8. The Nouveau Riche Never Remember Where They Came From
When Rome was a republic, one of its biggest internal problems was the fight between the patricians and the plebeians. The patricians were aristocrats who got their status by birth, while the plebeians were the common people who had no way of making a better life at the time.
Like our modern societies, the plebeians fought for the right to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. They won equal rights, got the opportunity to play a role in Roman politics, and had the chance to make it rich. They helped each other get wealthy, voted their fellow plebeians into power, and then sat back and waited for their friends to make a new utopia of equality.
It didn’t pan out. The newly rich plebeians didn’t do much to help out their old friends. They just splurged with all their money and enjoyed life as rich people. The plebeians didn’t realize that right away, though.
For a while, things were actually better and they thought their new government was working. But it turned out to be an economic boom brought on by a war. When the nation dipped back into a recession, they were poorer than ever.
The poor stayed poor, the rich stayed rich, and the rare few who broke the mold didn’t do a thing to help out their fellow man.
7. People Who Are In Debt Can Be Controlled
After Rome was sacked by the Gauls, the republic had to funnel a fortune into defense. Taxes went up, the poor went bankrupt, and the people of Rome were soon overwhelmed with so much debt that they couldn’t see any way out of it.
It’s something that ought to sound familiar to a lot of us. For example, the average American leaves college with more than $37,000 in debt from student loans alone, and that’s not even the worse case. In Australia, Switzerland, Norway, the Netherlands, and Denmark, the average person’s debt is more than twice their annual income. In fact, the average Australian owes $250,000.
Like a lot of us today, the plebeians of Rome lobbied their government for debt forgiveness. And the government listened. Now that the lower classes were politically equal, the politicians started pandering to them. Populist leaders promised “bread and circuses”—in other words, entertainment, food, and debt relief.
The plebeians were so desperate to feed their families that they didn’t care what a politician did as long as he canceled their debt. So they started voting for populist leaders like Julius Caesar and Caesar Augustus. Since the bread and circuses kept coming, the plebeians didn’t get too worried when the elections stopped.