunately, the barbarians took advantage of this market correction caused by government intervention and ravaged Rome until it was no more. “Groups such as the Visigoths, Vandals, Angles, Saxons, Franks, Ostrogoths, and Lombards took turns ravaging the Empire, eventually carving out areas in which to settle down.” 4 In 476, the last Roman Emperor in the west, Romulus, was overthrown by Germanic leader Odoacer. Odoacer’s people settled the region that once had been part of the “Great Roman Empire”. 5
Do we need to worry about modern day Visigoths and Vandals? Not so much in my opinion. To me, the fear mongering of Muslim invaders is overblown and the rioting of the leftists can only go so far, especially in an armed society like the US (so long as it stays armed). But the US Empire cannot escape the economic disasters it has sown for itself. Perhaps the only “barbarians” we will have to worry about are those in power now, who caused this economic disaster, being unwilling to relinquish power peacefully. But as Hoppe has pointed out, this risks them losing public favor. Government is by it’s nature, an entity that appropriates property by force and against the property owners real consent. And any firm that does so creates victims. And if those victims decide that enough is enough, that exploitative firm will diminish in size or cease to exist all together. It is public opinion and favor that is one of the main contributing factors to the size and existence of government. 6
What Happens After the Fall?
The US will in fact go the way of Rome. It will crumble and it will become a part of history. As horrifying as that sounds to some, there is no escaping this fate. But like the time after the demise of Rome, there are some pluses and positive outcomes. The most precious and important being decentralization. The break up of the leviathan like state meant smaller governments. And for libertarians and Anarcho-Capitalists, this is a positive idea. For much of the Middle Ages, there was mass decentralization as far as state authority is concerned. There were hundreds of tiny kingdoms all over. In fact, the concept of the modern state that is as large as it is now is… well… a very “modern” concept. Louis Rouanet at the Mises Institute notes, “…over the centuries, a long evolution of the institutions gave birth to personal liberty. Although the European aristocracies and states were restricting freedom, they were forced to grant more autonomy to their subjects, for, if they did not, people were opting out by migrating or using black markets.” 7 It is easy to see that if the decentralized nature of Europe after Rome fell was retained with the modern advancement of free markets and the division of labor, how much more incredibly wealthy Europe could have been than it was or currently is now.
So we can see that the end will come at some point. But it really isn’t “the end of the world”. There may be some bumps on the way to decentralization and liberty, but statism has a price and that price must be paid in some way. The US will fall and it already is falling. A Trump presidency (or a Hillary one if she had one) is only an indicator the end began a long time ago. The end will not occur because of a single bad leader. That bad leader came to be because previous statist rulers made choices that allowed the current terrible leader to even come about, and public opinion allowed it. The good news is that mass decentralization could be in our future. We are seeing it with secession being a real topic of discussion, even among leftists, and this is a beautiful thing. We have talked about secession since we started this blog in 2014. People laughed at us then so it’s great to see those mockers take the idea seriously now. We are living in interesting times and the ground is more fertile than ever before for these ideas on liberty and freedom. Let’s plant those seeds.