Rome took about 500 years, give or take. Downward-bound civilizations generally have opportunities to periodically level off for a time, to flatten out the glide path enough to allow for at least the possibility of a semi-controlled crash landing that maybe a substantial number of people can survive and walk away from, instead of a nose-first catastrophe. But in the longer term the descent is relentless.
Wow. What a lighthearted discussion on “short sea shipping” this thread is! I feel like I was going into a theater to watch “Sound of Music” and stumbled into “Schindler’s List”!
No arguments with Capt. Sparrow, but I do feel the urge to intercede once comparisons of the USA are made to Rome or the British Empire, which happens daily in the media, so here are my 2-cents:
Comparing present circumstances with past history can be entertaining, but not always accurate.
The Roman and British Empires are often compared to the U.S.A. but the comparisons are muddled at best. In neither economy, geography or politics were the Roman and British Empires similar to the U.S.A. The only similarity is the outsized role in history they all possess.
Take the Roman Empire. Rome as a city-state and player in the Mediterranean world lasted over a thousand years, from 509 BC to 410 AD, but it was only an empire (in other words, a place ruled by an emperor), from 27BC to 410 AD, or a little less than half its existence. When someone compares the USA to Rome are they talking about the Empire, or the Republic which lasted from 509 BC to 27 BC? Politically the two were very different.
Interesting anecdote about the Republic: In 217BC the Carthaginian general Hannibal invaded Italy and proceeded to wipe out Roman armies on their home turf, and this with inferior sized armies. At certain times Hannibal marched right up to the walls of city of Rome itself. Armies were sent to defeat him, with new battle plans, and overwhelming numbers. Hannibal kicked Roman ass every time. A lot of Romans whined and cried and said things were over for Rome, and that the Carthaginians were the new bad boys on the block.
Finally, a Roman general named Scipio decided the best way to beat Hannibal was to forget everything the Romans thought they knew about war and learn tactics from Hannibal himself. From that day on the Romans began to beat Hannibal. It wasn’t until 210 BC that the Carthaginians were licked, but when the Romans were done, not one stone sat on another in Carthage.
All this didn’t happen at the beginning of Rome’s existence, or at the end of it. It was just one of many existential threats the Romans had to deal with in their long run. At each one of these seemingly insoluble road blocks there were a whole lot of Romans crying and whining about how things were over for Rome. The way Rome kept coming back is that a quorum of citizens simply refused to give in, figured a work around, sucked it up, and kicked ass.
Pointing to a specific reason for the end of the Roman Empire is like asking for an autopsy after your 96-year old great Uncle Bob passes away. Sure you can cut him open and see he had a bad heart, prostate cancer, and emphysema. But really, he just died of old age. Everything dies. Nothing lasts forever. Rome didn’t die because of barbarian incursions, or over-taxation, or lead pipes (a real theory), or because they had a slave-based economy which guaranteed stagnant technology, thus eliminating the technological innovation that would have prolonged Rome’s life. In the end, Rome simply died of old age, after about 1,100 years. Not a bad run.
But even then you have a problem, because, technically, Rome didn’t fall in 410 AD, when the barbarians finally broke through her walls. Western Rome fell. The latter day Roman emperors purposely split the empire into Western and Eastern halves, in part because they guessed the Western part wasn’t long for the world. The Eastern Roman Empire (aka the Byzantine Empire, with HQ in what is now called Istanbul) lasted another 1,000 years.
So the question is, what segment of Rome’s long lifetime are we comparing the USA too? Or are we making a comparison to prove a specific point, the opposite of which can also be argued by looking at another segment of her 1,100 year-long (sorry 2,100 year-long) history?
The British Empire is nothing like the USA.
Most historians mark the beginning of the British Empire in the year 1763, when England cemented her possession of both North America and India. The UK seldom went about looking to make an empire. The UK just had lots of unruly surplus population it was always happy to get rid of. So the UK came up with this business model:
Find a big place sparsely populated with less technology/politically sophisticated peoples ( let’s call them “cultural dummies”). Preferably cultural dummies with no resistance to Old World diseases (North America). After 90% of the cultural dummies die, because of all the plagues and things, send in all the unruly surplus population to set up shop, and begin mercantilism (see below)
Find a big placed over-populated with disease-resistant cultural dummies, already divided into innumerable factions, and looking for someone to get them all working together. Then send in just a tiny bit of your of unruly surplus UK population to rule them. Just enough to get mercantilism going (see below).
Mercantilism means starting colonies, then forcing the colonists to A) sell their goods only to the Mother Country, B) buy finished goods only from the Mother Country. Neato!..for the Mother Country. The British Empire got rich in a hurry.
The system had one major flaw. Both colonist and cultural dummies got smart after awhile. They learned the system was rigged against them. The jewel in the British imperial crown disappeared just 13 years after the Empire started. 13 colonies in North America bolted and formed the U.S.A. Note that the colonies which would become Canada didn’t go along with the USA. Nor did Australia, New Zealand, etc. The UK had learned the lesson that you can’t push colonists too far, or they rebel. After awhile the cultural dummies got smart, too.
With the USA gone, the big jewel in the British imperial crown became India. We think of India as always being a nation, but it was actually dozens of small kingdoms with different religions and languages, with a bizarre caste system overlying the whole thing. The Brits were smart enough to co-opt the caste system and put themselves at the top. At any given time the number of Brits in India was tiny. The place was run by Indians, who went along for the ride because the Brits offered them stability the sub-continent sorely lacked.
But just like with the 13 North American colonies the “Indians” got smart. By 1900 plenty of Indians were saying “Hey, just wait a minute, this seems strange…”. By the 1930’s the Brits were trying to make a multicultural Indian government—with them running it—to prevent revolution. But when you make up less than 5% of the population, it’s hard to make the case you should have 51% of the say in running things.
By 1946 the Indians/Pakistanis kicked the Brits out. So the British Empire didn’t even last 200 years. (Yeah they’ve still got Gibraltar and the Falklands. Big whup). The British Empire lasted a blink of a sliver of a hair’s breadth, in terms of History. Rome had socks that were older.
The question is, how is the USA ever like the British Empire? The British Empire fell for one reason: the cultural dummies they conquered went to night-school and said, “Leave buddy before we kick you out…”, and the Brits gulped hard, packed up and left, never more than 5% of the population in most of the places they conquered. Comparisons with military might, size of navies, monetary policy—none of these mean anything. Britain got rich on mercantilism Devoid of her colonies to suck off of, she became just another middle sized country with a great people and a rich heritage.
The USA is her own thing, on her own ride, and any predictions on her future based on past “empires”, one way or the other,should be classed as “infotainment”, unless highly specific.
Again, no quarrels with you Capt, Sparrow. Always a pleasure reading your posts.