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“Nova Roma”


By Robert Fitzwilson, President & Founder of The Portola Group

March 4 (King World News) - There have been many analogies drawn between the United States and Rome. We think that to be historically inaccurate. The new Roman equivalent is a strip of discontinuous land stretching roughly from Charlotte, North Carolina to New York City on the Eastern coast of the Continental United States.


Rome in the days of the Republic was a city-state, not an empire. Their army was comprised of citizen-soldiers, called to duty in times of peril. The afterglow of their system of government can be seen incorporated into the founding documents of the United States such as the Constitution, particularly the checks and balances. The Romans biggest fear was a dictator, although they ironically allowed for one when there was extreme danger.


In a tale told all too often, money and conquest corrupted the original foundations of their government and the social fabric that held them together. It was called “Mos Maiorum”, roughly “the way of the ancients” as we understand it (apologies to both Latin experts and historians if necessary). The strong sense of civic duty that worked so well for centuries crumbled as the wealth of the East came pouring back to Rome, conquest after conquest....


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In the early days of the Empire, Emperor Nero created a particularly nasty estate tax. He was rumored to have burned down wooden Rome to replace it in his own image and one made of marble. As he ran out of money, he raided the temples and the churches. He still needed more, so he created the Roman version of Legalzoom.com. He required everyone to write a simple will leaving wealth to him. An epidemic of “premature” deaths ensued, particularly those with large sums of wealth. These “proscriptions” might sound familiar to some taxpayers in the current era.


Rome became the political and financial hub. Romans did not make much of anything. Manufactured goods were imported from Gaul. Food was “outsourced” to North Africa. The political activities revolved around the management of the empire. The army engaged in conquest, control, and then ultimately defending the borders against barbarian incursions.


All of this cost lots of money. The money came from the provinces. As the wealth from conquests disappeared and the army grew enormously, more and more taxes were required to maintain control and to maintain the aristocracy and the bureaucracies. When the flow of taxes diminished, the emperors took to debasing their coinage. As that failed, the seeds of Medieval serfdom were sown as people were required to live where they were born and to only perform the tasks and professions of their fathers and mothers. People had to stay put to ensure that taxes could be raised.


The attempts to arrest the decline of Rome failed. Their money became virtually worthless. Gold and silver disappeared. We seem to regularly find hoards of coins buried by people who did the Roman version of wealth preservation.  If we fast forward to the current “Rome”, it really consists of Washington and Wall Street. The states that comprise the United States are the “provinces” of the new empire. The provinces are sources of manufactured goods, resources, food, recruits for the army, and taxes to fuel this new empire. The power resides in Washington and New York, with satraps running the states.


The Romans kept the people happy with free food and entertainment. The new Romans provide free food, always popular with empires, as well as entertainment in the form of great Gladiator games called the National Football League.


While the United States is still a manufacturing powerhouse, we have outsourced critical manufacturing skills and facilities to other countries, begun the shutdown of our own resource capabilities (it became illegal in Italy to mine anything during the Roman era), and exchanged our accumulated wealth for inexpensive goods and expensive energy, the latter abundant within our borders.


If Washington and New York are the new Roman Empire, and we are heading down the same path that the original Romans took, how long can this go on? The question will only be answered and revealed in future history books. It took centuries for Rome. The world is much different than it was 2,000 years ago. It could happen in a shorter time frame, but we just don’t know.


The analogies between their time and ours are striking. History does repeat itself. What is unique about this rerun is that it involves all of civilization, not just Western Europe and the Mediterranean Basin. Perhaps we should simply resign ourselves to the fact that humans just need to “reboot” themselves every one or two millennia.


We’ll see.


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