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It is the nature of man to try and get as much as he can in reward for as little effort as possible. This same drive, practiced in two separate ways, can define two distinctly different people. On one hand, the desire to get much for little can spur a responsible fiscal business person to stay ahead of his competitors in a capitalist market place. One the other hand, it can push one to the street with open but idle hands.
Politicians know the power behind these two distinct groups. The former is courted for the power of their money and influence; the latter, for the power of their numbers and open schedule. Few will make it very far in politics without one of these groups supporting you. Wooing both would be ideal, but they are counter weights on the scale of partisan power. You must choose a side, abandon both, or fool both of them into think you are their official.
Caligula wasn’t a fan of his predecessor Tiberius (few were) in Rome. When Tiberius died (likely helped along by the hand of Caligula), he began to reverse the policies and practices of Tiberius. As disgusting a human as Tiberius was, he was fairly successful as emperor and secured a very substantial treasury. Having this monetary security, Tiberius began to pursue the former of that second group – the commoner (That is not to say that commoners are all lazy public leeches – most are hard-working self-sufficient individuals. I am simply using the term out of convenience.).
Caligula was known to throw money out to the people for weeks at a time. He would use the treasury to assist people who had lost their homes in disasters, build giant public buildings for games and events, and throw extravagant banquets to celebrate his reign. That isn’t to say that he was a commoner himself. He used those same funds to build two of the largest vessels and most extravagant party barges in the world, and threw them in Lake Nemi for his pleasure. He built a temporary bridge with pontoons across the Bay of Baiae just to flaunt himself (and to defy a soothsayer).
His generosity with the empires money, however, made him a hero among the masses. His policies began to center around gaining their support. He increased the pay of the empire’s employees, instituted democratic voting (thumbing the face of the republic), and threw a lot of money into public gestures. Philo tells us that he had thrown the entire front row (which is where the wealthy Romans sat) into the arena to be killed by the animals – much to the pleasure of the poorer individuals.
It is no surprise that his money ran out. The public hero lost his luster when famine hit the empire could no longer throw money from the balconies. In his first year Caligula wasted the entire treasury that Tiberius had saved up during his reign. This forced Caligula to wage war on the wealthy Romans. He seized their property, rewrote their wills in order to make him the beneficiary, he raised taxes, forced others to give him loans, and openly rob travelers. Still, he couldn’t escape the financial crisis. It took a short reign (Claudius was assassinated) and many good works by the Senate and Claudius to restore Rome to some extent.
Our current circumstances aren’t much different than that of Rome’s during the time of Caligula. We have a President (among other politicians on both sides) who live lavish lifestyles on the public dime, but stay in power by persuading the poor that they are their advocates. This is why they have supported the “Occupy Movement”, the stimulus packages, the health care bill, increases in minimum wage, increases in public assistance, and expansions of public services. This is why they have attacked the wealthy, blamed them for the nation’s struggles, and seized more and more of your/their wealth. They are desperate for their power and know how to keep it, but their end is demise. If you are fool enough to follow the nonsensical, and dense enough to support the senseless, then you will follow their corruption to its ultimate failure.
History is trying to teach us a lesson. You can either open your ears and adjust, or ignorantly praise your leader with an empty stomach while you feed Incitatus his golden oats.
Original Post: The Sentry Journal