OH GOODY, IT’S PRIMARY TIME AGAIN

The California so-called “Open Primary” Election is here for a visit next Tuesday.  Fortunately, this time we have only five ballot measures to deal with so it’s not as bad as usual.

Before we get to the propositions and what to do with each of them, let’s talk about our ill-conceived primary system.

Six years ago the voters of California bought a “pig-in-a-poke,” promoted by then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, called the top-two primary system.

The seismic shock changing the rules for legislative and congressional primaries promised to tone down the extreme candidates from either spectrum and produce more moderation in our elected officials.

In the 2016 primary races for 80 assembly seats, we got 20 (25%) where two Democrats were on the November ballot, in addition to six races where two Republicans faced off.

Voters of all persuasions choose from a single list of candidates, no matter the party.  The two who receive the most votes, even if from the same party, move on to the general election.

I’m not sure that’s what we hoped to accomplish with what some call the “Jungle Primary.”  What we did accomplish was we now appear to attract many more candidates to get into the fray, and maybe that’s a good thing.

In a state where one party overwhelms the registration numbers, this system will never work.  It was a system conceived in theory with too many practical pitfalls to achieve its goals.

It has helped diminish the strengths and role of the political parties, which I think is counter-productive to a functioning democratic system.

It has attracted a much longer list of candidates that may seem like a good idea, but practically with all the costs and all the candidates, it’s hard to find a candidate you want to support.

The bottom line is this top-two primary system has not led to more moderate candidates or increased voter turnout.

This year, the top two vote getters for governor who will face off in the general election may well likely be both democrats.

Now let’s go on to the propositions.

Keep in mind my predisposition in all ballot measures is to vote no, unless I see a definite need.

Prop 68:  Authorizes $4.0 billion in bonds for parks, resource protection, climate adaptation, water quality and supply, and flood protection.  Vote:  YES.

Prop 69:  Requires new transportation revenues be used for transportation purposes—legislative constitutional amendment.  Vote:  YES.

Prop 70:  Requires super majority legislative vote to approve use of cap-and-trade reserve fund—legislative constitutional amendment.  Vote:  YES.

Prop 71:  Sets effective implementation date for ballot measures—legislative constitutional amendment.  Vote:  YES.

Prop 72:  Permits legislature to exclude newly-constructed rain-capture systems from property tax re-assessment.  Vote:  YES.

That wasn’t too bad.  Wait until November when we see more propositions and perhaps the most hair-brained scheme of all time.  It’s called Cal 3 and proposes to carve California with the fifth largest economy in the world into three separate states; California, Northern California and Southern California.

Suffice it to say, it will be a huge waste of time and money.  We’ll talk and explain more about it in the fall.

So, be sure to vote next Tuesday.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Blog

SHOPPING IS A FUN PART OF TRAVELING

A good part of traveling is “shopping.”  To see different products, fashions, art and accessories in various parts of the world is definitely part of the adventure.

You can find some shopping excitement in small towns and out-of-the-way-places everywhere.  This week we outline the biggest and best shopping areas.

BAHNHOFSTRASSE, Zurich, Switzerland

The Banhhofstrasse, Zurich’s resplendent, tree-lined exclusive shopping avenue, stretches almost a mile.  You’ll find some of Switzerland’s top shopping along its length, from leading clothing designers to high-end options for shoes, furs, accessories, china, and jewelry.  And, of course, Swiss watches.

RODEO DRIVE, Beverly Hills, California

Rodeo Drive manages to pack in enough audacious glitz to qualify as one of the world’s most glamorous and expensive shopping stretches.  Just off Rodeo Drive lies Two Rodeo, a strip of boutiques modeled after European boutiques, with cobblestones, fountains, and bistros.  Perhaps its least known amenity is the free two-hour valet parking.

LAUGAVEGUR, Reykjavik, Iceland

Reykjavik’s main shopping street hosts numerous clothing boutiques and an assortment of shops offering accessories, leather goods, cosmetics, lingerie, books, music, and the finest handmade knitwear and woolen goods.  If you buy an outfit from one of the local fashion houses, rest assured it will be original.

THE GINZA, Tokyo, Japan

The Ginza, comprising eight blocks, is Tokyo’s most exclusive shopping area.  It boasts some of the most expensive real estate on Earth.  Luxury and exclusive retailers stand side by side with Tokyo’s landmark department stores, Mitsukoshi,  Wako, and the 14-story Marion.  The latter actually houses seven movie theaters and two department stores.  Many store windows feature elaborate displays that showcase typical Japanese culture.  At night colorful neon and fluorescent lights flood the Ginza with light, bringing the otherwise gray city to life.

FIFTH AVENUE, New York City, New York

Large landmark department stores (Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, Macy’s) and small high-end designer name boutiques (Ferragamo, Harry Winston, Versace, Emanuel Ungaro, Gucci, Henri Bendel, Tiffany, Christian Dior) make New York’s Fifth Avenue a shopper’s paradise.

In December, the stores mount elaborate displays—doormen dressed as toy soldiers at FAO Schwartz, 26-foot sparking snowflake floating over the street outside Tiffany, winter wonderland scenes in Macy’s windows—that attract holiday shoppers and sightseers.  Strolling the crowded sidewalks of Fifth Avenue at this time of year is a special treat.

MAGNIFICENT MILE, Chicago, Illinois

Just a few blocks off Lake Michigan, North Michigan Avenue is home to such shopping greats as Gucci, Neiman Marcus, Lord & Taylor, Brooks Brothers, and Hermes, as well as Bigsby and Kruthers, both renowned local retailers.  Be aware that the Magnificent Mile can be overwhelming on weekends.

AVENUE MONTAIGNE, Paris France

Avenue Montaigne, in the “golden triangle” between the Champs-Elysees and the Seine River, is the fanciest avenue in Paris.  The fashionable and the well-moneyed shop in the myriad luxury boutiques—Bulgari and Louis Vuitton among them—and haute-couture houses—Emmanuel Ungaro, Guy Laroche, Christian Dior, Nina Ricci, and Chanel—that lie within the avenue’s elegant buildings.

AVINGUDA DIAGONAL, Barcelona, Spain

World-famous fashion houses, jewelers, and art galleries line the sweeping Avinguda Diagonal.l which forms part of Barcelona’s five-kilometer (three-mile) shopping line.  Some of the finer shops are found on Passeig de Gracia, Augusta, Carrer de Tuset, and the exclusive Avinguda Pau Casals—small, elegant streets just off Avinguda Diagonal.  You will stroll through a mix of Gothic and modern architecture.  The avenue has fun and fine cafes to stop in for tapas.

VIA MONTE NAPOLEONE, VIA DELLA SPIGA & GALLERIA VITTORIO EMANUELE, Milan, Italy

Milan is a fashion paradise and the center of style, with matching high price tags.  In the Duomo area, Via Monte Napoleone, Via della Spiga, and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele house elegant boutiques and posh cafes inside romantic landmark Victorian buildings.

In addition to the internationally known fine fashion names, the area has inside favorites, such as La Rinascente, Milan’s most famous department store; Peck, a renowned food store; and Provera, a favorite for its vintage wine selection.  In the streets, there’s always a parade of well-heeled Italians casually modeling the latest fashions.

BOND STREET, London, England

Bond Street is home to the most elegant and expensive shops in London.  You will find designer clothing, perfume, art and antiques, jewelers, and more Royal Warrant holders (supplies to the royal family) here than anywhere else in London.  Old Bond Street, the short section at the southern end of Bond Street that joins Piccadilly, has been distinguished by the poshest shops since the 1850s.  Asprey and Agnew, Sotheby’s, and Phillips, to name but a few, all appear against a backdrop of elegant houses turned shops that once were home to a host of distinguished politicians, artists, and writers.

Our home in Marina del Rey is full of art and artifacts and memories collected in small villages, on ferries, in duty alleys, in town squares and even major department stores.  Our many travels come back to us as we walk around our house.  It was fun to acquire these momentos and just as much to reconnect with them regularly.

Keep looking everywhere you go, you’ll be surprised and delighted at what you’ll find.

Leave a comment

Filed under Blog

CURRENT EVENTS – MAY, 2018

What a month!  The news and events of this last month have been as volatile as the stock market.  Trump, Comey, Mueller, Stormy, Rosenstein; it’s been a war of words and innuendos, as well as a torrent of unethical (maybe illegal) leaks and claims.  Along with it has come an ongoing turnstile of White House and administration nominees and officials.

It’s amazing with all the turmoil how much has been accomplished.  More on this later.

Views on the Holocaust

The conference on Jewish National Claims Against Germany released the results of a survey of 1,350 American adults with some disturbing facts.

  • 2/3 of Americans did not know what Auschwitz was.
  • 11% of Americans and 20% of millennials were not sure they had heard of the Holocaust.
  • 30% of Americans and 40% of millennials believe no more than three million Jews died in the Holocaust. Experts believe the number is six million.

Best Airline

Qatar Airways nabs title of world’s number one airline.  Qatar Airways was tabbed as the world’s best airline in 2017, according to the annual World Airline Awards published by Skytrax.  Gulf rivals Emirates, which finished first last year in the rankings, dropped to No. 4 this year, behind No. 2 Singapore Airlines and No. 3 All Nippon Airways.  Cathay Pacific rounded out the top five of the rankings.

U.S. to Exit Iran/Nuke Deal

Keeping another campaign promise, President Trump, as well as Israel, Saudi Arabia, and a number of other observers, felt we gave away too much in the 2015 deal.  The only thing they did was put their nuclear arms program on hold—nothing more.  They have continued to enrich uranium and develop their ballistic missile program to carry nuclear warheads.

We removed all the crushing economic sanctions and gave them $11.9 billion over a two-year period, which they have spent spreading more terrorism throughout the Middle East.

Since the deal, the mullah’s in Iran have increased their military budget 40% while their economy and their people continue to suffer.

Comments on the Economy

According to Gregory Daco, Chief U.S. Economist at Oxford Economics, the U.S. economy is doing pretty well.

Despite an uncertain outlook for the future, the U.S. economy activity remains solid.  Consumer confidence remains strong.  Employment continues to grow strongly.  Wage growth is gradually picking up.  There’s a stronger growth in exports and business.  The travel industry has been outpacing the economy and the trend appears positive.

Based on hard data readings, the U.S. economy is growing at a 2%.  Although the growth percentage is not as high as expected, Daco provides some encouragement.  He will “take 2% any day if it’s sustainable.”

Changes at the “Scouts”

After about 108 years the Boy Scouts of America, more familiarly known as the Boy Scouts, has made a significant change.  In February, girls can join the Scouts, now to be known as Scouts BSA.

Much to my surprise, the membership of the Girl Scouts is three times the size of the Boy Scouts.

I am puzzled by the name change and even somewhat incredulous that girls can or want to join the Scouts—in their own units.

So why did they bother with these changes?  I think to avoid the harassing of the politically-correct police led by the ACLU.

BlackRock Wants CEOs to Show They do Good

Larry Fink of BlackRock is sending a letter to CEOs of public companies saying that they must show how they contribute to society, or risk losing the money-management firm’s support.

The leverage:  BlackRock has $6 trillion under management, making it the biggest investor in public companies in the world.

Mr. Fink’s letter pits the investment mogul against many of the companies that he’s invested in, which hold the view that their only duty is to produce profits for their shareholders, a position long held by Nobel Prize economist Milton Freidman.

IG Report Delayed Again

Michael Horwitz, the Justice Department’s Inspector General, has once again delayed issuing his report on the conduct of the FBI and its top executives.  Maybe’ he’s waiting for a new suit.  This is long overdue.

A snippet of the report was leaked in April excoriating Andrew McCabe, one of Comey’s key deputies, for his unethical work in the Clinton email probe and violations of FBI policy.

It seems almost certain when the final report is released Comey will get similar treatment.  Releasing the report a little earlier could have cost Comey some book sales, but saved the rest of us a lot of noise and commotion.

In Spite of All the Battering

With all the Trump haters and a hostile antagonistic media trying everything they can to derail the Trump presidency and his administration—like nothing we have ever seen, in at least my lifetime—has still managed to accomplish a fair amount of positive governing.

Since the election of Mr. Trump in November of 2016:

  • The economy has grown almost 3%
  • The 2017 tax plan appears to be generating positive results in raising wages and creating economic expansion
  • The 3.9% unemployment rate is at its lowest point in almost 20 years
  • Hispanic and black unemployment are at the lowest point in history
  • Our military has put ISIS on its last legs
  • The stock market is up over 20%, although quite volatile
  • Positive steps are unfolding on the Korean peninsula. Three Americans just released and a summit planned in Singapore on June 12th.

Pretty good for someone the haters claim is unfit to govern.

1 Comment

Filed under Blog

THANK YOU TO ALL OUR MOTHERS

Please acknowledge your mothers this Sunday.  She brought you into life, nurtured you into adulthood, and has been something of an inspiration ever since.

The origin of Mother’s Day, as celebrated in the U.S., dates back to the 19th century.  In the years before the Civil War, Ann Reeves Jarvis of West Virginia helped start Mother’s Day Work Clubs to teach local women how to properly care for their children.

At the end of the conflict, the clubs became a unifying force in a region of the country still divided over the Civil War.  In 1868, Jarvis organized Mother’s Friendship Day, at which mothers gathered with former union and confederate soldiers to promote reconciliation.

Another precursor to Mother’s Day came from the abolitionist and suffragette Julia Ward Howe.  Howe, who wrote the stirring theme of the Civil War “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” later became a fervent anti-war activist.  In this regard, in 1870 she published an anti-war Mother’s Day proclamation which we have excerpted here:

“Arise then, women of this day!  Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be of water or tears!

“Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.

“Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have taught them of charity, mercy and patience.

“We women of one country will be too tender of those of another to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.

“From the bosom of the devastated earth, a voice goes up with our own.  It says, ‘Disarm, disarm.’

“As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.

“Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.  Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar but of God.

“In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions and the great and general interests of peace.”

Other early Mother’s Day pioneers include Juliet Blakely, a temperance activist who inspired a local Mother’s Day in Albion, Michigan in the 1870s.

The official Mother’s Day arose in the 1900s as a result of efforts of Anna Jarvis, daughter of Ann Jarvis.  Following her mother’s 1905 death, Anna Jarvis conceived of Mother’s Day as a way of honoring the sacrifices mothers made for their children.

After getting financial backing from John Wanamaker, the Philadelphia Dept. store owner in May 1908, she organized the first official.

In 1912 many states, towns and churches had adopted Mother’s Day as an annual holiday.  Jarvis’ persistence paid off in 1914 when President Woodrow Wilson signed a measure officially establishing the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.

There is some evidence that the Greeks and Romans celebrated their mothers long before the U.S. made it official.  Today, like most holiday commemorations, Mother’s Day has become a bit over commercialized.

More phone calls are made on Mother’s Day than any other day of the year.  These chats with mom often cause phone traffic to spike by as much as 37%.

Leave a comment

Filed under Blog

HOW TO REDUCE YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT – PART II

Last week we outlined the first part of a practical guide to reducing your individual carbon footprint.  We asked you to consider the impact of your travel—car, bus and flying.  We also talked about what you eat, especially the big contribution of emissions from red meat, as well as what is best to eat.

We finish up the guide by N.Y. Times writer Livia Albeck-Ripka by summarizing the contribution of what you eat and continue on with the impact of waste, what you can do in your home, the positive merits of recycling, and how to dress sustainably.

Weighing Your Options

In the case of food, most greenhouse gases happen during production, rather than transportation.  What you eat is more important than where it comes from.  Eating local is not necessarily the answer.

Waste Less

On average, Americans waste around 40% of the food they buy.  Here are some simple steps to cut waste and save you money:

  • Taking stock—organize your fridge regularly to see what you have and make shopping lists before you go to the store.
  • Be wary of bulk—low priced foods aren’t a good idea if you don’t end up eating it before it goes bad.
  • Plan—don’t cook more than you can eat and adapt recipes to your needs and the number of people at the table.
  • Get creative—reuse leftovers instead of throwing them away.
  • Doggie bag—take home half of over-sized restaurant servings.
  • Skip disposable dishes—washing dinnerwear by hand or in a dishwasher is more environmentally friendly.
  • If you order take out, wash and rinse the plastic containers that food often comes in.

In Your Home—Save Energy and Money

The average American home uses 25% of its energy to heat spaces, 13% to heat water, 11% for cooking, and the rest on appliances according to the National Resources Defense Council.  Making even small changes in any of these areas can make a big difference:

  • Turn down the heat—use a smart thermostat and/or keep blinds closed to keep temperatures stable inside.
  • Lower the water heater—120 degrees Fahrenheit is sufficient.
  • Turn off lights and appliances when not in use. Turning off appliances at the power outlet will save even more energy.
  • Stream movies through your smart TV, not your game console and you’ll save 90% of the energy.
  • Use a laptop rather than a desktop computer. It uses less energy to run and charge.
  • Replace lights—LED lights use 85% less energy and lasts up to 25x longer than incandescent lights.
  • Set your fridge and freezer according to the U.S. Energy Dept.
  • 30 to 38 degrees for the fridge and 0 degrees for the freezer, according to the U.S. Energy Dept.
  • Look for an Energy Star symbol when buying new products—it means this product has met energy efficiency standards for the U.S.

How to Recycle

Americans generate roughly about 258 million tons of trash each year.  159 million tons, about 60%, ends up in landfills and incinerators, according to a 2014 report from the EPA.  Americans recycled and composted the 69 million tons of municipal solid waste that some year which served the same amount of energy as generated by 25 million homes.

Here are some tips to make sure your waste ends up in the right place:

  • Look for a number inside a triangle on the bottom of plastic containers. Those indicate what kind of resin was used and whether the container is recyclable in your city or state.
  • Empty and rinse food containers before putting them in the recycling bin.
  • Recycle paper, steel and tin cans.
  • Before throwing anything away, ask, “Can I reuse or repair this”?
  • Donate broken or working electronics.
  • Contact your local municipality or car dealer to recycle dry cell or car batteries.

Make Your Home Energy Efficient

Small upgrades to the insulation of design or your home can help reduce your carbon footprint.  Before starting, you can do an energy audit or have a professional come in and score your home’s energy efficiency.

  • Seal your home well—including the attic, windows or doors where heat and A/C can escape.
  • Insulate your home to help keep it temperatures stable.
  • Install a cool roof that reflects light away from your house.
  • Plant trees and shrubs around your hose. This is an easy and pretty inexpensive fix, especially for older homes.
  • Check for incentives you may be eligible for, like tax credits or utility rebates.

How to Dress Sustainability

According to the World Resources Institute, 20 items of clothing are manufactured per person per year.  As the price of clothes drops, the environmental costs increase.

Minimize your impact when you purchase clothes:

  • Look for a fair-trade or similar logo which indicates the clothes were made sustainably.
  • Shop vintage—you’ll save money and the environment.
  • Ask yourself: “How many times will I wear this?”  Don’t buy clothes that will wear out quickly or you’ll barely wear.
  • Consider the fabric—think wool over synthetics.

Living Sustainably

You shop for a lot more than clothes; groceries, home goods, toys, etc.  Sometimes you shop and/or can’t avoid doing things that contribute to your carbon footprint, but you can support projects and initiatives that affect these initiatives.

Try to make as many contributions as you can.

Leave a comment

Filed under Blog

HOW TO REDUCE YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT

Ever since Al Gore sought out a new political stage and declared himself the champion of “global warming,” now more accurately defined as “climate change,” there has been an ongoing debate about setting national and international standards and goals for reducing emissions to alter the effects of changing weather, shrinking ice caps and unhealthy air.

In all this contentious war of words and data, there has been one outstanding party totally ignored—you and me, the individual.

Now we have a practical guide compiled (and excerpted) by N.Y. Times writer Livia Albeck-Ripka on how you individually can reduce your input to the global climate change problem.

Climate change can be an overwhelming challenge.  The science is complex and when it comes to measuring impacts, there are still a lot of unknowns.  While real solutions will require actions on a global scale, there are choices you can make in your day-to-day life to lessen your personal contribution to the environment.

Let’s start with understanding our carbon footprint.

A carbon footprint is the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that come from the production, use and end of life of a product or service.  It includes carbon dioxide, the gas most commonly emitted by humans, as well as methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases which trap in the atmosphere causing global warming and climate change.  Usually the bulk of an individual’s carbon footprint will come from transportation, housing and food.

You can start the process by calculating your footprint by approximating:

  • How many miles you travel by car, bus, train and plane
  • The energy you use in your home
  • How much you spend shopping
  • The composition of your diet

No matter how you scored, this guide will provide some suggestions that will help you lessen your personal environmental impact.

On The Road and In The Sky

One of the most effective ways to begin thinking about how to reduce your carbon footprint is to reconsider how much and how often you travel.

Drive Less

In 2017, carbon dioxide emissions from transportation were more than emissions from electric generation even as generation has begun to shift away from the use of coal to more alternative sources and natural gas.

Going carless for a year could save about 2-1/2 tons of carbon dioxide according to a study by two universities—that’s a little more than a round trip transatlantic flight.  How can you stop using a car?  Try taking a train, a bus, walking or ride a bike.

To be realistic, you probably can’t give up your car completely.  So when you do, here are some tips to make your trips more climate-friendly:

  • Go easy on the gas and the brakes—driving efficiently can help reduce emissions. Drive like you have an egg under your foot, recommends the Oak Ridge National Laboratory which researches energy use.
  • Regularly service your car to keep it running more efficiently.
  • Check your tires, keeping tires pumped correctly can reduce emissions. Low tire pressure will hurt your fuel economy.
  • Air conditioning and intensive city driving can make emissions creep up. Cut down on these as often as possible.
  • Use cruise control on long drives—in most cases it will save gas.
  • Don’t weigh your car down with extra things to carry you don’t really need on your trip.
  • Carpool—anytime you can so that you’re splitting emissions among all the passengers in the car.

Buying a New Car

Shopping for a new car is a great opportunity to consider how you can reduce your carbon footprint.  When choosing between gasoline and electric, there are a number of factors to take into account, which will determine how “clean” your purchase is.  The following can help:

  • Weigh both production and use emissions.
  • Remember cars with lower emissions can often end up costing less to operate.

Fly Less

Taking one less long round-trip flight could shrink your personal carbon footprint significantly.

If you can’t avoid flying, one way of making up for emissions caused is to offset them by donating money to sustainable projects, such as supplying efficient stoves to rural homes, or projects which help farmers in India sell crop waste as a biomass.  You can check for suggestions from Atmosfair or Terrapair.

On Your Plate – Eat Less Meat

While food systems are complicated and research is still evolving on what the best environment diet is, experts agree that cutting down on meat—red meat in particular—is a better choice for the environment.  The production of red meat uses a lot of feed, water and land.  Cows also give off methane emissions, a harmful greenhouse gas.

Eating a vegan diet is likely to be best for the environment, according to experts.  A 2017 study told us red meat can have up to 100 times the environmental impact of plant-based food.  According to some estimates, beef gives off more than six pounds of carbon dioxide per serving.  The amount created per serving by rice, beans, carrots or potatoes is less than half a pound.

Which diet to follow depends on exactly what you are eating and how much of it.  If you replace the meat with dairy, for example, your emissions could rise again.  Deep-net fishing can emit as much as beef.  Further deductions in meat, fish and dairy (similar to a Mediterranean diet) is a good option, according to the University of Oxford.  These diets can also have health benefits.

Eating low down on the food chain means filling your plate with vegetables, fruits, grains and beans.  Swapping carbon intensive meats like beef and lamb with chicken can make a difference.  Better still, swap a few meats per week for vegan or vegetarian.

In Part II next week we’ll finish up on the eating part of your carbon footprint and explore the cost of waste, as well as the components in your home.

2 Comments

Filed under Blog

ARE WE FOLLOWING THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE?

The similarities are amazing and somewhat frightening.  To explore this question further, we take a look at the history in an excerpted essay by Lawrence Reed, President of the Foundation for Economic Education.

“Both Rome and America were born in revolt against monarchy—Americans against the British and Romans against the Etruscans.  Wary of concentrated authority, both established republics with checks and balances, separation of powers and protection of certain rights for at least certain people.  Despite shortcomings, the establishment of the Roman Republic in the sixth century B.C. and the American Republic in the eighteenth century A.D. represented the greatest advances for individual liberty in the history of the world.

“The history of ancient Rome spans a thousand years—roughly 500 as a republic and 500 as an imperial autocracy, with the birth of Christ occurring during the transitional years in between.  The closest parallels between Roman and American civilizations are to be found in Rome’s first half-millennium as a republic.  We can derive the most instructive lessons and warnings from that period.  The tyranny of the empire came after the republic crumbled—the truly awful consequences of decay, which America can yet avoid.

“Roman society at the time of the Republic’s founding was basically agricultural, made up of small farmers and shepherds.  By the second century B.C., large-scale businesses made their appearance.  Italy became urbanized.  Immigration accelerated as people from many lands were attracted by the vibrant growth and opportunities the bustling Roman economy offered.  The growing prosperity was made possible by a general climate of free enterprise, limited government, and respect for private property.  Merchants and businessmen were admired and emulated.

“Rome’s remarkable achievements in sanitation, education, banking, architecture, and commerce are legendary.  The city even had a stock market.  With low taxes and tariffs, free trade and considerable private property, Rome became the center of the world’s wealth.  All this disappeared, however, by the fifth century A.D.; when the world was plunged into darkness and despair, slavery and poverty.

“Why did Rome decline and fall?  Rome collapsed because of a fundamental change in ideas on the part of the Roman people—ideas which relate primarily to personal responsibility and the source of personal income.  In the early days of greatness, each individual looked to himself—what he could acquire voluntarily in the marketplace—as the source of his livelihood.  Rome’s decline began when the people discovered another source of income:  the political process—the State.  In short, it was a character issue.

“When Romans abandoned self-reliance and began to vote themselves benefits, to use government to put their hands into other people’s pockets, to covet the productive and their wealth, they turned down a fateful, destructive path.

“The legalized plunder of the Roman welfare state was undoubtedly sanctioned by people who wishes to do good.  Someone coined the phrase, ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions.’  Nothing but evil can come from a society bent upon coercion, the confiscation of property, and the degradation of the productive.

“In the waning years of the Roman republic, a rogue named Clodius ran for the office of the tribune.  He bribed the electorate with promises of free grain at taxpayer expense and won.  Thereafter, Romans in growing numbers embraced the notion that voting for a living could be more lucrative than working for one.

“Candidates for Roman office spent huge sums to win public favor, then plundered the population afterwards to make good on their promises to the rent-seekers who elected them.  As the republic gave way to dictatorship, a succession of emperors built their power on the huge handouts they controlled.  Nearly a third of the city of Rome itself received public relief payments by the time of the birth of Christ.

“It’s frightening to consider how easily a sturdy people, when they let their guard and character down, can be bought and paid for by the welfare state.  And once they sell themselves for that mess of pottage from politicians, it’s not easy to turn back.

“Emperor Augustus, who ruled from 27 B.C. to 14 A.D., tried to reduce the free wheat program by briefly introducing a means test.  He  was inclined to abolish forever the public distribution of grain the people had come to rely upon and had ceased to till the fields.  He had not proceeded further because he was sure that, from a desire to please the people, it would be revived at one time or another.’

“In response to a severe money and credit crisis in 33 A.D., the central government extended credit at zero interest on a massive scale.  Government spending in the wake of the crisis soared.

“In 91 A.D., the government became deeply involved in agriculture.  Emperor Domitian, to reduce the production and raise the price of wine, ordered the destruction of half the provincial vineyards.

“Following the lead of Rome, many cities within the empire spent themselves deeply into debt.  Early in the Second Century, municipalities in financial difficulty received aid from Rome and lost a substantial measure of their political independence in the bargain.

“The central government also assumed the responsibility of providing the people with entertainment.  Elaborate circuses and gladiator duels were staged to keep the people happy.  One modern historian estimates that Rome poured the equivalent of $100 million per year into the games.

“Late in the Third Century, Emperor Aurelian declared government relief payments to be a hereditary right.  He provided recipients government-baked bread (instead of giving them wheat to bake their own bread) and added free salt, pork, and olive oil.

“Rome suffered from the bane of all welfare states, inflation.  The massive demands on the government to spend and subsidize created pressures for the multiplication of money.  Roman coinage was debased by one emperor after another to pay for expensive programs.  Once almost pure silver, the denarius, by the year 300, was little more than a piece of junk containing less than five percent silver.

“Prices skyrocketed and savings vanished.  Businessmen were vilified even as government continued its spendthrift ways.  Price controls further ravaged a battered and shrinking private economy.   By 476 A.D., when barbarians wiped the empire from the map, Rome had committed moral and economic suicide.

“Romans first lost their character.  Then, as a consequence, they lost their liberties and ultimately their civilization.”

We can hope we have the moral courage and strength to recognize we’re on the same path as the Romans and take the difficult steps needed to avoid the same fate.

1 Comment

Filed under Blog