When Will the U.S. Go the Way of Rome?

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When do you suppose the citizens of imperial Rome first realized that their way of life had tipped into inexorable decline?

A few foresaw the impact of Caesar's usurpation of the rule of law, marking his ascension as the beginning of the end. Many more sounded the alarm when Rome's fiscal balance spiraled out of control, debts multiplying faster than the ability to extract taxes from a dwindling base of productive citizens. The plebeian masses, accustomed to bread and circuses, were probably oblivious until Rome was finally sacked. Everything was fine yesterday, how did these barbarians arrive at our gates?

A strange sign of the times has begun traversing America's rural byways. The sole purpose of this giant machine is to grind up paved roads leaving behind a trail of chopped asphalt and gravel. Strapped county administrators are throwing in the towel, unable to maintain their road systems absent the flow of largess cut off from near bankrupt state and federal agencies. Instead of reducing their carbon footprint by driving ecologically friendly electric cars these people will soon be riding horses. The Sierra Club must be thrilled.

Large parts of Detroit are returning to the wild as abandoned sections of the city succumb to bulldozers. Homes whose purchases were made possible by an unsustainable conflux of bloated union wages, liar's loan mortgages, and easy Federal money are disappearing faster than Barney Frank can say "roll the dice."

The response to these signs of decline? Our own aspiring Caesar and his phalanx of facilitators promise more, not less. Free healthcare for all! Free cash for not working! Buy a car, buy a house, get a check! Bottomless subsidies are being shoveled at environmental impresarios promising to save us from invisible gas by covering the land with windmills and algae farms. Court economists scream that things will keep getting worse unless we tax, borrow, and spend our way back to prosperity.

Pay no attention to that deficit behind the curtain! The "rich" will foot the bill! Inequality is the root of all evil! The malefactors of wealth that caused our misery will be brought to heel! Every business that puts profits before people will be loaded with mandates, rules and regulations guaranteed to make life fair!

Alas, there is one thing that life has never been and will never be. Fair.

The other day while out to dinner with a number of tech investors and entrepreneurs the conversation turned to a disturbing subject. "What is your back-up country?" These people weren't kidding. Property was being purchased. Contingency plans were being made.

What will it take to make most people realize that the grand American experiment is tottering on the brink? The destruction of their life savings? The nationalization of vast industries? The high seas teaming with pirates? A humiliating military defeat at the hands of primitives in a far off land?

Today's barbarians don't catapult rocks at city walls. They hurl airplanes at skyscrapers. They blow themselves up on trains and buses. They hunt down merchant ships afraid to arm themselves. Turning our own technology against us they fashion atomic bombs that can reduce a city to rubble a lot faster than a horde of marauding Visigoths.

Calling for a new world order subservient to the will of their desert god their teeming faithful don't need to invade in order to conquer. Why bother when their victims invite them to move in, collect welfare, and crank out babies? They fill the cities of emasculated Europe torching cars on weekends as a form of recreational protest that is not only tolerated but excused. All the while their clerics preach hatred for the host countries that welcomed them.

A society that consumes more than it produces, rewarding the former and punishing the latter, is not sustainable. A society that feels entitled to the good life without understanding where it comes from is delusional, rendering itself incapable of solving problems. A society sapped of vigor, constantly apologizing for its way of life while extending moral equivalence to medievalism, cannot compete. A society that refuses to label sworn enemies as such, responding to each new insult with an olive branch, will never be respected much less feared. A society that gives up defending its way of life physically, morally, and intellectually will not last long in a hostile world.

Rome was the peak of civilization for a thousand years. Will American find the strength to make it to 300?

Bill Frezza is a fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and a Boston-based venture capitalist. You can find all of his columns, TV, and radio interviews here.  If you would like to have his weekly columns delivered to you by e-mail, click here or follow him on Twitter @BillFrezza.

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