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Progressives, Beware of Julius Caesar's Fate

December 25, 2019 in Economics

By Steve H. Hanke, Joshua Blustein

Steve H. Hanke and Joshua Blustein

As we consider the manifestos of today’s progressives, we should ask: What can we learn from the reign of Julius Caesar? Julius Caesar established the Roman Empire and crowned himself dictator perpetuo — “dictator for life.” Just how did he become so powerful? Caesar promised the Romans everything under the sun — everything that they would not have to pay for.

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If this story rings a bell, it’s because Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and today’s progressives are doing the same thing. They are proposing Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, free college, student-debt cancellation and an ever-expanding laundry list of “free” programs. We should all ponder what Cato the Younger and Cicero pondered: How is all of this going to be paid for? As it turned out in Caesar’s case, he relied on an aggressive “squeeze-the-rich” strategy. Does this sound familiar?

Julius Caesar was Rome’s greatest popularis, a man of the people. Appian of Alexandria described Caesar as wanting to introduce “laws to better the condition of the poor,” with the goal of the gradual equalization of the classes through a broad program of redistribution. He engaged in a legislative frenzy, pushing many bills and laws. He penned a land reform bill with the goal of — as Plutarch explained — dividing land “among the poor and the needy.” He spent exorbitant sums on public works to help ease unemployment.

He remitted a whole year of rent for poor tenants and ordered — in effect — as Suetonius reckons, the cancellation of one-fourth of all outstanding debt. He instituted rent controls and gave handouts of 100 denarii to each pleb. Furthermore, public entertainment was frequent, and it was free. After crossing the Rubicon and enduring years of war, the people deserved, according to Caesar, to be rewarded for their resilience. For example, in 46 B.C., Caesar hosted enormous festivals, parades and gladiatorial games — often lasting weeks. Showered with all of these “freebies,” the public adored Caesar.

How did this “free-for-all” strategy work out? Led by Cato, opposition to Caesar’s policies was fierce in the Roman Senate from the very beginning. The Senate managed to kill Caesar’s land bill, with Cicero calling the proposed law “a plot against liberty,” warning that Caesar’s rhetoric would lead to an “an …read more

Source: OP-EDS