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Did The Roman Empire Have Corporations?

Did The Roman Empire Have Corporations?

Courtesy of Charles Hugh Smith, Of Two Minds 

Julius Caesar (100-44 BC) Roman soldier and statesman. Engraving c1825.

Unlike our Corporate/State Empire, the Roman Empire did not have privately held, transnational corporations running the bread and circuses.

My longtime friend G.F.B. recently asked, "Did the Roman Empire have corporations?" Based on my admittedly incomplete reading of Gibbons and a survey of Pompeii I am currently reading, I believe the answer is "no."

Yes, the Republic and later, the Empire, had ruling Elites and politically influential families who controlled immense wealth, but G.F.B.’s point was not about influence or wealth alone: Did the Empire flourish without accountability and personal responsibility?

In other words, were the Elites which controlled the Empire never held personally accountable? If so, then they may well have functioned as the equivalent of today’s corporations.

But history--and what a long history the Roman Empire carved--suggests individuals who failed paid a price.

In today’s Corporate Empire, the Elite individuals running the corporations can despoil, bribe, embezzle, cheat and collude and they completely evade accountability. Sure, the corporation pays a fine (or sets up a $20 billion fund with shareholders’ funds), but the people in charge who oversaw the skimming, bribery, collusion, profiteering, embezzlement, mismanagement of funds, violation of the public trust, etc. are never really accountable; instead, they are awarded golden parachutes worth millions of dollars for their service to the goal of enriching the Elites and owners of the corporation.

The much-touted Sarbanes-Oxley financial regulations do require that individuals vouch for the accuracy of the corporate accounting, but how many CEOs and CFOs are serving time for violating the Sarbanes-Oxley Act?

After the U.S. financial and mortgage sectors have been pillaged for years, how many individuals are under indictment for any finance-related crime, large or small? I think the evidence is overwhelming that Sarbanes-Oxley and the rest of the regulatory system which claims to invoke accountability is in fact a facsimile, a facade of righteousness maintained for P.R. purposes. Behind the screen, it’s all about scooping swag and then evading any accountability for that pillaging, collusion and corruption.

NEW YORK - APRIL 19: People walk towards Wall Street in the financial district April 19, 2010 in New York City. Increased scrutiny of numerous Wall Street financial institutions and firms has resulted from Friday's announcement by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) of a civil fraud suit against Goldman Sachs. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

This is yet more evidence that the U.S. is a de facto Corporate/State Empire which benefits the Power Elites who have partnered private gain with global reach.

Please read Shadow Elite: Selling Out Uncle Sam: The Collision of State & Private Power for more on how this works in the Security State complex.

The same dynamics and mechanisms are everywhere in the Empire: agricultural policy and products, weapons sales, healthcare (a.k.a. sickcare), etc.

Many smart citizens are wondering which way the U.S. will go: will it slip toward fascism or toward revolution? I think the answer is neither: we already live in Corporate Fascism.

As noted yesterday, Benito Mussolini said that "Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power."

Weclome to America 2010, where Power Elite individuals are safely protected from accountability and responsibility for their actions behind the veil of the political partnership of the corporate and State Elites.

The Colosseum, Rome, Italy, elevated view

At least for significant lengths of time, the Roman Empire did not ignore/encourage individuals’ failures and frauds, and it could be argued quite persuasively that this high level of personal accountability was a key reason for the Empire’s longevity. Indeed, the decline of accountability parallels the decline of the Empire’s wealth and influence.

It could be argued that the Empire fell apart for precisely this reason: once accountability was lost, then the collective good of the Empire was also lost as a meaningful collective goal. The constituent parts fell into private fiefdoms which collected onerous taxes for their own aggrandizement.

As the Empire declined, Rome was reduced to sending out thousands of edicts to its self-serving fiefdoms; with accountability and consequence lost, the edicts were ignored. The falcon could no longer hear the falconer, and the center could not hold. The Empire collapsed in a heap, and the irony is the self-serving Elites fell with it.

If we follow that line of thought, we have to conclude the American Corporate/State Empire has lost the requisite level of accountability to survive the demands of the real world. Accountability is the incentive for responsible actions, and being able to hide behind corporations and/or State bureaucracies to evade any responsibility for one’s decisions incentivizes the precise ethical, social and financial erosion which brings Empires down.  


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  1. Thanks for being one of the few who have found "Shadow Elite…" and remarked on it.
    Why this book hasn’t gone viral is a testament to the public’s willing ignorance, wanting to stay dumbed down.