In the Roman Republic, for centuries, wealth was absolutely limited. When that limit became hard to enforce from globalization, the Republic fell to plutocrats.
Why did the Romans limit wealth absolutely?
Wealth is power. Democracy means, literally, “People Power”. If only a few have all the wealth, a few have all the power, and the People has none. This is exactly what Rome’s fate demonstrated. That brings two questions: who is the “People”, what is “Power”?
The Roman Republic’s first answer was that, instead, a poorly defined the “Thing Public”, the “RES PVBLICA” would be the instrument of the “Senate And People of Rome”, the SENATUS POPULUS QUE ROMANUS (“SPQR”).
The Senate was reserved to Patricians (the Nobles). “Patricians” came from “father” (Pater), and Senatus from senex (old man; one had to be old enough to become a Senator). Rome started with seven kings, chosen by the Senate, elected by the People. In 509 BCE, after a revolution and war of liberation, the kings were replaced by two elected Consuls. Elected magistrates became automatically senators.
The Senate gave “consulta” “counsels” (advices, French conseils) to magistrates, including the Consuls.
Around 400 BCE, Rome had increasing problems keeping the Celts in check. Rome ended occupied, and had to pay a ransom to get the Celts out, after being rescued, in the nick of time, by a flock of geese on the Capitol. After this humiliation, the Romans no doubt discovered that the cause came from too much power in too few hands.
In any case, laws were passed to prevent wealth to exponentiate, as wealth tends to do. The Romans had the intelligence to not be too subtle.
The main idea of the Roman (unwritten) constitution was that not one single individual ought to have power beyond some limits of duration and law. Consuls exerted power one month at a time; and the law was supposed to spare no one, as the empress (“Augusta”) Galla Placidia reminded all in the Fifth Century: this was the principle of the “State of Law”.
Limiting power implies the limitation of wealth. Because unlimited wealth is unlimited power.
Accordingly, after the insolent Celts had been dispatched, the same authorities who had succeeded in this war, passed laws limiting wealth absolutely.
This worked fine, until the Roman Republic won, after decades of harrowing total war, the Second Punic war. It set on fire the entire Mediterranean world: Carthage, a hellish, imaginative, creative plutocracy naturally allied herself to all the other plutocracies she could find (such as the Hellenistic kingdoms). The Republic won, and won a world.
This New World gave a new opportunity for the plutocratic phenomenon to blossom. All the more as many of the best and brightest of Rome had perished on the battlefields. At the Battle of Cannae alone 60 officers of senatorial rank or higher were died in combat, along with 300 Nobles and 80,000 Roman soldiers and allies, when the Roman army got annihilated by Hannibal commanding his smaller Carthaginian and Celtic army.
The landlords and greedsters had made a lot of money during the years Hannibal roam the countryside, renting to the peasants who had fled to the fortified cities (the walls of Rome were of cyclopean proportions). That profiteering fostered an increasing mood of profit and greed with the systems of thoughts and practices to go with it. Globalization allowed to hide capital, and escape the law.
Notice that the same phenomenon happened when Middle Age and Renaissance Europe globalized, and established colonies worldwide. Colonies tended to escape the law, blossom plutocracy, and all the evil to go with it, such as slavery.
Let’s not just whine: plutocracy can be efficient. Carthage demonstrated this by creating a gigantic empire and trade zone that brought a lot to everybody.
The USA, and Russia are living demonstration that a ferocious extermination of the natives, in conjunction with an apartheid mechanism can be most efficient to create wealth (the Russian Orthodox Church for Russia, racism and racial slavery for the USA, were the instruments of this apartheid).
Roman democrats and progressives noticed that the limit to wealth had been removed: plutocratic power was in their face. They fought to re-establish the law. The plutocrats reacted with their private armies.
Rome sank in civil wars that lasted a century. Plutocracy, that all devouring principle, won. Plutocracy stays in power best, by making the People unemployed, stupid, terrorized, and small minded. Rome slowly sank.
Far sighted Roman generals endowed the Franks with the power to constitute a second foundation. The rest is history.
Nowadays plutocracy is rising again. To block it, the best way is to use the Roman method: cap wealth. Some will sneer that the Franks did not need to cap wealth. However, that’s just because those who sneer don’t know history. The Franks not only capped wealth, but they even extinguished it periodically in nationalizations.
The first one occurred in the 720s. Invading Muslim armies attacked Francia. Charles Martel nationalized all the wealth he could find, and that was the church. With the wealth so acquired, he constituted the largest army since the Battle of Cannae.
But this time, civilization won.