What drives economic and social stagnation? What drives the sort of stagnation ever more economists agree we are experiencing now? Well, the Greco-Roman example is clear enough. In Rome, three things got abated, causing stagnation: the law and justice, democracy, and, finally, after a few generations, technological progress became unable to sustain society.

Thus Greco-Roman society imploded spectacularly in nearly all ways, from intellect, to military, to demographics, economics, politics, justice, etc.

The beauty of my analysis is that, in spite of its variegated effects, the degenerative stagnation into oblivion of Rome had just one common cause: the blossoming of the plutocratic effect. In my book, plutocratization is not just an hereditary phenomenon, but also, more deeply, an effect on the mood, the mentality of the empire.

The Bluer, The More Owned By The Hyper Rich A Country Was in 2009

The Bluer, The More Owned By The Hyper Rich A Country Was in 2009

[The Gini index, above, is the one century old notion used to evaluate wealth; I boldly propose a more advanced and cynical notion, the plutocratic index; see below. In the picture above, one can see that the Gini coefficient correlates positively with violence in a society; also notice that Ukraine is much more equalitarian than Putin's Russia.]

The reason I know that plutocracy in Rome was more than an hereditary class, and more of an inheritated mood, is unveiled by the unhappy fate of the Curiales, in the Late empire. (Except for the very richest Curiales, whose plutocratic influence allowed them to go tax free, a status those aristocrats kept until the Revolution of 1789, but for a nationalization under Charles Martel in 730 CE.)

Rich local authorities, members of the gentes  were ruined by their onerous charges. Even at the highest level, the Senatorial class, leading plutocrats were expected to spend so much of their personal fortunes in “philanthropy”, such as circus games, that it was difficult to maintain superlative standing for more than two or three generations… Except, of course, if one belonged to the imperial family (which maintained status, in the Orient, for centuries)

The stagnation of technological progress had two marked effects that made impossible the continuation of the fascist plutocratic empire:

1)      The technological advances needed to resist, or make irrelevant, the erosion of the resources enabling the old Greco-Roman economy were not made in a timely manner.

So, for example, Rome ran out of metals, precious or not (the mines were exhausted when using existing tech). This, in turn, caused a cascade of problems. For example, currency came to be viewed as worthless (because it did not have enough silver therein). Just as Europe around 1300 CE, the Roman empire also ran out of forests. Later it ran out of wheat, after the Vandals had taken over Africa and the Western Mediterranean.

2)      Enemies caught up with Roman military technology. Plutocratic Rome was unwilling, or incapable of adapting.

Military adaptation and adoption of enemy weapons and tactics had been the greatest strength of Republican Rome.

For example arrows from new composite double curvature bows would pierce Roman armor; heavy armored Parthian cavalry, the cataphract, was hard to stop. Roman armies took centuries to adapt, under the plutocracy, whereas such adoption of technologies took just a year under the Republic. One summer, the Romans, having captured a Carthaginian ship, decided to build a Navy, and it was done. For months, would-be sailors learned to row, in the dirt (while just created shipyards were building the ships).

Tech progress still happened, under the plutocracy, and saved Oriental Rome (that was its official title), and the Franks. The former developed Grecian fire (that destroyed thousands of Muslim ships in two memorable battles at the gates of Constantinople), and the latter had better steel.

However tech progress happened at an insufficient rate to allow the continuation of Greco-Roman civilization at anything approaching its old material, intellectual and demographic wealth.

Another factor that is the essence of remarkable nations anywhere was smashed in post-democratic, plutocratic Rome: animals spirits and freedom. Both degenerated extensively.

In Republican Rome, kings were abhorred. After four centuries of plutocratic Rome, emperors became officially gods, or then, the “13th Apostle”.

The Roman plutocrats came to absolute power by killing the revolutionary fellow aristocrats, the Gracchi brothers, and more than 5,000 of their followers (in just one of the many bloody repressions). What the Gracchi wanted to do was simply to re-establish the absolute cap on individual wealth that had been Roman law for centuries.

Tremendously popular, extreme generals and Consuls such as Marius and Caesar, heads of the “Populares”, were unable to stem the irresistible rise of the plutocratic phenomenon.

The Roman People lost control of its destiny and in the following seven centuries. A succession of plutocrats came to rule (not necessarily from hereditary means only; those who were evil enough could accede to the pinnacle of power, too).

Ideas were often the ticket to expeditious death. Imagination collapsed, and so did birthrates. The passion for spectator sports became all consuming (the famous Nikka riots of the Sixth Century were all about chariot races, but emperor Justinian clearly saw that the Demos had gone mad, from lack of democracy; not knowing what to do, he nearly abdicated, and stayed on only at the insistence of his harlot like, gold digger wife ).

Plutocracy wants stagnation, especially mental stagnation. Because mental progress under plutocracy means revolution. In the literal sense of the term.

We have increasingly the same problem that the Roman society had, as the plutocratization index augments. How would I define the plutocratic index? How would it go further than the Gini coefficient?

The Plutocratic Index is, by definition how much the .1% not just owns, but CONTROLS.

For example, Putin, a plutocrat personally owns billions, but as president of Russia and plutocrat-in-chief, he actually controls most of Russian plutocracy (although his control is not absolute: Russian plutocrats store money outside of Putin’s control, as Putin himself said.) In any case, one can quickly deduce that a small oligarchy around Putin controls and owns 50% of so of Russia. Plus roughly 100% of the Main Stream Media.

Another example: private insurance companies drafted Obamacare, and one will want to estimate how much Obamacare can be viewed as their leased instrument.

Similarly, Bill and Melinda Gates have their fingers in the American public education pie, and one will want how of that they control. Similarly, Elon Musk, broke in January 2009, is now worth personally seven billions, after getting billions from the USA government: how much of those (public) funds can be viewed as under Mr. Musk’s control?

When Warren Buffet invested 5 billion in Goldman Sachs before the USA government invested 60 billion in that bank, how much worth did that control represent?

The plutocratic index would estimate how much, more generally, American plutocrats own and control the political and judicial systems of the USA (USA corporations are estimated, by themselves to hold 2 trillion dollars overseas, escaping the IRS).

As the Washington Post put it today in “Rich People Rule“: Drawing on the same extensive evidence employed by Gilens in his landmark book “Affluence and Influence,” Gilens and Page analyze 1,779 policy outcomes over a period of more than 20 years. They conclude that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”

If that is true, the Plutocratic Index is close to 100 in the USA. That is, the maximum.

The Plutocratic Index would be a much better measure than the Gini coefficient, and of great import, should we want to avoid the stagnation that affected Rome, and ended as an implosion.

Patrice Aymé

Note: The plutocratic index is harder to compute than the Gini Index, some will object. But the Gini itself is a cheat, because a huge amount of wealth and control is hidden by anonymous companies.


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20 Responses to “Stagnation & PLUTOCRATIC INDEX”

  1. Ian Miller Says:

    In my view, there was a little more to it. I don’t think the degrading of the currency was relevant, because Diocletian put an end to that, and the Empire was then as strong as ever, more or less. As an aside, the currency degradation was more a case of “printing money” (or their equivalent of quantitative easing) rather than a shortage of silver. The first sign of rot, in my view, probably came after the Punic wars, when the soldiers came home to find the Senatorial class had stolen their farm land and Rome had a huge volume of unemployed ex-soldiers. The subsequent unemployment led to the need to supply games and free corn, and that needed higher taxes.

    In my opinion, there were two major causes of the decline. The first was that the Roman army kept killing itself, with fighting over who should be Emperor. Coupled with this was a shortage of Romans wanting to join the legions, and hence the army started to be filled up with mercenaries. At this point, the fabled Roman discipline got lost. The later legions did not fight anywhere like the way Caesar’s legions did. The second problem was that the Romans lost their ability to accept new people as Romans, and they became very racist. When the Goths were incorporated into the Empire, for example, they were considered second class citizens, but when they had to fight, and found themselves treated as “cannon fodder”, they started to rebel.

    There were other problems. The lack of growth that you mention led to insufficient taxes with which to pay the army, which led to internal riots. I am not sure about military technology. The only thing I can think of that they did not have was the stirrup, which makes a huge difference to cavalry. You are correct to say that at Caesar’s time, Caesar would have made his cavalry learn to use stirrups, and they would have drilled until they were better than their opposition. At the end, as I said, there was little discipline, and the Roman army was little different from the others, other than equipment.

    As for technology, a very interesting question is, what could they have developed? My guesses (in fiction I am writing) is a means of producing reproducibly bolts and nuts (to join metal) and probably a printing press. Until reading and writing got more widely spread, they were not using their population properly.

    • gmax Says:

      Ian: I think Patrice answered nearly all of these in the past. What she wrote is huge. Romans did not use heavy armored cavalry, and suffered huge losses from that in the Middle East.Cataphracti they were called.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear Ian: To fully answer you, I would need an essay length question and answer, and wish I had the time to do so, bcs it’s all very interesting. But I do not have the time at this point.

      As GMax said, I have spoken of some of these issues for years.
      BTW caphractois (heavy cavalry covered with armor) did not need stir-ups, because of the sort of special saddles they were using. One elite lancer could pierce two Roman soldiers in just one strike…

  2. Benign Says:

    Economics suddenly has a hero on a white horse leading the charge against plutocracy, and he is French!


    • gmax Says:

      This famous French guy seems to be refurbishing Marx. Patrice’analysis is much more general. First, beyond wealth s/he talks about CONTROL. Second s/he talks about the fact wealth makes People EVIL… & RECIPROCALLY (evil makes rich)

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Very interesting Benign, I had missed it. THANKS!!!!

      I read Krugman only sporadically these days, a he too long sounded like a pusher for the idea of giving banks ever more money! What GMax said (and repeated!) reflects my position, and that was in the essay: one has to switch to CONTROL, forget about wealth as the end all be all.

      Putin, for example, controls minds, armies, and his plutocratic agents. His theoretical personal wealth (although some say it’s 10 billion) is nothing in comparison. Same with Xi in China. Same with Supreme Court Justices.

  3. gmax Says:

    Technological progress? Or lack thereof? It seems progress was faster in the first half of the 20th C, or how do U quantify that? U say that’s due to plutocracy. What about war? OK they are related.. Please explain the intricacies…

  4. gmax Says:

    This famous French guy seems to be refurbishing Marx. Patrice’analysis is much more general. First, beyond wealth s/he talks about CONTROL. Second s/he talks about the fact wealth makes People EVIL… & RECIPROCALLY (evil makes rich)

    • red Says:

      lets not make “wealth” the focus/problem, its the other enabling factors (economic+financial+legal+political systems collectively “society”).

      A contented (<== wealth usually) human is prone to LESS evil not more. The problem is, a single non contented wealthy can do lots of damage. Its like good-vs-evil probability distribution. Even a 80(good)-20(bad) split looks EVIL. And it is. A good society would approach 99:1 split as baseline (humans get so sensitized, even a small theft would be reported on cnn LOL we are long way from that).

      a wealthy society, irrespective of plut.index, is a good thing. Though its preferred the wealth is more evenly distributed.

  5. Alexi Helligar Says:

    “Mental progress under plutocracy means revolution. In the literal sense of the term.”
    Alexi Helligar: Throughout history the greatest hindrance to mental progress has been the accumulation of wealth, profit and advantage in the hands of a few.

  6. Benign Says:

    For the record, yes, Krugman is a Wall Street sell-out. This review was the best thing I’ve ever seen him write. And the importance is that is delegitimizes the neocons’ and neo-liberals’ glib falsehoods about the importance of the distribution and the effects of high marginal tax rates on very high incomes (growth was highest while we had some of our highest marginal tax rates). M. Piketty is an economist but he reintroduces a moral element to academic discourse that has been sorely lacking.

    Regarding M. Ayme’s assertions: they are just that. I agree (and there is scientific support for the belief) that absolute power corrupts absolutely and that wealth hardens the heart; that power and influence and wealth are highly co-concentrated in Western democracies; and so on. And I’m willing to call callousness that enables “macroeconomic murder” evil.

    IMHO opinion it will take a severe depression to shake people up in America, land of ignorant “individualists” who have bought into a neoconservative agenda that has decimated their livelihoods in the past 30 years.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear Benign: The problem with “America”, meaning North America minus Mexico, is that the land could support two billion, but has only 350 million. People know this, without saying it… As in Australia. So they are all, deep down in the hearts, for maximal exploitation (of the land).

      And then, by psychological osmosis, greatly facilitated by massive immigration, exploitation of the land naturally extends to exploitation of people. It’s the same exploitative attitude… At the emotional level.

      BTW, for the record too, I go much further than wealth, and power, “hardening the heart”. I believe they activate the Will TO EXTERMINATION. (WTE.) I think that’s one of the oldest instincts of man. As it enabled to protect the ecology. Thus plutocracy is truly diabolical.

  7. Benign Says:

    I believe I covered the WTE in my post as in one form “macroeconomic murder.” And it is hardly original to state that the USA was founded by self-selected opportunists who had no problem committing genocide against the native inhabitants. The truths you are stating are as old as the hills.

    There is not too much original in claiming that humans have a history of killing each other in large numbers. Usually it occurs when one group has much more power than another which has something the first group wants. Humans kill when they think they can get away with it.

    Hence the need for (and the hope *of*) civil society.

    cheers, mon frere

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      The originality does not come from stating that, oftentimes, humans will kill if they can get away with it, or that there is a history, or even in saying that absolute powers makes one absolutely corrupt, and completely crazy.
      The originality is the claim that there is subjacent reason for all this. A reason that presents an advantage for the existence of the species that nothing else provides with. .
      Thus diabolical psychobiology was selected for. Satan would have been invented, if it did not already exist.

      Cheers to you too.

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