Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Did mergers cause the fall of the Roman Empire?

I just finished listening to a book on tape, "How the Irish Saved Civilization" by Thomas Cahill, which describes the fall of the Roman Empire (about 400AD) and the subsequent rise of Ireland as St. Patrick brought Christianity to the island. Cahill claims that Ireland was the first place to embrace Christianity without bloodshed.

Cahill's description of the fall of the Roman Empire is nuanced but cohesive. Here is my economist take on what he said. As the Roman Republic turned into a corrupt Empire, politically connected citizens were able to avoid taxes. For middle class landowners who could not avoid taxes, it was more profitable to sell land to those who could (lords) and become sharecroppers (vassals) instead.

Without taxes to support the army, the Empire fell to the barbarian hordes who crossed the Rhine and Danube rivers. The fiefdoms filled the power vacuum.

I will pass on my copy of the book on tape to the first person who posts a comment.


  1. Another take using economics and the rational-actor-paradigm is that the roman empire fell because they outsourced too much of their fighting. This was done by hiring mercenaries and barbarians to fight for them. At that time ~400A.D many believe that the Romans had become lackadaisical and soft [Gibbons] and so let somebody else fight their wars. However the incentives of the Romans and the mercenaries where not aligned since the barbarians had more to gain by letting the Roman Empire fall since abundant resources could then be easier had. They in many cases even turned on the romans at the end, which accelerated the fall.


  2. send me your address, and I will send you the CD's of Cahill's book.