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The Modern Romans (part 2)

The SECOND MAJOR CAUSE for the collapse of the Roman Empire has
already taken a death-like grip on the U.S. and Britain.
It could already be past remedy.
Why can't we learn lessons from proven historical mistakes of others — and avoid them?
Read, in this second installment, of the shocking picture of wanton spending, time buying, and
creeping inflation that threaten our very national security.


DISASTER is always unreal — like phenomenal success. "I can't believe it's happening," exclaimed millions watching the moonwalk.

"It just can't be," exclaimed weeping Frenchmen watching jackbooted German soldiers march proudly through the streets of Paris.

"No! I don't believe it," said citizens of Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Brussels, and Warsaw a generation ago.

Yet, there were signs of what was happening. It was not as if nation after nation, including the United States, had no ample warning of Hitler's intentions. But, millions refused to believe. Denial and disbelief never changed the inexorable march of history.

To modern Americans and Britons — to all the peoples of the English-speaking world — it would seem the height of sheer folly — ludicrous to the utter extreme — to believe that right now America and Britain could be facing a shocking decline in power as serious as that which befell ancient Rome.

Millions will say, "Oh, it just can't be." But it is. The sun has already set on the once-proud British Empire. That Empire is no more. British power has been dwindling at an alarming rate since World War II. And, even though millions of Americans have never had it so good, at least, on the surface, United States power is surely dwindling — in many subtle ways — but dwindling, nevertheless.

There were deep, underlying causes for the collapse of the mightiest and proudest empire the world had ever known. Those causes have been carefully analyzed by leading historians who have had a plethora of information about Rome to draw from. Her history is better preserved than that of any other great empire of the past.

The records of history have proved there were five major causes, as well as other contributing factors, which finally brought about the inevitable. The people denied it. The leaders didn't believe it. But Rome DID FALL, didn't it?

It is deeply significant that all five of the major causes for the collapse of that ancient empire are rife within the U.S. and Britain now! And it may already be too late to change. We could have passed the point of no return.

Yet, millions just cannot believe it is true.


Behind the Façade of Wealth

What a paradox!

Americans and Britons, on the average, earn more money and possess more material goods and gadgets than ever in the history of their nations. Yet countless millions are hopelessly head-over-heels in demoralizing debt.

Governments, too, on all levels seem locked in an endless struggle against insolvency. Higher taxes and new taxes never seem able to bail them out.

Prosperity, it seems, can be a very deceptive thing — a continuous chasing after the mythical bucket of gold at the end of the rainbow.


Character? What's That?

Contrary to what many people, including some economists, may believe, the true test of a nation's greatness lies not in the continued growth of its economy, or its GNP — "gross national product." The test lies, instead, in the intellectual, moral and spiritual character of its people.


A "character" is a sort of a "wild Joe" to the thinking of most young people today. Like in, "He's a real character."

Hardly anyone seems to know the meaning of the word anymore. But ignorance doesn't hide the unpleasant truth of contemporary history.

Paul Einzig is the Edward Gibbon of his day. He has written a book that should be rocking the British people — and Americans, by inference — back on their heels. He entitles it, Decline and Fall? Britain's Crisis in the Sixties. In it he says, on pages 10 and 11:

"Over and above all, recent years have witnessed a progressive debasement of the British character. . . Selfishness and impatient greed demanding the advent of a millennium immediately have gained ground and 'growth-hysteria' has become a national disease. . . Hard-faced trade unionists quite frankly admit that the only thing in which they are interested is to get the maximum of exclusive advantage for their members, and seldom worry about the effect of their selfishness on the rest of the community. . .

"If the debasement of the British character is allowed to continue too long, the point of no return might be passed at some stage."

By this, Einzig means that in a severe national crisis, the British people today may not have the character to meet it head-on as did their forebears in 1940.


Wealthy Empires Vanished

The character of its people is the most important ingredient of a nation's greatness. Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, Spain and France all had their turn in being the richest in the world. But instead of saving them, their riches only led them to ruin.

History records in detail that the relentless rise of taxes, debts, and inflation was one of the five major reasons leading to the thunderous collapse of the proud Roman Empire.

Briefly rehearsing Part One of this series that began last month, the five reasons for Rome's fall deduced from the writings of Edward Gibbon and other noted historians of the Roman world are:

(1) The breakdown of the family and the rapid increase of divorce.

(2) The spiraling rise of taxes and extravagant spending.

(3) The mounting craze for pleasure and the brutalization of sports.

(4) The mounting production of armaments to fight ever-increasing threats of enemy attacks — when the real enemy was the decay of the society from within.

(5) The decay of religion into myriad and confusing forms, leaving the people without a uniform guide.

Last month, we saw that the basic building block of early Rome — the one key element that contributed to its greatness more than anything else — was the family.

And the most important feature of early Roman family life was the authority — and the respect for that authority — of the father.

Rome grew strong. Rome grew wealthy. But, true to the downward pull of human nature, with affluence came a gradual erosion of family ties — just as has occurred in Britain and the United States since the end of the Second World War

With the loosening of the family bonds came the loss of time-honored values and virtues.

One of those was thrift and an appreciation of money and wealth. Writes historian William Stearns Davis in his book, The Influence of Wealth in Imperial Rome, pages 163, 164, 167:

"As an almost unavoidable corollary of the huge Roman fortunes, went the accumulation of huge debts. . . Even men of grave and respectable habits caught the mania of their age, that of living beyond their incomes. . .

"The typical Roman of birth and fashion [the upper class — like average Americans today], may then be imagined as regularly in debt, and frequently on the brink of ruin."


Mania of Our Age, Too

Total debt in the United States, both public and private, stands at an astronomical 1.6 trillion dollars!

This enormous sum is double what it was only ten years ago.

Broken down, the statistics show:

• Families and individuals owe well over $500,000,000,000. This goes mainly for home mortgages, installment credit, charge accounts, and personal loans.

• A slightly higher total, roughly $600,000,000,000 is owed by corporations. Despite higher interest rates, the prospect of even higher interest in the future is fueling an unprecedented expansion in plant and equipment.

• On the public level, the national debt amounts to about $300,000,000,000. This figure doesn't reflect items once included in the debt — which, if they were, would push the total to nearly $380,000,000,000. Just to finance this enormous sum eats up over $15,000,000,000 in interest per year.

• State and municipal governments across the U.S. owe a total of $133,000,000,000. This segment of public indebtedness has risen alarmingly in recent years.

Where economists and sociologists show biggest concern, however, is the growing debt burden of Mr. and Mrs. Average American.

Private debt accounts for 73 cents out of every dollar owed in the U.S. — roughly three times higher than total public debt.

Individuals, on the average, have to pay over 21 cents out of every take-home dollar just to meet payments on money already owed.

Every fifth American family is in serious financial condition.

Personal bankruptcies are outstripping business fold-ups by a ten-to-one ratio.


"Charge It!"

Money may be tight, but credit is becoming easier to obtain all the time. It's primarily due to the "credit card craze" fueled by the entry of huge banks into the field of commercial credit.

How many of you have received in your mail unsolicited bank or oil company credit cards with your name already imprinted on them?

By the end of this year there will be over 50 million cardholders of the two main bank credit cards in circulation. Some of the member banks issuing these cards under franchise have run little or no credit checks on their prospective users. One bank in Chicago reportedly handed out its cards to bystanders at a parade.

All of this is put into perspective when one realizes that enormous profits can be made in the consumer credit field.

Banks often earn a true annual interest of 18% on merchandise charged on credit cards. And on those "instant cash" deals — where the customer can borrow money merely by presenting his card — it is possible to reap as high as 24%.


Great Britain, South Africa

The average hire-purchase debt (installment credit) has reached $176.40 for every home in Britain — thanks to a 15 percent spurt in new business near the end of 1968. A breakdown shows that the finance houses, which handle most of the motor trade's hire purchase business, advanced 18 percent more new credit in the third quarter of the year against the second quarter, while hire-purchase business in the shops and stores was up by eight percent.

In South Africa, increasing numbers are collapsing under the burden of personal debt.

During 1967, 312,277 South Africans were forced to court because of debts which they could not pay.

"South Africans," reported an Afrikaans-language newspaper, "are no longer afraid to appear in court because of debt. After all, 'I'm not a criminal. It's just a debt,' they reason."

Most people get into debt, said the paper, because it is so easy to obtain credit on appliances and gadgets which are not necessary for ordinary living.

So much for debt. Now taxes.