"All things atrocious and shameless flock from all parts to Rome."
(he should visit DC in today's world!)
budget should be balanced. Public debt should be reduced. The arrogance
of officialdom should be tempered, and assistance to foreign lands
should be curtailed, lest Rome become bankrupt." Marcus Tullius Cicero
In this article, Grempel says the other side of Roman decadence was the dole. Millions were spent on bread (including pork, by the end of the second century) and circuses for the non-working poor. Barbarians ruled Rome and even when a Roman, Diocletian, regained control, he was influenced by the East. With Constantine came a barbaric Christianity and the move of capital from Rome to Constantinople.
LINK to increasing welfare state, tax the rich, imbalance in trade,...
There was the cost of repairing and maintaining the temples, public baths, and the like. There were also heavy expenditures for civic sacrifices, religious processions, feasts and for the games necessary to amuse the proletariat. The wealthy citizens of the municipalities who were, in effect, the middle-class, began to grow weary of the load: especially since the constantly rising taxation rates were shearing them closer and closer. Furthermore, they were expected to help their communities out of debt by voluntary loans. By the middle of the second century, there were cases where compulsion had to be used to fill the local magistracies. There were other cases, beginning with Hadrian, where, when municipalities got into financial difficulties, imperial curators were pat in change and the cities lost their independence. The people did not seem to mind. As often happens today, they were quite willing to resign their control of affairs and to let the government take care of them.
This extension of paternalism was accompanied by a tremendous increase in the personnel of the imperial civil service. Each bureau expanded its field and new bureaux were constantly being created. By the time of Antoninus Pius, who ruled from 138 to 161 AD, the Roman bureaucracy was as all-embracing as that of modern times. Naturally, too, as benevolent paternalism and bureaucracy took over, personal freedom tended to disappear. By the third century, to quote the historian Trever, "the relentless system of taxation, requisition, and compulsory labor was administered by an army of military bureaucrats. . . .Everywhere . . .were the ubiquitous personal agents of the emperors to spy out any remotest case of attempted strikes or evasion of taxes." To the cost of the bureaucracy was added the expense of the dole.
Originally, this was passed out once a month. By the time of Marcus Aurelius, there was a daily distribution of pork, oil, and bread to the proletariat. Meanwhile, the expenditure on the public spectacles kept mounting. A hundred million dollars a year is a moderate estimate of what was poured out on the games. There was likewise an attempt to combine subsidy to Italian farmers with charity to needy children. This was called the alimenta and was instituted by Nerva, who reigned from 96 to 98 AD. His system was to lend money at five per cent instead of twelve per cent to farmers with the proviso that the interest should be used to support needy children. Boys received seventy cents a day, girls sixty. And then there was the army. The army was essential to the security of the empire. The cost of it, though, more than doubled between 96 and 180 AD.
All these expenditures had to be recovered from the taxpayer. To compound the difficulties, there was an adverse balance of trade. Roman currency, for example, poured into India and the East to pay for luxuries. Even in the time of Nero, Seneca estimated that it cost Rome five million dollars a year to import its luxuries from the East. In a word, though seemingly prosperous, in the second century AD the Roman empire was overspending to such an extent that it was moving to an economic crisis. When in 167 AD Marcus Aurelius was faced by the attack of the Germanic Marcomanni and Quadi, he was forced to sell, is it were, the crown jewels as well as the household furnishing of his palace to finance the war.