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Thu Dec 22, 2011, 09:51 AM

Inequality in Ancient Rome and Modern America

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Arrow 11 replies Author Time Post
Reply Inequality in Ancient Rome and Modern America (Original post)
marmar Dec 2011 OP
Laelth Dec 2011 #1
Douglas Carpenter Dec 2011 #2
gateley Dec 2011 #4
dawg Dec 2011 #9
Posteritatis Dec 2011 #11
Starry Messenger Dec 2011 #3
gateley Dec 2011 #5
Johnson20 Dec 2011 #6
Yupster Dec 2011 #7
Posteritatis Dec 2011 #8
Posteritatis Dec 2011 #10

Response to marmar (Original post)

Thu Dec 22, 2011, 09:53 AM

1. k&r for exposure. This is very interesting. n/t

-Laelth

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Response to marmar (Original post)

Thu Dec 22, 2011, 10:09 AM

2. "imperial Rome was slightly more equal than the U.S" This is NOT what a democracy looks like

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Response to Douglas Carpenter (Reply #2)

Thu Dec 22, 2011, 10:53 AM

4. +1 nt

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Response to Douglas Carpenter (Reply #2)

Thu Dec 22, 2011, 12:59 PM

9. And they had slaves.

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Response to Douglas Carpenter (Reply #2)

Thu Dec 22, 2011, 01:14 PM

11. Keep in mind they're specifically talking about economic equality

For political equality, the US even at its worst is lightyears better than anything except maybe the better parts of the early Roman Republic.

Of course, that an economic comparison can be made still sucks.

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Response to marmar (Original post)

Thu Dec 22, 2011, 10:10 AM

3. k&r

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Response to marmar (Original post)

Thu Dec 22, 2011, 10:53 AM

5. K&R - wow. nt

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Response to marmar (Original post)

Thu Dec 22, 2011, 12:00 PM

6. I wonder if they included

 

slaves in their study. Hard to tell from the article and IIRC there were huge numbers of slaves in Rome and the Empire then. In fact I have often heard it referred to as a slave economy.

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Response to marmar (Original post)

Thu Dec 22, 2011, 12:11 PM

7. I wonder which Biblical passages

they used to extrapolate wealth distribution in Rome? Was it the color of Festus's robe?

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Response to Yupster (Reply #7)

Thu Dec 22, 2011, 12:57 PM

8. There are sources on ancient Rome that aren't the Bible, you know. Quite a few of them. (nt)

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Response to marmar (Original post)

Thu Dec 22, 2011, 01:12 PM

10. Putting on the historian's hat for some thoughts on this one..

Setting the study around 150 CE landed it in what was by far one of the better periods in Roman history. It was around the middle of the period of the Five Good Emperors, during the rule of the one of those who was probably the most benign by a long shot, and was a period of (comparative) peace and (not comparative) stability when placed alongside pretty much any time before or since in the empire.

Basically, Antoninus Pius' reign was about as good as it would get in Rome for the average (or below-average, or above-average) Roman; if someone put a gun to my head and told me I had to pick a time in Roman history in which to live, I'd be aiming somewhere between 120 and 180. Later Romans, and people in the medieval and Renaissance eras who still had access to the histories, would look on that time more or less as a golden age.

Now, that said, the study's still kind of horrifying - a post-industrial society simply should not be comparable economically to a pre-industrial society, full stop. Not even the high points of a pre-industrial society. If you've got to have Roman-era inequality issues, that's the time period you've got to pick. But it still has the little problem that inequality levels are approaching that of ancient monarchies, which is a wee bit problematic, not least because to get to that point you've got to be going quite a ways downhill in the first place. It's somewhere between difficult and impossible to stretch things much further in a modern society without things falling apart dramatically, or otherwise altering the society to, well, get closer to the one it's being compared to in the first place.

So yeah, I definitely think it's a Terrible Thing that the comparison can even be made. At the same time, if you went a century before, the emperors had more wealth, personally, than the rest of the population of the empire combined twice over. (Picture the US' GDP being what it is, but the president personally being worth $9.5 trillion of that with the remainder going to the rest of us.) If you went a century later, you'd wind up in the period of the Barracks Emperors, which would make the (surviving) ancient Romans pine for pretty much any other time that Caligula wasn't in office.

Basically, it's not quite as bad as the headline, or the reactions in this thread imply. There was a whole lot of Rome in ancient Rome, and conditions varied hugely over the generations. But, as I said, the fact that there's even room for that kind of comparison to be made in the first place is pretty upsetting.

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