Friday, July 31, 2009

The Economy: "Bread And Circuses"

"Bread and Circuses"
by James Quinn

“Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.”
Roman Poet Juvenal – 77 AD

"British historian Andrew J. Toynbee convincingly argues that the Roman Empire had a rotten economic system from its inception and its institutions steadily decayed over time. The government didn’t have proper budgetary systems, and so it squandered resources maintaining the empire while producing little of value. When the spoils from conquered territories were no longer sufficient to cover its many expenses, it turned to higher taxes, in effect shifting the burden of the immense military structure onto the back of the citizenry. The higher taxes forced many small farmers to let their land go barren. To distract its citizens from the worsening conditions, Roman politicians played the populist card by providing free wheat to the poor and entertaining them with circuses, chariot races, and other entertainments.

The American Empire has reached the point where it now faces similar structural imbalances, but to pay its bills, it has largely chosen to borrow from foreign countries in recent years. And the bills are large. The $765 billion of annual military expenditures by the United States equals the military expenditures of the rest of the world combined.

The social safety net put in place over the decades by politicians attempting to get reelected has resulted in a large number of Americans now almost totally dependent upon the almighty state for their well-being. Threatening to rip apart the country’s social fabric, the “new American” will vote for anyone who promises to sustain his dependency even as the nation increasingly struggles under the weight of $56 trillion of unfunded liabilities.

The non-farm workforce in the United States totals 133 million people. Of that number, the government directly employs 22.5 million. Millions more are employed by industries heavily dependent on government spending, such as defense, construction, and healthcare. The annual maintenance cost of the country’s safety net now costs American taxpayers hundreds of billions.

Medicare and Medicaid annual spending: $682 billion
Social Security annual spending: $612 billion
Food stamps & other food programs: $ 60 billion
Federal unemployment payments: $ 45 billion

America has evolved from a nation of savers to a nation of consumers with a throw-away mentality and driven by little more than the desire for instant gratification. Worse, large segments of our society are convinced that they are owed something. To most, civic duty has become a quaint, outmoded concept. Happy to accommodate – in exchange for a reliable vote come election time – the government keeps the public satiated and sedated by providing them with an ever-increasing list of “public services.” Roman poet Juvenal described how the Roman citizens abdicated their duties to the state and turned to bread and circuses. The programs listed above represent just some of the bread that American citizens now feel entitled to.

Here in America, we know how to provide circuses on a grand scale. Roman citizens were satisfied with a good chariot race. In these modern times, Americans can find entertainment and distraction with 24-hour-a-day cable TV, the Internet, iPhones, iPods, Blackberries, 1.1 million retail stores, 1,100 malls, 17,000 golf courses, Britney Spears, Kim Kardashian, Housewives of Orange County, New York, Atlanta, and New Jersey, American Idol, Survivor, Rock of Love, Flip That House, 660 stations with nothing on, Las Vegas, Disney World, MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL, WWF, porn, and mega-churches all competing to fill the void in people’s lives.

There isn’t enough time in the day to take in all of the circuses, but with what little spare time we have available, we are now able to check our email anywhere on Earth and stay in constant contact with the office even in the middle of the night or, more typically these days, in the middle of dinner. And we can text and twitter our every thought to our circle of friends and followers, providing next to no lasting purpose or benefit to anyone.

Approximately 12% of the U.S. population (36 million people) is considered poor, and many of them are totally dependent upon the state. Yet that term seems out of sync with the fact that many of those individuals have cell phones ($500/yr.), cable TV ($900/yr.), Internet access ($500/yr.), cars ($5,000/yr. lease), houses ($6,000/yr.), eat fast food ($1,000/yr.), and can smoke a pack a day ($1,500/yr.)."
- James Quinn, http://www.marketoracle.co.uk/Article12407.html

"If they can keep you asking the wrong questions they never have to worry about the answers."
-Edward Abbey

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