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What the Last Roman Emperor Would Tell President Obama Today

Over the course of 700 years, the ancient Roman Empire grew from a small republic to one that stretched from London to Baghdad at its peak.

As one of the world's first true superpowers, the Empire's achievements included the world's first standing professional army, economic prowess, intellectual growth and governance principles that are commonly regarded as the basis for modern society.

But it is also remembered for its spectacular collapse in less than a century under the weight of bad debt, an overextension of the Empire, a collapse of morals that led to a deluded and self-absorbed political elite and reckless public spending that far outweighed collections.

Given the parallels to our situation, I can only imagine what Romulus Augustus, widely considered to be the last of the Roman Emperors, would tell President Barack Obama today about how to prevent the wholesale destruction of our own "Empire."

But it would probably go like this…

Cara praeses Obama, (Dear President Obama)

Like mine, your world is changing fast. No doubt it's very different from the one you thought you'd inherited. Your success will depend on new thinking and an eye to the future taken from lessons of the past.

I wouldn't be offended if you have never heard of me.

I oversaw the dying days of what you know as the Classic Western Roman Empire. My fall in September 476 marked the end of centuries of greatness and the fall of ancient Rome.

Some historians consider my departure as the beginning of the Middle Ages. I understand the nature of collapse: how it begins, how it progresses, and where it all ends.

As a historical footnote to a once great empire, here's my advice to you, Mr. President.

Your country will cross a dangerous line once the voters figure out they can entitle themselves.

Our senate failed to understand this and, over time, our once proud Treasury became a proxy for a handout.

Our citizens changed fundamentally as the reliance on public spending and debt became more pervasive. Our society grew lazy when it became more profitable to merely accept handouts than to engage in hard work. Our labor concentrated itself as did our profits.

Nowhere was this more clear than the latifundia – that's what we called our large estates.

Typically owned by wealthy individuals, the latifundia effectively put small farmers and other businessmen out of work because they could not compete with the lower prices and efficiencies, nor the economies of scale.

Over time, this resulted in a collapse of morals from one generation to the next and a loss in work ethic.

The reliance on big operations also resulted in higher unemployment, particularly in our larger cities where people congregated because they had nowhere else to go.

We thought that giving people free wheat beginning in 58 BC would work when Publius Clodius Pulcher insisted it would change things. Instead, it merely made the problem worse.

If you want to push back or counter my assertion, please feel free to do so. I don't expect anything less.

But, ask yourself why your citizens no longer vote for the candidates who can bring about the best future. Try to deny that they now vote for those candidates least likely to interfere with their handouts.

We did and it cost us terribly.

Politicians who focus on surviving threats from each other lose sight of the nation they serve and its people.

While we never perfected the process of transferring power from one emperor to the next, I see direct parallels in your Presidential elections.

Your Super PACs create controversial and misleading attack ads. Your RNC and DNC are private corporations acting under the guise of the public interest. You have gerrymandered political voting to the point where nobody can effectively "win." Your government is deteriorating to the point where it is government at the people rather than by the people.

I am told by those who have recently arrived in the afterworld that 67% of the voting public did not want Obamacare, yet got it anyway. I am also informed that at one point more than 70% of the people did not want the financial bailouts nor more stimulus, yet got that too.

At some point, you will have to take your losses. We tried to avoid the issue and, although it ultimately took centuries to unwind, the role of the state in presuming that it would operate more efficiently than the private markets ultimately led to economic fragmentation.

As conditions deteriorate, you would be wise to watch carefully for the concentration of power risks becoming absolute.

That's why corruption has become a way of life inside your Congress and Senate. Know that influence peddling is just as alive in your time as it was in mine. And it is every bit as dangerous.

High taxes and public spending rob the economy.

We learned very painfully that when money is cheap, productivity falls as do margins, even though overall business activity expands for a time.

We also came to understand that high interest rates force efficient capital allocation and cause businessmen to make decisions based on what they must have versus what's nice to have (just as individuals do).

I only wished we had learned sooner.

Beginning with Marcus Aurelius, we suffered from merciless inflation. Some of this was simply due to the fact that we stopped conquering other lands and peoples. Mostly, however, it was due to the fact that without a constant inflow of new wealth from those lands, we could not keep up our spending.

The term "pyramid scheme" did not exist in our time but I believe it applies.

Our wealthy, like yours, had plenty of gold to spend but the majority of our citizens watched helplessly and hopelessly as the amount of actual money in circulation dropped to the point where it became worthless.

We repeatedly devalued our currencies swapping one for the other as values dropped. We printed money in the short term oblivious to the damage we were doing in the longer term.

For example, our silver denarius, which was introduced around 210BC, was used to debase the prior copper coin, the aes, reducing its weight from 1 pound to the point where it was half an ounce. We introduced new coins like the antoninianus and the aureus in successive attempts to solve the problem.

We also began reducing the actual metal content in our gold and silver coins so that the actual metal made up less than 25% of its actual weight. In some cases, we even used tin in an attempt to maintain the silver color of coins, but that didn't fool people for long.

To compensate, merchants raised prices to the point where nobody could afford to use real money. Inflation hit very hard. Barter became the method of the day.

As hard as it is for you to imagine, salaries were eventually paid in food and clothing. Taxes were collected in fruits and vegetables. Our troops were paid with rationed supplies.

The middle class was obliterated as once free men transitioned into debtors' hell, existing hand to mouth under draconian taxes that robbed them of their future.

We learned the hard way that a strong currency creates hope. And hope, in turn, creates value. The strongest years of our Empire were driven by the concept of a better future rather than merely by survival. Taxing our public enslaved them, creating what in the Middle Ages would come to be called serfdom.

Most of our banks, by the way, failed in the 3rd and 4th centuries.

Unless you are prepared to endure the same crisis, I urge you to do whatever it takes to support your currency. Do not let Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke or any of his central banking cabal to further devalue the money you need to function. Hold your nation together and keep your people free.

When the cost of money is low, governments will waste it and businessmen will not invest.

You have to make it profitable for businessmen to take on risk. Otherwise they will not invest because there is no measure of return. Lending to the government does not count because it's an implied tax that robs the private sector of the wealth needed for innovation and growth.

I am appalled to learn that the Federal Reserve itself bought 77% of new Federal debt in 2011 according to Standford Economist, John Taylor (we do have the Internet in the hereafter, too). That is simply not sustainable. The people cannot benefit from the Fed's actions since it is the people, via the public treasury, who are buying the majority of new debt issued.

Bread and circuses will not placate the masses for long. In ancient Rome, our emperors used to pay privately for circuses, gladiatorial contests and public food as a means of distracting our population from the hopelessness of their situation.

It worked quite well for a while. But eventually people figured out the bread was rotten and that the circuses really were a colossal waste of their money and did nothing for their future.

I see a direct parallel. You have 330 million people and they seem to be focused on the possibilities of more bailouts rather than building their own future.

Your government already faces a fiscal gap of $222 trillion dollars, according to Professor Lawrence Kotlikoff of Boston University…up $11 trillion from a year ago. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid…you can't keep creating money from thin air any more than we did.

If you are to fix this, Kotlikoff estimates an immediate 64% increase in Federal taxes or a 40% cut in benefits. Neither is appealing and neither is likely to work in your time any more than it did in mine.

By the time we realized that radical fiscal reform was necessary to build a stronger Roman Empire and a more balanced economy, it was too late.

And finally, exceptionalism is not a mandate for internationalism

In Rome we learned the hard way that we were not exceptional. We tried to foist our elitism on those we conquered.

Although it worked for a time – several centuries, in fact – once our elite no longer saw the necessity to serve the people, much less in our military, we broke down.

Our Empire failed because we did not appreciate the need for mutual obligation and appreciation.

Certainly you could counter by charging that the United States has not colonized anything in years except perhaps Hawaii in 1959. Literally, you'd be right. But figuratively, you'd be quite wrong.

The United States has engaged in a highly charged morally-based international business model since it was founded. This may have worked well for more than 200 years given that the rest of the world was unable to compete and eager to do business with you, but ultimately it will fail.

Other nations now have options of their own and the incentive to take corrective action–or risk being dragged down with you.

One last thing. Don't be so arrogant to believe that it can't happen to you.

If the Roman Empire can collapse, yours can too.


Romulus Augustus

Last Emperor of the Roman Empire

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About the Author

Keith Fitz-Gerald has been the Chief Investment Strategist for the Money Morning team since 2007. He's a seasoned market analyst with decades of experience, and a highly accurate track record. Keith regularly travels the world in search of investment opportunities others don't yet see or understand. In addition to heading The Money Map Report, Keith runs High Velocity Profits, which aims to get in, target gains, and get out clean. In his weekly Total Wealth, Keith has broken down his 30-plus years of success into three parts: Trends, Risk Assessment, and Tactics – meaning the exact techniques for making money. Sign up is free at

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  1. John Bently | August 15, 2012

    As an old fart who many years ago studied Latin for 4 1/2 years, and read about all of the above, I congradulate the author for a great article (100 % true–the original stories are there written in Latin). I shudder to think about the hard times ahead for my children, grand children, and great grand children because of the debasement of our currency and the fast increasing number of people jumping onto the public dole.

    Keep up the inciteful articles. !!!!!

  2. Michael Meehan | August 15, 2012

    If you continue to send me this Republicanhype ,I will cancel your emails immediatly

    • David B. | August 15, 2012

      Wow Michael, are that much of a partisan hack that you are willing to deny history even though it's clearly laid out for you? That makes me sad…

    • Robert Jameson | August 15, 2012

      Mr. Meehan, President Obama is THE sitting US President and, as such, presides over events that could easily turn out the way Augustus described them. Nothing in Mr. Fitz-Gerald's letter – oops Emperor Augustus's letter – is directed at one singular political affiliation. Are you so insecure in your politics that you cannot see history nor respect the Office of the President no matter who occupies the chair he sits in?

      • RJ OGuillory | August 15, 2012

        …just an informative, educational piece of writing…that I agree with 99%…however, that 1% is killing me…you see, I'm 52 and on disability retirement (it turned out I was epileptic for forty- eight years)…and so I paid into the SS system for thirty-five-forty years…I'm not expecting a handout…I'm expecting the legally due debt that was promised me as a pension….not that I'll get it in reality…but I'm not waiting for a is my money…


        RJ O'Guillory
        Webster Groves-The Life of an Insane Family

    • Patrick Cronin | August 15, 2012

      Michael please don't go away mad, please just go away,… for those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it… George Santayana

    • | August 16, 2012

      Such a narrow mind and blind to the lessons of history. Reflect, "the truth is sometimes bitter" – but it is the truth. Sad Michael. If you do not wish the true facts, for your peace of mind – yes cancel by all means.

    • Warren T. | May 5, 2013


      The trouble with socialism is that eventually it runs out of other people's money to spend. If you cannot understand that idea you might just as well put your head back into the sand.

  3. Ralph Proodian | August 15, 2012

    It wasn't the welfare programs alone of the Roman citizens that caused the collapse of the Roman Empire. It was the Empire's ambition to be an Empire and spent it's resources on shooting people and grabbing what wasn't theirs and making enemies in the process, just like we're doing. Why do you want to grind such an incorrect conclusion on your readers — who are innocent and need honest guidance?

    • John Tytla | August 16, 2012

      You make a valid point but unless you were referring to arrows I doubt anyone was shot back then. As an old fart who actually was taught history in school (way back then) I remember the morals and fiscal crisis of Rome being the primary downfall since if they had the $ back then to continue conquering people and maintain a professional military without mercenaries, it would have delayed the inevitable collapse for a few more years. They definitely over extended their empire for what they could afford. Also since this is titled "Money Morning" it is geared more toward fiscal problems and Mr. Fitz deserves a break.

  4. PHIL@STEINSCHNEIDER.COM | August 15, 2012

    Mr. Fitz-Gerald,

    This is probably one of the finest pieces you've ever written. It gave me goose bumps.

    I own and read your book "Fiscal Hangover," which I adored. Maybe you should right another tome using historical metaphor like you did here. In my opinion, nothing is more powerful than illustrating the follies of modern times by showing that they're not a new phenomenon.

    I constantly use the lessons of the past in trying to explain mistakes of the present…and future. But like all bubbles, when one is inside such a thing, one is unable to understand the world is hollow—until one touches the sky.

    So too few will be willing to believe we are stupid enough to continually repeat the same mistakes. After all, 'this time is different.'

  5. John Haytol | August 15, 2012

    All true, and extremely well written. Thanks. But no mention of one of the biggest causes, Diocletian. From the Durants:

    "Rome had its socialist interlude under Diocletian. Faced with increasing poverty and restlessness among the masses, and with the imminent danger of barbarian invasion, he issued in A.D. 301 an edictum de pretiis, which denounced monopolists for keeping goods from the market to raise prices, and set maximum prices and wages for all important articles and services. Extensive public works were undertaken to put the unemployed to work, and food was distributed gratis, or at reduced prices, to the poor. The government – which already owned most mines, quarries, and salt deposits – brought nearly all major industries and guilds under detailed control. “In every large town,” we are told, “the state became a powerful employer, standing head and shoulders above the private industrialists, who were in any case crushed by taxation.” When businessmen predicted ruin, Diocletian explained that the barbarians were at the gate, and that individual liberty had to be shelved until collective liberty could be made secure. The socialism of Diocletian was a war economy, made possible by fear of foreign attack. Other factors equal, internal liberty varies inversely with external danger.

    The task of controlling men in economic detail proved too much for Diocletian's expanding, expensive, and corrupt bureaucracy. To support this officialdom – the army, the courts, public works, and the dole – taxation rose to such heights that people lost the incentive to work or earn, and an erosive contest began between lawyers finding devices to evade taxes and lawyers formulating laws to prevent evasion. Thousands of Romans, to escape the tax gatherer, fled over the frontiers to seek refuge among the barbarians. Seeking to check this elusive mobility and to facilitate regulation and taxation, the government issued decrees binding the peasant to his field and the worker to his shop until all their debts and taxes had been paid. In this and other ways medieval serfdom began."

    I mean, even the Ron Paul vs. Paul Krugman debate hit on Diocletian:

    "I am not a defender of the economic policies of the emperor Diocletian. So let’s just make that clear."

    Paul Krugman

    "Actually you are."

    Ron Paul

    Paul is right, of course lol. ( Debate link )

    But thank you. I've been telling friends for years about the parallels between our situation, Germany in the '30s and the end of the Roman Empire. They look at me and get back to their Twatter or Spacebook or whatever. Of course, those "social media" are, IMO, the "bread and circuses" of today, allowing the people vacuous (and self-inflicted) entertainment while the riling elite stuff their pockets. Not a complete parallel, but extremely similar.

    Again, thanks. May the forwarding commence. Best regards, John Haytol

  6. Colette Saccomanno | August 15, 2012

    This is one of the most cogent, clear and simple descriptions of what is WRONG with the current political climate in the US. I have pondered this very same thing since Obama burst on the scene. I tend to give everyone the "benefit of the doubt" and still cling to the hope that Obama is not evil…just misguided and duped on the largest scale imaginable…but by WHOM…for it is they who ARE evil.

    Your piece is the CLEAREST example of those who do not learn from history are destined/doomed to repeat it.

    Now, how do we get this message spread more widely, wake some people up and most important, what can we actually DO about any of this (given that voting does not work anymore)?

    I advocate term limits for congress and an end to all lifetime benefits – and especially advocate for every member of the government being required to use the healthcare system the rest of us get! I also believe that getting rid of the electoral college is fundamental to reform and a return to the true nature and intent of the founding principles of our country. It was the best "technology" 2 centuries ago but with modern technology, the popular vote can be tallied – and we would lose a vast foothold of corruption and bad politics.

  7. Felix Mosso | August 15, 2012

    Very good Keith, I like it. The problem for us all is that it is true. I don't think any of our incumbents are smart enough to understand the real situation, sadly.

  8. Barbara Dolan | August 15, 2012

    Dear Mr. Fitzgerald-Gerald,

    Your letter to President Obama was spot on. Although I am not an economist (or anything else but a wife, mother, homemaker, grandmother), I do know that our country is in deep trouble.

    With the help of God, our leaders (?) will see what they are doing and change their behavior.

    I plan to exercise my vote in November by voting for real change, not the kind of hope and change that was foisted upon us by the last presidential election.

    Thank you for your insight and for reading this letter.

    Sincerely, Barbara Dolan

  9. dave | August 15, 2012

    with all do respect your article is bull ***.the problem with our economy has nothing to do with the roman collapse.that by the way some historians would argue had more to do with public health issues than any thing else. the mosquito did more harm than opposing forces.this is not the roman empire .people like my self that have paid into the entitlement programs since I peddled papers at the age of 12.I paid in some 45 years and now a I can no longer perform and punch the clock to be competitive. 2 specialists later.and examined by 2 goverment doctors. all supporting the same conclusion.add in the mix we agen baby boomers and you have a perfect storm. which by the way was an era of balls to wall. their were no robotics construction was done with hammers and jack hammers.deregulation put us inthis mess NOT working /disabled americans.

    • Mike Hron | April 30, 2013

      I did not read the article as opposing all welfare programs – certainly not one like Social Security – IF they are properly run and not permitted to get out of control. I think Fitz-Gerald is more right than wrong, when you consider that in the most recent year for which figures are available the IRS sent out $12 billion in earned income tax credits to people who don't qualify for them, "free" cell phones are turning up for sale on the internet, etc. – and the list is endless. Indeed, programs like Social Security, if properly run, would certainly not be objectionable. It's the perversion of the systems that is wrong, destructive and, eventually, deadly.

  10. Vernon Ray | August 15, 2012

    Cute analysis, but as testament to Mr. Keith Fitz-Gerald's lack of objective analysis he fails to make any reference to one of the main reasons Rome collapsed and the underlying problem in our economy that neither the Republicans nor Democrats will touch. We have a guns or butter issue. We can't spend 5 trillion dollars on our war efforts and still butter our own bread.

  11. Jason | August 15, 2012

    Rome, from its founding, was an extortion racket. The wealth of Rome was plundered from its neighbors. Most of the wealth of Rome was plundered from Turkey and Seria and lesser amounts from north Africa and Gaul. As soon as the Britains started to create a surplus of grain for export the Romans invaded the island to take the surplus and enslave the people. Ceasar attacked the Germans when he ran out of other victims but the Germans were poor and did not have a surplus for the Romans to plunder. Ceasar then hatch the plan to attack Persia but the Persians had recently defeated Pompei so it is doubtful if Ceasar could have succeeded. The western empire fell into economic decline when the Greeks built Constantinople. Just consider, what exactly was the reason for the building of the Theodosian walls of Constantinople? The only military force that would require such a defense at that time were the Roman legions. When Rome was cut off from the wealth of Turkey and Seria then it fell apart.

    • Ric Todd | August 15, 2012

      Jason, that is the most convoluted, distorted, over simplistic summary of the Roman Empire I have ever read. Your conclusion totally ignores two thousand years of study and is full of crap. Fitzgerald's article at least makes a viable comparison of our situation and that of the late Roman Empire. Your post does nothing to refute his argument.

  12. Martin | August 15, 2012

    Really marvellous, congratulations. Why can't our politicians also talk and write in educated terms? Are they not educated? Time to insist that they are properly qualified for the job!

  13. Steve Lohrstorfer | August 15, 2012

    So how do we get the wealthy and corporations, who are hands down the biggest drain on the government, to stop feeling like they are entitled to all their loop holes and tax breaks and stop the handouts ?

    • DABEHARR@ATT.NET | August 20, 2012


  14. Noel Falconer MEcon FRAeS | August 15, 2012

    700 years? Try 503, 27BC, when Octavian was acclaimed the first Emperor, to 476AD, Romulus Augustus, known as Augustulus, Little Augustus, because appointed by his father and over-reliant on him; the final Ancient-Roman dynastic disaster.

    There was much more than economics wrong with that Empire, as with yours; the ultimate condemnation is that myriads like myself won't mourn its demise.

  15. Ray Teasley | August 15, 2012

    Although shallow, pseudo historical analysis that plays on and reinforces existing popular anxieties sells, it contributes nothing to our actual understanding of anything. That would require some real analysis and truth. Stop filling up my mailbox with this claptrap.

    • Vincent Greco | August 15, 2012

      Nobody is forcing you to subscribe Ray. And history isn't truth enough or, do the facts interfere with your reality inconveniently?

  16. Barbara R | August 15, 2012

    Absolutely terrific article. A good history lesson for everyone!

  17. ken | August 15, 2012

    I like the continuing bs that these wonderful nobles have always had great estates then one day start feeding the poor out of the goodness of their hearts. This adam henry has zero knowledge of history.

    • Mike Hron | April 30, 2013

      I suggest you read Mr. Haytol's comment, quoting Will and Ariel Durant to much the same effect. I believe the Durants did know something about history. I suggest that you educate yourself before making nasty ad hominem attacks.

  18. Carol | August 15, 2012

    While this is good commentary from one individual to another, it presumes that either one of these fellows could truly do anything about their own situation even if they wanted to.
    President Obama may have the best intentions to turn everything around but he, alone, could not do it. He's a symptom of the condition but not the sole cause nor savior of it.
    He is a figurehead for the corruption of many in Washington who really run things. The corruption goes far and deep. The media is controlled by them and the public is led down the garden path.
    The ghost spells out the situation but needs to return with the solutions to correct it and then a plan to implement it………what didn't Rome do that we are not doing also?
    People believe they should share in the "good life" and these entitlement programs are their way of getting back what they think they paid in. For many, it is something for nothing but for others, it is survival in the face of huge costs for everything they want or need and can't pay for.
    When they see these rich cats on Wall St. playing with their money and producing nothing but returns on "investments" driving up the costs of oil, commodities, etc. they say they want a piece of the action but no other way to get it.
    How can any low wage earner pay for rent, utilities, food, transportation, and add enormous insurance and healthcare costs? Run the numbers on $15.00 an hour for a thirty hour week.

    Back fifty years ago, one paid the doctor for an office call and a small fee for hospitalization insurance. The dentist got a few dollars for a tooth filling. Few, today, remember when that was normal. The medical monkeys have turned into gorillas who are eating the public. Legal drugs vs illegal? That a joke! Opiates of the people? In the water, in the food, and in the air ! At the rate we are going, one of us will make it including "them" in their polluted world.
    Those who don't learn history are doomed to repeat it,right?
    Who teaches "history" correctly anymore? A college education guarantees nothing if the jobs don't exist. SO when it now pays more to sit at home and collect money. who wants to lower his standard of living by working for minimum wage? How could anyone turn this system around?
    He will never get elected to office on that platform.
    So sad as it may seem, the corrections will lead to chaos and men of ideas and ideals will never even run.

  19. Gary | August 15, 2012

    Poor Vernon,

    He has no concept of what his government is doing. The war effort did not cost $5 trillion
    and I can't afford butter because the government takes my hard earned money to buy butter
    for those who have learned to work the system and get free handouts. Get the government to
    do its constitutional job and stop social engineering. All will be well then.

    And, Steve:

    How in the world do the wealthy and corporations drain the government. If they were not there
    the government would have no one to fiscally rape. Ignorance is rampant in the obummer camp.

  20. EdInvests | August 15, 2012

    You pick on Obama, but I could write a much more scathing description of the 8 GWB years. We were headed toward virtually eliminating the Nat Debt when Clinton and Reagan took us slightly off course, but it was still atainable when GWB took office. The debt is soaring because we started two wars in his term, removed controls on banking, and most importantly, reduced our income signigicantly by reducing taxes….especially on the very wealthy. The result of those actions left us with a steep slope of increasing deficits during his terms, and ended his terms with a collapse of the banking system, the inevitable rising unemployment , necessary bailouts and the ongoing cost of the wars and future costs for the injured. Congress can't agree on anything but naming a national day of whatever. Congress is a disaster no matter who is in office, but will be worse if the GOP regains office. Put the blame where it belongs and give Obama credit for us not being in a worse spot. I am sorry that you have the ability to publish your biased ideas on such a large public forum.

  21. Chris | August 15, 2012

    TO all you Democrats who are taking offense to this: We didn't get here solely because of what Obama has done, or hasn't done. This has been building for a long time under the watch of many presidents. Get your panties out of the knot they're in and look what's heading our way. It's going to take alot more than Obama or Romney to fix this. Unfortunately, th ewriting is on the wall.

  22. henry huber | August 15, 2012

    Sadly…….this is a creative,accurate and superb analysis . Does America have leaders that can SELL this message ?

  23. Al | August 15, 2012

    Very good article, though it should be directed to all politicians not strictly Obama. He is nothing more than a player in the game. A game, in which, the middle class loses…. always. It all breaks down to two simple words…. Ego and Greed.

  24. Benton H Marder | August 15, 2012

    .Romulus Augustulus came to the throne while quite young. After his dethronement, he lived on his estates in southern Italy for some 20 years—he was last mentioned as being alive in 497. So, he had a long time to reflect upon the past. Some notes: The latifundia did not feed Rome. Egypyt fed the Roman people for centuries. The latifundia pretty near wrecked agriculture in southern Italy—consider the region even now. Adrian Goldsworthy, in his "Why Rome Fell", reminds us of the constant regime change by civil war through the third, fourth, fifth centuries.. We do the like by spending enormous amounts on our elections. There is also the matter of the bureaucracy, which became so cumbersome that it left off its purpose to concentrate upon itself. Witness the GSA scandals, featherbedding of public employee unions, and the like. All of the various deleterious influences combined to rot out the Empire. Eventually, it fell. In 376, the Emperor Valens granted permission for the Goths to settle south of the Danube. By 476, the Western empire was gone. "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

  25. Tom Zegan | August 15, 2012

    A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been 200 years.

    Great nations rise and fall. The people go from bondage to spiritual truth, to great courage, from courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to selfishness, from selfishness to complacency, from complacency to apathy, from apathy to dependence, from dependence back again to bondage.

  26. Tom | August 15, 2012

    Bravo, Keith! Please keep the pressure on, and the volume high.

  27. mark | August 15, 2012

    Why doesn't a state leave the union? Develop it's own currency for it's people. protect it's own borders, Drill their own oil, develop it's own funded Retirement fund and health care, a manditory 401K, for it's own citizens. If someone doesn't like it they can leave. Use the constituion as the new way of life, and law. Kick out the law breakers, No EPA here, no Federal income tax, If my state is attacked by anyone I'll serve, (I might be a cook not a soilder because of age) We would not pay taxes anymore to the federal government. Well maybe a little for priorer commitments. Can't someone refine this with a little thinking outside the box. We are no longer free people. We have been enslaved. I got to say this was a very good article of doom and gloom, Yet very true. Is there any state out there that will opt out? I think Texas should be the first to go. They are the lone star state. I would support them. 50 new countries, you decide which one you want to move to, and they decide if they want you or not. Don't complain about the the person writing, or the article, He or she is trying to let you know that history does repeat. History does repeat, and we all need to protect ourselves. We all pay to have 50,000 troops stationed in Germany, and their retirements after 20 years. 30,000 more in south korea. 330 million are going to pay for the retirements and healh care of 80,000 people after only 20 years, no disrespect meant to any that served, but I would like to opt out. I don't get that at my job. A state or more needs to leave the union, It will make everything better for everyone. Smaller government, would benifit everyone.

  28. Bradford C. Child | August 15, 2012

    Keith, this is terrific……… should be sent to the President, every Congressman and Senator. Perhaps they may figure out that history not only sometimes ryhmes but repeats itself in carbon copy form!

  29. Fulon D Hill | August 15, 2012

    The quotation that a democracy will only last until the PEOPLE learn to vote money for themselves has been replaced by "A democracy will only last until the CORPORATIONS learn to vote money for themselves". Have you ever been through the Panama Canal or any other lock system? The water comes in from the BOTTOM to lift the incredible tonnage of ship and cargo up to the next level. The water does not pour over the top of the ship. Money is like that. When it comes up from wage earners at the bottom, it works its way through the whole economy. There is incredible power in the people of this country, and they have become disillusioned by the corruption at the top of government, the political machine that only pretends to offer hope, and the corporate whiners who are unable to run their businesses without bailouts. Hard times are coming. Every other empire has collapsed from similar causes: debased currency and corruption. Good luck to you all.

  30. Doris Kelsey | August 15, 2012

    You must have read my message about needing to quadruple the number of farmers to solve the unemployment problem. The first part of this post indicates you now agree with me.
    We don't need to cut entitlements by 40%, we only need to cut military by 50% and double (and in some cases triple [or even just get SOME]) the taxes on the top 2%. Social security, medicare and medicade are not entitlements. They were earned and paid for! We can't help it if the government 'borrowed' the money for other programs. It came out of our pay checks! The elite don't understand this as they never got a paycheck. They never worked.

  31. RUSS SMITH | August 15, 2012

    Hi!, Patrons Of Money Morning Et Al:

    Rome suffered from the accumulations that always accompany the minions of Mr. Greed who has always tried to run/rule this planet. Ghandi had a saying by which he characterized it in India many years ago when he said: "There's enough in OUR world for eveybody's need but not to satisfy everybody's greed." We have attempted to integrate the peoples of this planet using mere words and political phrases & promises but Jesus taught US more than 2,000 years ago that there's only one way to totally and resolutely integrate OUR world which is through actionable love but we have tended to take love and, instead of applying it as naturally as we breathe air, institutionalzed it through dnominations/factions/organizations and or personal preferences etc. The one item on the divine list we have yet to circumvent, that articles such as these attempt to describe but fall too sort of the real mark, is that whether we are Rome, America or any other nation, we do definitely reap what we sew don't we? You can't FOOL MOTHER NATURE and neither can you outwit FATER GOD can we? As one pastor told a chief of police who thought he could get away with creating protection for the redlight district of his town: "Mr. Peters, if you try jumping off the Empire State Building, you will not be defeating gravity but merely demonstrating it! Mr. Peters you are breaking the moral laws of our County and no more will you get away with it than my ilustration!" Months later Mr. Peters appeared before the Pastor calling him a straight shooter; repentant tears in his eyes explaining: "Pastor, what you said to me the other day was just like the difference between being in a dark room with somebody hiting the light switch! My wife's brother was robbed in the area of my protection and she is driving me mad, because the life savings he was planning to use to send his two boys to college was stolen from him and my wife doesn't know about my involvement but she endlessly remonstrates about her brother's loss to me. So, Pastor, for me it's either hell or high water, because I just can't let her know it's all my fault & what would that do to my marriae, Pastor?" The Pastor looked @ Mr. Peters & asked him if he would be thus willing to repent and make ammends for his sins? "Yes!", Pastor, for I have no other recoarse do I?" Then the Pastor told Mr. Peters: "Mr. Peters we need to pray that OUR Heavenly Father will forgive you but that's not nearly enough is it, Mr. Peters? "Mr. Peters you must shut down your activities within that district and as far as possible make comeplete restitution to those whom under your watch have been harmed and/or suffered any other losses." "Only then, Mr. Peters, will your repentence be complete so you can begin to reap into your life the news seeds you will have begun to sew into the web of every corner of your life's work" And thus through repentence and real service to mankind Mr. Peters began to lead the kind of life that attracted to him the sweet fruits of real service instead of the bitter fruits of dishonesty and discomfort that always accompanies fraud and crruption. Yes!, we each reap exactly what we sew dont we? We all have the capacities to not only change our own lives for the better but the many lives that come to OUR doors for help as did the Pastor in this story today. A little more heaven on Earth to dispell the hells we can create is always in order huh?


  32. Boris Fisk | August 15, 2012

    Got gold???

  33. Patricia Moore | August 15, 2012

    Keith, you hit the mark with this article! I don't think anyone has verbalized the situation as well as you have here. I only wish you had indeed sent it to President Obama, although I hardly think it would have done any good.

    I so enjoy reading your articles. You are always spot on with your insights.

    Thank you for all that you do,
    Patricia Moore

  34. kemp18884 | August 15, 2012

    I've seen another theory floating around – that President Obama is following an agenda set long ago by some socialist professor or another to deliberately bring America to its knees by destroying the free enterprise economy and creating a permanent indentured slave class that lives on government spending and is guaranteed to vote for more and more government. If that's the case, Mr. Obama won't be the least bit interested in how to fix the problem – other than to do the exact opposite. I don't know if there is anything to it or not, but it does seem that he couldn't have picked a more disasterous course if he tried. As to the fools in Congress – reelect no one.

  35. H. Craig Bradley | August 15, 2012

    Laws & Corruption

    Roman historian Tacitus wrote, “corruptissima re publica plurimae leges."
    Translation is “laws were most numerous when the commonwealth was most corrupt.”

  36. H. Craig Bradley | August 15, 2012

    The Roman Empire began its existence, depending on your beliefs, as a small hilltop village on the Tiber River in what is today Rome, Italy in 264 B.C. The Roman Empire peaked in its influence, power, and prosperity by 117 A.D. From that point forward, Rome began a gradual decline which slowly accelerated over the course of the next 359 years. The Visigoths sacked Rome in 476 A.D., ending the Roman Empire as they knew it.

    When Rome fell, 75% of Rome's residents had already fled their capital for greener pastures elsewhere- anywhere else. The same thing is starting to happen in the United States. Renunciations by American Citizens used to only be around 200/year five years ago. Today, its about 2,000 Americans a year who are trying to renounce their citizenship and permanently leave. They see the writing on the wall. Most Romans did not see anything at first. Ditto with todays Americans.

  37. Richard Medlock | August 15, 2012

    Why oh why do you Republicans ALWAYS point your finger at OBAMA for the disaster in the US and abroad????? Where of where have you been for the past two decades?????? The past two decades the REPUBICANS have had a strangle-hold on the presidency and the congress – the last two decades it has taken the REPUBLICANS that long to almost destroy the American way of life! Don't see your real name at the foot of this diatribe that says nothing positive about what our President has done! See nothing of his accomplishments! See nothing but the same old off-hand, non-original thought as we've seen since Obama became President! DAMN, I'D RATHER HAVE A REAL PRESIDENT (OBAMA) THAN THE BUSH JOKES AND MITTSY WANNABE PRESIDENT!

  38. JoshINHB | August 15, 2012

    This article is complete nonsense.

    Beginning with the fact that the Roman Empire peaked during the reign of Marcus Aurelius ca 170 ad and finally collapsed in the west in 476 ad. A 300 year long decline, longer than the US has existed at all.

    • H. Craig Bradley | August 31, 2012


      Liberals are femine, that is they think with their organs and can only relate on an emotional basis. Few liberals can think independently or even think at all in a traditional manner. So they emote. So, they rant on, and then "upchuck" the partisan diatribes they were fed for dinner.

  39. Erik | August 15, 2012

    Fantastic article!

    A man acquainted with history may, in some respect, be said to have lived from the beginning of the world, and to have been making continual additions to his stock of knowledge in every century. -David Hume

  40. Carl | August 16, 2012

    After reading all the comments it becomes obvious to me that most of you don't understand that the whole point of government as it exists today is to pit everyone against each other. There is no real difference among political parties/candidates. We are constantly being lied to. See this Alex Jones video from 2009 (runs just under 2 hours):

  41. Bill Ross | August 16, 2012

    A fine, absolutely correct article, but, without proof, easily dismissed as "mere opinion". So, PROOF:

    The "rule of law" is a precisely defined law. It is the highest law of mankind, stated below:

    “the suppression of forceful and fraudulent methods of goal seeking”

    “all are treated equally by the law”. This means ALL, including king and judges

    “absolute property rights”

    This in turn is based on the fact that human behavior (the topic of law) is about goal seeking. In the seeking of any goal, there are only three possible methods: force, fraud and honest trade. Any transaction that is not an honest, mutually agreed trade will cause a self-defensive response (conflict) from the victim whose survival has been affected.

    "The Rule of Law" is the glue that keeps all of mankind acting together in common interest, tied together by mutual dependence of trade, on an evolutionary path to excellence. Force and fraud creates conflict and destroys civilizations. Mankind is now on a devolutionary path to extinction because the co-operation once forced by "the rule of law" has been replaced by legitimizing force and fraud for those who incorrectly believe they wield power.

    Rule of Law, Defined:

    Darwin PROVED: Survival EQUALS ability to adapt to environment EQUALS ability to choose correctly EQUALS freedom:

    Mathematics of Rule (explains current economic stall):

    How to THINK and solve problems:

    Social Contract:

    Justice Defined: We are all free to profit or suffer and learn (adapt to excellence) by facing the consequences of our OWN choices. Injustice is to be forced to suffer the consequences of choices of unaccountable (irresponsible) others..

    "The danger is not that a particular class is unfit to govern. Every class is unfit to govern. The law of liberty tends to abolish the reign of race over race, of faith over faith, of class over class." ~ Lord Acton

    Bill Ross
    (Electronics Systems Design Engineer, or, False Systems Destroyer, depending on task at hand)

  42. Jeffrey | August 16, 2012

    It's a nice letter from the old empero, but I would rather say it's a bit late since america's debt is well over $14 trillion and still rising.
    America, no Mather how much she try can not revive her economy.
    Individually, like a person live till certain time and die, so are nations.
    You may weep for her if you wish,but I would rather advice you to pay a good attention to the east where the spirit of old USA has gone.

  43. Dr. Valery Sardushkin | August 16, 2012

    Romulus Augustus would never address Obama as a female (carA). I believe the right variant would be like this: "Illustri Praesidenti Baraci Obamae – Ave!" (To His Excellency the President Barack Obama – Rejoice!). Romans never started letters to equals or higher persons without "rejoice" as opening salutation. Only after that, Romulus Augustus could explain that there is nothing to rejoice about, in reality.

    • Keith | August 17, 2012

      Dear Dr. Sardushkin,

      Thank you so much for the upgrade – my high school Latin is a bit rusty! I appreciate it very much.

      Best regards – Keith

  44. Keith | August 17, 2012

    WOW! – I am honored and humbled by the tremendous discussion and thoughtful responses here – both positive and negative – for they represent the true spirit of dialectic process.

    More than a few also demonstrate the tremendous passion in our readership.

    Thank you for being part of the Money Morning family and, especially, for taking the time to share your thoughts.

    With best regards,

    Keith Fitz-Gerald
    Chief Investment Strategist, Money Map Press

  45. Matthew Geary | August 18, 2012

    Romulus Augustulus would not have been able to tell anyone anything of note, because he was a mere infant when he was deposed. Why not read a bit of Roman history before you post this ridiculous teabagger blather?

    • Rob Gershon | August 20, 2012

      Maybe you should read Roman history Matthew. Historians believe that Romulus lived on his estates in Southern Italy after being dethroned and was last mentioned as being alive in 497. So he would have had at least 20 years to reflect on history.

  46. H. Craig Bradley | August 21, 2012


    1. I voted Democrat because I love the fact that I can now marry whatever
    I want. I've decided to marry my German Shepherd.

    2. I voted Democrat because I believe oil companies' profits of 4% on a
    gallon of gas are obscene, but the government taxing the same gallon of
    gas at 15% isn't.

    3. I voted Democrat because I believe the government will do a better job
    of spending the money I earn than I would.

    4. I voted Democrat because Freedom of Speech is fine as long as nobody
    is offended by it.

    5. I voted Democrat because I'm way too irresponsible to own a gun, and
    I know that my local police are all I need to protect me from murderers
    and thieves.

    6. I voted Democrat because I believe that people who can't tell us if
    it will rain on Friday can tell us that the polar ice caps will melt
    away in ten years if I don't start driving a Prius.

    7. I voted Democrat because I'm not concerned about millions of babies
    being aborted so long as we keep all death row inmates alive.

    8. I voted Democrat because I think illegal aliens have a right to free
    health care, education and Social Security benefits, and we should take
    away social security from those who paid into it.

    9. I voted Democrat because I believe that businesses should not be
    allowed to make profits for themselves. They need to break even and give
    the rest away to the government for redistribution as the Democrats see fit.

    10. I voted Democrat because I believe liberal judges need to rewrite the
    Constitution every few days to suit some fringe kooks who would never
    get their agendas past the voters.

    11. I voted Democrat because I think that it's better to pay billions for their oil
    to people who hate us, but not drill our own because it
    might upset some endangered beetle, gopher or fish.

    12. I voted Democrat because my head is so firmly planted up my ass,
    it's unlikely that I'll ever have another point of view.

    • Martin | September 2, 2012

      H. Caig Bradley: absolutely brilliant, and funny, but of course not original. As always, there can be another point of view, as others have also shown:

      1. I voted Republican so that I can wage wars as often as possible without regard to the human cost, as long as the Vice President can live up to his title.

      2. I voted Republican so that guys in Wall Street can amass crazy fortunes while everyone else gets screwed.

      3. I voted Republican so that more Congressmen can be bought.

      4. I voted Republican so that there’s a better chance of getting more people legally electrocuted to death by supposed Christians.

      5. I voted Republican so that I don’t have to give a monkeys about the future of the planet and can continue driving my gas-guzzling 4 x 4.

      6. I voted Republican so that more crazy people have a chance to carry guns and murder innocent schoolkids, students and passers-by.

      7. I voted Republican so that more countries around the planet will hate us so much that our embassies need to buy yet more barbed wire.

      8. I voted Republican so that we can continue to spread democracy to countries that don’t want it, so that they can soon be ruled by mad fundamentalists.

      9. I voted Republican so that the richer you are the less tax you have to pay as a proportion of your income.

      10. I voted Republican so that the US can continue not signing any treaties that would bind the country to international law or international ecological programs.

      12. Yes, my head’s right up there too!

  47. Cameo | September 2, 2012

    Interesting article. I enjoyed reading it. It was a new twist to once again support the rights of the super wealthy against the backs of the poor.

    The real demise of the Roman empire started when the repression of its own citizens reach unprecedented levels . Balance and justice became the discretion of the powerful and removed from the will of the people.

    It became so corrupt in its powerful authoritarianism that Nero had Christians impaled on poles, covered with tar, set on fire, and paraded through the city. He incited the psyche of the Roman elite to blame all its troubles on the unpopular Christians – and its underclass, the poor.

    That is when Rome began to collapse. It was due to the moral decay of the super-wealthy. Who became incensed when they believed Nero that their banquet tables were being threatened by the needs of the lowest of their citizens.

    But otherwise, it was a pretty creative new slant on the concept that the "Empire’s" problems are the result of the poor.

  48. Chuck Leonard | September 4, 2012

    It wasn't that there was a huge, unpayable debt. It was that no one in Rome believed they had an obligation to pay the debt. Blame Constantine, who enforced the mass conversion to Christianity at the sword point of the Roman Army.

    That is an important point, for as debt grew, no one in Rome was paying attention because of their rabid (sic) embrace of their new religion and its Saviour's imminent return. The Return, of course, meant the end of the civilized world for whatever was promised to be better and, for reasons quite beyond me, the Romans were convinced that Jesus would return in Rome, not Jerusalem. Perhaps because Jerusalem had been decimated and its Israelite population dispersed to the four corners of the earth. Perhaps not.

    Perhaps Rome's embrace of the religion made it "obvious" that Christ's return could not be anywhere else by the center of the Empire. And so the bigger problem. The Roman Army, also converted. was spread all across the Empire. From Britain to Egypt and all points around the Mediterranean in between. All of the soldiers in that Empire, all stationed outside of Rome, DID NOT WANT THOSE POSTS (for obvious reasons you can glean from the above. There was no concept of an Empire wide Rapture. Rome would rise up. Be there or get left behind.

    But Rome took care of its "proper" Romans. Those stationed outside of Rome were soon replaced by newly minted, both in religion and citizenship, of former barbarian enemies of the Empire. These "new" romans soon filled enough military posts and stations across the Empire that, once the Center failed to hold, the Army rose up and took the empire down.

    It's really brilliant, if you think about it. Persecuted for a century or two, this new religion took down an Empire and forged its own, now the Vatican, which ruled with an Iron Fist for close to nineteen centuries. Even Luther's Reformation, which put the first cracks in the wall did so by insisting on a more conservative interpretation of the Church rules (versus the Vatican's decision to raise money by the selling of "indulgences" You make the connections).

    Of course, the RNC wants to fix things by resetting our country to laws that are more like the '50s. Depending on the blogger it could be 1850 as well as 1950. I'm just waiting to see what happens if the Republicans manage to take the White House and Capitol, and then also manage to strip women of rights they've had for 40+ years. I'm not talking about abortion — that could have been taking out of the mix with 40 years of specific sex education starting at the middle school level. I had it the one and only year the course was taught with full XXX graphics to demonstrate the stomach turning effects of venereal disease . . . birth control was never taught. How not to catch VD was taught and that it primarily meant the man wearing a condom was just a benefit for the liberal scum that didn't want us to enjoy the sex we were going to have anyways.

    Abstinence? Oh, get real. Connect one unwrapped penis in a willing female recepticle and abstinence is left in the dust. You can wish for the 1950s all you want, but hormones will win out every time.

    Maybe the Saviour will come wrapped in a Mormon suit. Wouldn't that be a kick in the pants?

  49. olga tellis | September 9, 2012

    this article on What the Roman Emperor…. was brilliant and it is as applicable to the Indian governent as it is to Obama . really congratulations and more power to your pen or computer or whatever is the equivalent today.

  50. Jim Cravey | November 5, 2012

    I congratulate the author KEITH FITZ-GERALD. Incredibly well written and purely factual, absolutely brilliant.
    I have myself been pointing out these very same parallels for several years now. I believe however that mankind does not learn from the past, just as the world entered into the middle ages after the fall of the Roman Empire, so we will again inevitably I suppose.
    The facts point it out and like Ronald Reagan said "Facts are stubborn things"

  51. Linda Ratcliffe | November 7, 2012

    Wonder what the Emperor's letter to Bush would have sounded like, and how he might have looked at how those 8 years led up to the stinking turd Obama inherited?

  52. Maximus | December 10, 2012

    Although I do not agree with the fundamental premise of the article, it is undoubtedly an excellent read and really well thought out. I think the use of Obama as the receiver of the information is a great humorous ploy.

    However, I am of the modern historical camp that believes that the Roman Empire did not fall or decline, rather it just transformed along with the Germanic populations which invaded it. Maybe, the US is entering a stage of transformation just like my own nation (Britain) did in the 1900.

  53. Steve Dremel | January 3, 2013

    Any sentient, free being that has normally risk life and limb and expended many calories collecting for shelter, food and security and is then satiated with nearly effortless food and shelter will become angry, resentful and potentially violent when faced with a loss of said free goodies.

    Bears that get accustomed to unearned handouts become dangerous when it is withheld because they believe they are entitled to it.

    We are not bears, but we are behaving in a similar manner.

    We are very likely to not recover as a nation from our current debt unless, as a country, we embrace freedom over a free lunch.

    I am a military, retired, combat veteran. I am a father and a grandfather.

    May God have mercy on our nation.

  54. Frank | March 10, 2013

    You'd think that with the benefits of history combined with first hand experience he'd realize, "The Empire fell, and yet, 2,000 years later, Romans, and Italians in general are still making a good go of it, despite the occasional bump in the road. So ultimately, it's probably most valuable to realize that it doesn't really matter. The names will change from time to time, but it's not ultimately very significant."

  55. Jeff York | January 22, 2015

    Mr. Fitz-Gerald, an excellent article that I'll be encouraging others to read. Many thanx.

    (Ironically I found because I was trying to find the source for a quote that goes something like, "Rome fell for just one reason, her people were not fit.")

    I hope that 2015 is off to a good start for you & yours. –Jeff York, writing from Houston, Texas

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