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In which we examine the crisis of the third century both in terms of what was done (the reforms of Diocletian and Constantine) and what was not done (Rome didn’t invent capitalism so couldn’t pull itself out of its economic crisis) and The former was to address the information overload problem confronting the Empire the latter was a failure of vision that is inherent in the tripartite elite organizational form.

In the last chapter we said that Rome was the culmination of the tripartite elite world view and organization. The way wealth was generated was through conquest of other groups for more land to put under cultivation, slaves, and for tribute. Writing was integral for the administration of Empires and Rome was the apex.

But by the third century CE the administration of the Empire had become too diverse, its’ legal system unmanageable and its’ administration unwieldly. Rome was suffering what we might call information overload and what a cybernetician would call variety overload – the thing to be controlled (the Empire) had become more complex than the controller (the Emperor) could manage.

The reforms of Diocletian and Constantine were attempts to make the empire more manageable – uniformity in religion (leading to persecution), autocracy (streamlining law and decisions), and reorganization (decentralization). Their reforms bought the Western Empire another 200 years and the Eastern Empire more than a thousand years.

For the West, the reforms also held the seeds of the destruction of the Empire Decentralization led, of necessity, to more local control. The Empire was unable to assure the Pax Romana, the roads deteriorated and were unsafe soon people began to wonder why they were paying taxes to Rome when they received no benefits. When the last western Roman emperor, was overthrown in 476 CE, all control passed to the local authorities and the Church.

Constantine’s religious reforms were successful insofar as they made Christianity the religion of the Empire but they changed the nature of the Church which we will look at more fully in the next chapter.

In addition to information overload, Rome was in a financial crisis. The tripartite elite form of organization validates certain perceptions of how wealth is acquired and how it is used. Those perceptions kept them from solving their financial crisis.

From our perspective it would seem normal for wealthy people – aristocrats, wealthy merchants – to invest in ways to make money like production of goods, and innovation in labor saving devices to increase production, but they did not. They had many of the pieces that might have led to capitalism – wealth, good transportation, and innovative people who had invented some wonderful things.

For example Romans had invented concrete, plumbing facilities, cranes, wagon technology, mechanized harvesting machines, domes, roman arches, wine and oil presses, and glass blowing. They even had a steam engine used to open temple doors, and an odometer to measure how far a vessel had sailed.

This leads us to ask why? The answer lies in how they saw themselves and their world:

    People valued wealth primarily as a way to buy themselves into the elite, it did not occur to them to use the money they made to invest in production.

    When productive work is done by slaves, people see labor and anything that has to do with production of real goods as contemptible.

    Production was done by slaves and the perception of a slaveholder is that labor costs are fixed whereas the wage payer has the perception that labor costs are flexible. Therefore slavery inhibits innovation to save labor costs whereas wage labor encourages innovation to save labor costs.

    When governed by a tri-part elite, people’s perceptions don’t connect innovation with production. Innovative people give their innovations to members of the elite and are rewarded by them. They don’t bring their innovations to the market. In Rome innovations for agriculture, war and architecture were encouraged and rewarded by the government but innovation for production was not.

These perceptions kept Rome in an addictive loop that made it impossible for its people to find any way to wealth other than on conquest. As the financial crisis became deeper they needed more tribute and more slaves so they waged war on more people. The cost of administering diverse people increased the variety overload and the cost of the military making the financial worsening the financial crisis, leading to even more wars of conquest etc. etc.

Thus the fall of Rome was due to a combination of factors that can be roughly broken down into two broad categories: those relating to information overload and those relating to the production of wealth.