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 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.
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.