Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 30.djvu/309

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293
THE RICH RICHER, THE POOR POORER.

circumstances.[1] One found himself just so well established that he could endure without being crushed. Another found that the time demanded, or the wound received, or the loss sustained by an inroad, or by being on an unsuccessful expedition, threw him back so that he fell into debt. The former, securing a foothold and gaining a little, bought a slave and established himself with a greater margin of security. Slavery, of course, mightily helped on the tendency. Twenty years later the second man was the bankrupt debtor and bondman of the first.

All insecurity of property has the same effect, above all, however, when the insecurity is produced by abuse of state power. In the later history of Rome, the Roman power, having conquered the world and dragged thousands born elsewhere into Italy as slaves, set to work to plunder its conquest. The booty taken by emperors, proconsuls, and freedmen-favorites, and by the sovereign city, was shared, through the largesses, with the proletariat of the city. The largesses and slavery worked together to divide the Romans into two classes. The plunder of the provinces intensified the wealth of the wealthy. The largesses pauperized and proletarianized the populace of the great city.[2] They drew away citizens from the country and from honest industry, to swell the mob of the city. If a band of robbers should split into patricians and plebeians and divide the plunder unequally, it is plain that, as time went on, they must separate into two great factions, one immensely rich, the other miserably poor.[3] As for the victims, although at first the severity and security of Roman law and order were not too dear even at the price which they cost, nevertheless the inevitable effect of robbery came out at last, and the whole Roman world was impoverished.[4] Those only among the provincials could get or retain wealth who could gain favor with, or get on the side of the rulers. No satisfactory exposition of the political economy of the Roman commonwealth has yet been written. The effect of the Roman system on population, on the development of capital in the provinces, on the arts and sciences, on the distribution of the precious metals, on city population at Rome and Constantinople, on the development of talent and genius, offers lessons of profound importance, touching in many points on questions which now occupy us. The Roman Empire was a gigantic experiment in the way of a state which

  1. As to the heavy burdens of Roman citizenship, see Merivale, viii, 284.
  2. See Mommsen, book iii, chapters xi, xii; book v, chapter xi; Pöhlmann, "Die Uebervölkerung der antiken Gross-Städte," Leipsic, 1884.
  3. See especially Friedländer, "Sittengeschichte," i, 22: "In the enjoyment of the extravagant abundance of advantages, excitements, and spectacles, which the metropolis offered, the highest and lowest classes were best off. The great majority off the free male inhabitants were fed partly or entirely at public expense. The great found there an opportunity and means for a royal existence as nowhere else on earth. The middle classes were most exposed to the disadvantages of life at Rome."
  4. See Merivale, viii, 351; Gibbon, chapter xxxvi, at the end.