Saturday, March 19, 2011

Name That Country!

Fill in the blanks to pick the region that this process of fiscal and political collapse is describing!
"To secure his position, he and his successors ... courted [public servants]. The resultant ... costs strained finances. [Leader A] increased the pay of [public employees] to [4 units of Y] per year. His successor, [Leader B] raised it to[6 units of Y], while by the end of [period] it stood at [7.5 units of Y]. The size of the [public service] was also increased to 33 [units]. Nor were [public servant wages] the sole problem. [Leader A] supplemented the dole with the addition of [commodity X] to the list of free commodities. Mattingly has noted of this time, 'The expenses of government were steadily increasing out of proportion to any increase in receipts and the State was moving steadily in the direction of bankruptcy' 
To pay for all this, [Leader A] debased the [currency] to between 43 and 56 per cent of [relative measure]."

Answer below the jump:

A good answer would be modern America, where:

[public servants] = State and Federal Employees
[units of Y] = $10,000
[period] = 2011
[units] = bloated government agencies
[Leader A] = Bill Clinton / George W. Bush / Barack Obama
[Leader B] = George W. Bush / Barack Obama / What's the difference we're boned anyway
[Commodity X] = Education Entitlements / Prescription Drugs for Seniors / Healthcare for Everyone
[currency] = dollar
[relative measure] = its initial value

The actual answer is ancient Rome, with the following substitutions:

[public servants] = the military
[units of Y] = 100 denarii
[units] = legions
[period] = the Severan dynasty (235)
[Leader A] = Septimius Severus (193-211)
[Leader B] = Cracalla (211-17)
[Commodity X] = oil
[currency] = denarius
[relative measure] = per cent silver

The quote is taken from the still excellent "The Collapse of Complex Societies", by Joseph Tainter.

Update: Oh man, it's like this is a complete prophesy into the future. Their public servants had exactly the same skills shortages as our ones today!:
"Literacy and mathematical training apparently declined during the third century. This resulted not only in the unsatisfactory documentation of the period with which historians must deal, but must also have affected the Imperial Government. As fewer people could read or count, the quality and quantity of information reaching the government during this critical time would have declined."

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