An ever-greater number of people are realizing that the EU and USA have become runaway trains headed for a cliff. More troubling, the firemen are shoveling the coal into the engine at an alarming rate, speeding up the train rather than slowing it. Most of us would prefer not to acknowledge that the train is headed for the cliff. This is understandable, as no one relishes the idea of jumping off a moving train. It’s not a pleasant choice to have to make. The reader may consider whether jumping off the train now may be preferable to the alternative.



The history of Western Rome’s collapse is complex.

What conclusions can we draw from recent research and the voluminous work done by previous generations of historians?

The first conclusion is simply to state the obvious: it’s complicated. There was no one cause of Western Rome’s decay and collapse. A multitude of factors generated feedback loops and responses over hundreds of years, some more successful than others. Indeed, we cannot help but be struck by how many times impending collapse was staved off by brilliant leadership and policy adjustments.

The second conclusion is to distinguish between the erosive forces of decay and critical vulnerabilities that can trigger collapse. Many authors have pointed to moral decay and fiscal overreach as sources of Rome’s eventual fall, but there were far more pressing dependencies that created potentially fatal vulnerabilities.

In the case of Rome, these included:

1. The depletion of the silver mines in Spain (and the eventual loss of Spain to the Visigoths). Once you run out of hard currency, your free-spending days are over. This dependence on large quantities of hard currency to fund your armed forces is a trigger for collapse.

2. Dependence on revenues from foreign trade with India, Africa, and Central Asia. Western Rome’s income was highly asymmetric, depending heavily on import duties from foreign trade funneling through the Red Sea and the Roman ports in Egypt. Many of Rome’s far-flung provinces were net drains on the imperial coffers; rather than generating income, they were costs.

3. Military defeats. In his recent book The fall of the Roman Empire: a new history of Rome and the Barbarians, historian Peter Heather persuasively argues that the Roman Empire was neither on the brink of social or moral collapse nor fatally weakened by resource depletion. What brought it to an end were the Barbarian invasions from what is now Germany and Eastern Europe, mass tribal movements triggered by the Huns pushing into Europe from the east.

Heather argues Rome’s great success eventually led to its undoing, as the small, loosely organized Barbarian tribes learned from the Romans how to form larger, more cohesive, and thus more powerful social and military organizations.

We must also note Rome’s many defeats at the hands of Attila the Hun. It is not a coincidence that Attila died in 453 AD and the Western Roman Empire expired in 476 AD, unable to recover from the losses incurred by the Huns, Visigoths, and Vandals.

4. Dependence on wheat from North Africa. Rome depended entirely on the breadbasket of North Africa to feed its populace. Once the Vandals swept through Spain and conquered North Africa, cutting off Rome’s supply of wheat, the empire was doomed.

5. Incompetent leadership. Rome—and every empire, if we look closely—was critically dependent on competent leadership when faced with existential threats to the Empire’s cohesion. We can cite Marcus Aurelius and Constantine as two examples of many.

When the leadership was weak and/or incompetent, defeats and failures piled up and things fell apart.

We must also note the role of the great tidal forces of demographics, disease, climate change, regional rivalries, and cultural sclerosis in weakening the empire’s ability to respond to polycrisis.

The rise of the Barbarian tribes led to Rome’s successful melding of diplomacy, bribes, and military victories, a strategy mirrored by the Han Dynasty in China at the same time.

Rome successfully Romanized the Barbarian tribes but made the critical cultural error of dismissing this new cohort of productive Roman citizenry as second-class. Romans who happened to have been born in Gaul (France) or Germany eventually chafed at these institutional biases, and this contributed to their eventual replacement of Italian leadership and its centralized control.

Indeed, the Roman Empire did not disappear in 476 AD as much as break apart into Barbarian-led pieces of what they reckoned was a continuation of the Imperial era. This complex history is ably addressed in the remarkable volume The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400-1000.

In some ways, the Catholic Church replaced the political-military empire as a centralized authority in Western Europe. In the Eastern Roman Empire (the Byzantine Empire) that continued for another thousand years, the Orthodox Church played a central role in its coherence.

The Antonine Plague of 165 to 180 AD weakened the empire. Generally ascribed to smallpox, the plague killed millions and decimated the Roman military. Rome recovered, but arguably never quite to the same level.

Empires tend to do just fine until climate change disrupts their agriculture and water supplies. Climate change—cooling weather across the prime agricultural regions—weakened Rome. Historian Kyle Harper describes the gradual and eventually consequential changes in his book The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire.

The centuries-long rivalry with the Persian Empire also drained the Empire of resources, even as new challenges from Barbarians and Huns demanded increasing military expenditures.

It would be remiss not to include the internal decay wrought by clinging to the alluring fantasy that past success guarantees future success, without any nasty sacrifices by the ruling elites. Historian Michael Grant addressed this in his book The Fall of the Roman Empire:

“Enmeshed in classical history, all he can do is lapse into vague sermonizing, telling the Romans, as many a moralist had told them throughout the centuries, that they must undergo an ethical regeneration and return to the simplicities and self-sacrifices of their ancestors.

There was no room at all, in these ways of thinking, for the novel, apocalyptic situation that had now arisen, a situation that needed solutions as radical as itself. His whole attitude is a complacent acceptance of things as they are, without a single new idea.

This acceptance was accompanied by greatly excessive optimism about the present and future. Even when the end was only sixty years away, and the Empire was already crumbling fast, Rutilius continued to address the spirit of Rome with the same supreme assurance.

This blind adherence to the ideas of the past ranks high among the principal causes of the downfall of Rome. If you were sufficiently lulled by these traditional fictions, there was no call to take any practical first-aid measures at all.”

Roman elites in Gaul were still writing letters to one another complaining of the breakdown of everyday life right up until the system collapsed. Their letters complaining of the collapse were never delivered, it seems. Their estates continued to exist for a time at the behest of their new Barbarian overlords, but power shifted away from old elites to new elites.

Lastly, let us note how cycles tend to impact empires. Systems arise due to their superior performance, reach their limits, and then become obsolete as new selective pressures are met with half-measures and doing more of what’s failed.

There are many Imperial Analogs of Decay. The tricky part is distinguishing the critical dependencies—those resources the empire literally cannot do without—from longer-term sources of decay and decline.

History Repeats

We would like to think that, even though some current governments (most especially America’s) are following the Roman road to ruin with remarkable similarity, the outcome will somehow be brighter—that we will not witness the Fall of the American Empire. Surely, this time around, political leaders will ‘do the right thing,’ and place their ambitions below the need to salvage the mess that they have created.

But, as stated in Kershner’s First Law, historically,

“When a self-governing people confer upon their government the power to take money from some and give it to others, the process will not stop until the last bone of the last taxpayer is picked bare.

Here’s a similar insight, this time from G. Edward Griffin:

“When it is possible for people to vote on issues involving the transfer of wealth to themselves from others, the ballot box becomes a weapon with which the majority plunders the minority. That is the point of no return, the point where the doomsday mechanism begins to accelerate until the system self-destructs. The plundered grow weary of carrying the load and eventually join the plunderers. The productive base of the economy diminishes further and further until only the state remains.”

Still, it will be argued that modern political leaders have the histories of previous empires to look back on and will therefore not repeat their mistakes. But, again, this is not the case. There have always been those who warned the State away from this pattern of self-destruction, as the following quote, attributed to Cicero, 55 BC, attests:

“The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt. People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance.”

The pattern has existed for over 2000 years, and historically, empires have followed the pattern to ruin with extraordinary consistency, regardless of warnings. Here was Rome’s pattern:

  • Over its last one hundred years, the State steadily devalued the currency by 98%
  • The high cost of government—particularly, growing entitlements and perpetual warfare, coupled with a diminished number of taxpayers, led the government to massive debt, to the point that it could not be repaid.
  • Those citizens who were productive began to exit the country, finding new homes in countries that were not quite so sophisticated but offered better prospects for the future.
  • The decline in the value of the currency resulted in ever-increasing prices of goods, so much so that the purchase of them became a hardship to the people. By governmental edict, wage and price controls were established, forcing rises in wages whilst capping the amount that vendors could charge for goods.
  • The result was that vendors offered fewer and fewer goods for sale, as the profit had been eliminated.

If the reader is a citizen of the EU, the USA, or any “Western” country, the above history may seem quite familiar, with the one exception that strict wage and price controls have not (yet) been implemented. Still, the history is accurate; it is the history of Rome… and most empires before or after.


Like the US dollar that followed 1700 years later, the Roman denarius was the most recognized and most respected currency of its day, as it was almost 100% silver. However, it was steadily devalued by successive emperors during the Era of Inflation from 193 to 293 AD. This was done by diminishing the amount of silver in the coin until it was made entirely of base metal, with a thin silver wash. Just as the US Federal Reserve devalued the US dollar 98% between 1913 and 2023, Rome devalued the denarius over a similar period of time.

Still, there will be those who will claim that, as the dollar is the world’s default currency, it must regain its former strength.

Probably not. In 193 AD, the denarius enjoyed a similar position to that of the US dollar today. Yet, having been devalued, it never regained its worth.


The observant reader may point out that his country has not instituted wage and price controls, as in ancient Rome, and that the present Empire may therefore not experience the predictable collapse that such controls would bring about.

In considering this question, it would be helpful to look at Venezuela and Argentina, two countries that are following a path very similar to the EU and America, but happen to be a bit further along in the pattern. They have instituted such controls, with the result that their economies are failed and have mostly collapsed.

Still, in a last-ditch effort to avoid the inevitable, we may argue that Venezuela and Argentina are third-world countries, and therefore we might still expect a more positive outcome. Not so, unfortunately. The US has also trod this ground before. The Smoot-Hawley Tariff of 1930, a last-ditch effort by the US to stave off depression, triggered similar tariffs in Europe, assuring a deeper depression on both sides of the Atlantic.

The USA will continue to follow the pattern; it just hasn’t reached the tariff stage yet. We might therefore list such a tariff under “Coming Attractions.”

An ever-greater number of people are realizing that the EU and USA have become runaway trains headed for a cliff. More troubling, the firemen are shoveling the coal into the engine at an alarming rate, speeding up the train rather than slowing it.

Most of us would prefer not to acknowledge that the train is headed for the cliff. This is understandable, as no one relishes the idea of jumping off a moving train. It’s not a pleasant choice to have to make. The reader may consider whether jumping off the train now may be preferable to the alternative.


In 1260, Kublai Khan created the first unified fiat currency. The jiao hao was made from the inner layer of bark of the mulberry tree. It’s of interest that the mulberry tree was quite common in Mongolia. What allowed Kublai Khan to get away with treating tree bark as currency was that each bill was cut to size and signed by a variety of officials. They affixed their seals to each bill. To further ensure authenticity, forgery of the chao was made punishable by death.

But even then, why would people accept bark as being of the same value as gold and silver, which had successfully served as “money” for thousands of years? Well, to begin with, the chao was redeemable in silver or gold. But just to make sure it was accepted, Kublai decreed that refusing to accept it as payment was also punishable by death.

Today, we’re more sophisticated. Governments no longer threaten to kill people for refusing to use a fiat currency; they just make it extremely difficult to deal in anything but fiat currency.

At the time, Kublai was involved in an ongoing war with the Song. The war had drained the treasury and Kublai was finding it difficult to continue to finance the war. And so, in 1273, he issued a new series of the currency without having increased the gold and silver in the treasury.

In 1287, Kublai’s minister, Sangha, created a second fiat currency, the Zhiyuan chao, to bail out the previous one, to deal with the budget shortfall. It was non-convertible and was denominated in copper cash.

There’s an old saying that, if you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging. Yet, throughout history, leaders, having created a Ponzi scheme of fiat currency and finding out that it has its pitfalls, invariably keep digging ever faster.

In Kublai’s case, as in so many other cases in subsequent history, inflation of the chao led to economic disaster. The chao became an utter failure.

Today, most dictionaries define inflation as being “an increase in the price of goods”; however, the traditional definition is “an increase in the amount of currency in circulation.” An increase in the cost of goods due to an increase in the amount of currency in circulation is a near-certain eventuality, but it should not be the definition. This distinction is an important one, as it allows us to focus on the root problem rather than the outcome.

Marco Polo visited Asia just in time to see the initial success of the chao. Upon his return to Venice, he informed Europe of the concept of fiat currency. Although he had been in Asia long enough to see the collapse of the currency, Europe took to the idea of fiat currency like ducks to water, and fiat currency has been used in the Western world ever since.

Not surprisingly, European fiat currencies experienced the same outcome as the chao. Over time, every fiat currency ever created has failed and always for the same reason: Governments become overextended (generally due to warfare), excessive printing is implemented to bail the government out, and the resultant inflation collapses the currency.

Fast-forward to the US in 1971. President Richard Nixon had a problem. The treasury was being drained of gold by trading partners such as France. The US was waging war in Vietnam, which was also draining the treasury. Mr. Nixon’s Treasury secretary, John Connolly, with support from other presidential advisors, recommended that the president dig the hole deeper, by going off the gold standard and printing dollars.

Sound familiar?

It’s unlikely that Mister Nixon was aware that he was making exactly the same mistake Kublai had made, seven hundred years previously, and that he was doing so for the exact same reasons, and based upon the same recommendations from his advisors.

However, the US, at that time the greatest creditor nation in history, stepped off the economic cliff.

And yet, that occurred almost fifty years ago. In the past, fiat currency collapse has generally been far swifter. Why has the dollar been in suspended animation for so long?

Well, for that, we look once again at real money: gold and silver.

The US had joined both world wars late. In the early years, the US became the suppliers of munitions, equipment and vehicles for the two wars. And more to the point, they insisted on being paid in gold.

(It should be noted here that, as often as the US government and the Federal Reserve have tried to argue to Americans that gold is not really money, during wartime, the US would accept nothing else in payment for goods shipped to other countries.)

By the end of the two world wars, the US held the lion’s share of the world’s gold in its vaults and therefore could dictate to the post-war world what the economic standards would be.

They came up, first, with the concept that the world would use the dollar as the default currency and, later, that it would be the petro-dollar—the currency to be used for the settlement of all oil-related transactions.

This put the US on a unique pedestal. After 1971, the US could print all the dollars it wanted and the world would just have to accept it. This, in turn, created a bubble of debt such as the world has never seen. The US became the world’s greatest debtor nation.

But along the way, weaknesses began to appear in the bubble. Oil producers such as Iraq and Libya announced that they would begin dealing in currencies other than the dollar. The US reacted swiftly, killing their leaders and destroying their governments.

Soon, Iran made the same decision and, this time, it was supported by India, China, Russia and even the EU. Additionally, both China and the EU created their own international payments systems, bypassing the dollar.

Further, nations began dumping US treasuries back into the US system.

At present, the dollar is stable but has a critical illness. And it has occurred at a time when the US has been at war in the Middle East for nearly two decades and is pouring billions each year into that effort. It is also spoiling for war in Iran, which undoubtedly will result in Iran being supported by China, Russia and possibly the EU. The Federal Reserve has stated publicly since 2004 that if deflation occurs, it will print as much money as it takes to “solve” the problem – a commitment to massive inflation.

And so, history repeats. On this occasion, it’s taken longer to play out, as the dollar has had such a great advantage over other fiat currencies. But we’re fast approaching the point at which the dollar, like so much mulberry bark, becomes worthless, as have so many fiat currencies before it.

When this occurs, we shall discover what Kublai Khan discovered in the thirteenth century—that when fiat currencies fail, the world once again returns to real money: silver and gold.