John Stossel: Are we Rome yet?
A group of libertarians gathered in Las Vegas recently for an event called "FreedomFest." We debated whether America will soon fall, as Rome did.
The Roman Republic had a constitution, but Roman leaders often ignored it. "Marius was elected consul six years in a row, even though under the constitution (he) was term-limited to one year."
"We have presidents of both parties legislating by executive order, saying I'm not going to enforce certain laws because I don't like them. ... That open flouting of the law is dangerous because law ceases to have meaning. ... I see that today. ... Congress passes huge laws they haven't even read (as well as) overspending, overtaxing and devaluing the currency."
Tiberius established an "office of imperial pleasures," which gathered "beautiful boys and girls from all corners of the world" so, as Tacitus put it, the emperor "could defile them."
To pay for their excesses, emperors devalued the currency. (Doesn't our Fed do that by buying $2 trillion of government debt?)
The president of the Foundation for Economic Education, Lawrence Reed, warned that Rome, like America, had an expanding welfare state. It started with "subsidized grain. The government gave it away at half price. But the problem was that they couldn't stop there ... a man named Claudius ran for Tribune on a platform of free wheat for the masses. And won. It was downhill from there."
Rome's government, much like ours, wasn't good at making sure subsidies flowed only to the poor, said Reed: "Anybody could line up to get these goods, which contributed to the ultimate bankruptcy of the Roman state."
Diocletian was worse than Nixon. Rome enforced controls with the death penalty — and forbade people to change professions. Emperor Constantine decreed that those who broke such rules "be bound with chains and reduced to servile condition."
At FreedomFest, Matt Kibbe, president of the Tea Party group FreedomWorks, also argued that America could soon collapse like Rome did.
That's a big difference between today's America and yesterday's Rome. We have movements like the tea party and libertarianism and events like FreedomFest that alert people to the danger in imperial Washington and try to fight it. If they can wake the public, we have hope.
Rome's lasted the longest. The Ottoman Empire lasted 623 years. China's Song, Qing and Ming dynasties each lasted about 300 years.
John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "No They Can't: Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed."