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RandomMrAdam's avatar

What parallels, if any, can be drawn from Ancient Rome and the current state of the USA?

Asked by RandomMrAdam (1655points) September 15th, 2012

I’ve been hearing several people, and news corporations, comparing the Decline and Fall of Rome to what is currently happening in The United States of America.

The decline of Rome, from my understanding, is still not 100% certain, however many certainty’s are known. This link mentions a few factors in the decline including:

Decline in Morals and Values

Public Health



Military Spending

Is America doomed to the same fall that Rome succumbed to when they were a World Power. Is this inevitable or preventable? Can America take the plate they have made themselves and turn things around to prevent the same demise?

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18 Answers

ragingloli's avatar

Military overspending.
Religious fanaticism.

The downfall of Rome was an economic collapse. Their empire was funded by looting conquered territory. At some point they became so big, that they lacked the funds to both defend the empire and to conquer new territory at the same time, so the stream of loot stopped. The “decline of morals and values” (whatever that means) and consumerism is a symptom, not a cause. It is an attempt to distract from the economic desaster on the horizon. Religious extremism and political polarisation is just the final nail in the coffin, as it prevents actual solutions.

zenvelo's avatar

First of all, the fall of Rome took centuries, not a few years. Some say it started with the murder of Caesar in 44 BC. The scandalous era of Nero and Caligula was in the first century AD, but the Constantine conversion to Christianity wasn’t until the fourth century.

I would argue that morals and Values have improved over the last fifty years. We are not hypocritical or hidden about it. A politician’s affair is no longer an open secret that is excused with a wink, but is condemned on the front pages of newspapers.

Public health is at an all time high and getting better.

Unemployment in the US is high, but not catastrophically like it would have if there had been no intervention by the government in 2009.

And there isn’t real overall inflation.

So, I don’t see any parallels. The fall of Rome was a long term issue, the issues in the US are unrelated incidents, and not long term issues.

Sunny2's avatar

@zenvelo But we live at a much faster pace than the Romans did because of transportation and communication, etc. developments. I think we can destroy our democracy in a much shorter time. We’re already on the downward slope, having reached our peak. I give us about 50 years, the way things are going.

Berserker's avatar

Rome became too vast to maintain itself, which I believe was the key to its downfall. I think @zenvelo makes a good point though. America’s problems don’t really sing in tune with what became of Rome to relate the two together. Although ultimately, if America does fall, it might be because they owe too much money to places that are gonna get sick of waiting, which is still a far cry from dudes with axes seeing an opening and rushing in. :/

zenvelo's avatar

@Sunny2 What do you define as “our peak”? And on what basis?

BhacSsylan's avatar

@Symbeline:“Although ultimately, if America does fall, it might be because they owe too much money to places that are gonna get sick of waiting”

This is a common republican talking point, but is utterly invalid (not saying you are one, I have no idea, but either way it’s pervaded the country’s consciousness that way).

Here’s a handy pie chart. The vast majority is owned by the government itself and the US public in the form of bonds.

Also, we always pay interest just fine. We are, in fact, one of the most stable places to invest. The interest rates available to the US government right now are so low that we are being be paid to borrow money. Seriously. The debt is not an issue right now.

Berserker's avatar

Not a Republican, nor American. But I thought America had a debt with China, for example?

BhacSsylan's avatar

They do. 8%. A tiny sliver compared to all the other holdings. For example, four times that amount is held by the government itself. It’s all in my first link.

Berserker's avatar

Right, checked it out. Assuming that’s accurate, I guess that doesn’t stop China from getting impatient and giving out warnings, like they did, apparently, last year. Or maybe that was just bs?

BhacSsylan's avatar

That was bluster. Frankly, not unwarranted bluster (anything that gets the do-nothing congress to stop being, well, the do-nothing congress, is good), but bluster all the same. We pay our interest, and they have nothing they could do even if they wanted to. It basically amounted to “you guys should stop being idiots”, and that was about it. No threat, no ‘warning’.

It is also interesting to note that China doesn’t want their money back. They have consistently re-invested their mature bonds at every opportunity.

ucme's avatar

Lots of people wear open toed sandals.

Linda_Owl's avatar

One of the few comparisons that I can see between America & ancient Rome is Military Spending (and the resulting paranoia that goes with seeing enemies everywhere & the need of conservative religions to feel like they are the “true” patriots). We cannot continue to try to police the entire world, because it could sink the US financially.

Sunny2's avatar

@zenvelo When we were relatively secure financially; our government was working at making the country work and didn’t have the priority to gain power for a political party, rather than to compromise and find solutions to problems within the country. When there was more concern for the society as a whole than for the individual, as far as achieving a positive way of life. The process of becoming a nation developed from two groups: those who believed in being independent and succeeding alone and those who believed in a society helping one another. From this, we’ve become divided into two large political groups with a few other assorted ideologies. We are becoming more and more polarized as the years pass by.
Was there a particular date of peaking our success? No, there are too many factors of change and they didn’t work at the same time. I have just been sensing over the last 10 years, that things are going less and less smoothly. Our arrogance as a nation, which stems from the political situation, has made us lose international respect. Our loss of values due to greed have led to cheating and dishonesty within our financial system that has been disastrous as the rich, abetted by the government, have gotten richer and the poor have gotten poorer. The wider the gap between these two groups, the rich and the poor, the more we are risking internal war. There have been times in our history that were as bad and we did war against one another. That’s more likely to happen again with our political system failing to work efficiently.
That’s the way I see it and I don’t like it.

zenvelo's avatar

So @Sunny2, you are saying the peak was in 1999/2000? Yes, the time from the Supreme Court ruling in Bush v Gore led to a disastrous 8 years, but I have seen much recovery since then and much to come in the future. Yes, it has been vitriolic, but people will change that as they tire of it.

Sunny2's avatar

@zenvelo Sorry, I’ve been feeling very pessimistic lately for personal reasons. I hope I’m wrong, but I’m not hopeful.

RandomMrAdam's avatar

@Patton – Oops, I didn’t realize that there were that many other Fluther posts about this. I was headed out for the day and wanted to get this quick question out. I heard something on the news about it and how as a country we are not solving our deficit problem because politicians are spending too much time trying to get re-elected every 2–4 years. It also seems like any sort of real reform is bad politics because it never seems to be win win.

Social Security, and similar programs that need reformed or re-shaped to stay alive, is my biggest problem. Could staggering debt be the inevitable fall of our country? What happens when our social programs, our extended military, beefy defense bills, and other miscellaneous government/tax funded programs are no longer sustainable?

Social Security’s annual cash surpluses began to fall in 2008, the same year that the first baby boomers reach early retirement age. Over roughly the next 10 years, those Social Security surpluses, about $100 billion a year at their peak, will continue to shrink and then disappear completely. Without those surpluses to reduce the size of the federal deficit, Congress will have to raise taxes to bring in billions of dollars of new revenues, cut programs, or let annual deficits climb. See more here.

In a nutshell, we seem to be spread a bit thin in many aspects.

dabbler's avatar

According to some well-researched writing by Jared Diamond (Collapse) and Thom Hartmann (Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight) just about all the civilizations that we know about that have collapsed have done so because they overran their energy supplies.

Before the industrial revolution (coal) that meant cutting down all the trees within practical hauling distance of the capital. You need trees for cooking and heating and building and public baths and a lot of trees for metallurgy (weapons and tools).

There used to be big forests of cedar trees in Lebanon. Greece used to be forested before the city-states of Athens and Sparta and Thebes. Italy used to much more forested than it is today.
The Romans got all the way to Romania to the East and England to the West and cut down forests all along the way.

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