What Have We Learned in 2,065 Years? (Updated)

“The budget should be balanced, the treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt. People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance.”

– Cicero, 55 BC

Evidently nothing.

(Hat tip: my dad)

UPDATE: See the comment by Grant. It seems there is some doubt around the origins of this quote. Thanks Grant! I still approve of the sentiment, and wish more modern politicians would too.

3 thoughts on “What Have We Learned in 2,065 Years? (Updated)”

  1. But he didn’t quite say that…



    Romans (if I remember my classical studies correctly) had a somewhat distorted economic system due to slaves, but provided public (‘free’) water, roads and entertainment (‘Christians meet lions’) etc.

    As a superpower, they were asked (like the US today) to settle border disputes and help in allied countries etc, but if he really talked about foreign aid in 55BC then he might have been talking about Antony.. but he didn’t actually make the quote subscribed to him (its modern).

  2. Cicero was flip-flopper and changed his political positions with the winds. It’s noteworthy that Rome often had a problem of ships arriving full of goods and leaving largely empty, that is, signaling a large trade deficit. That Cicero does not mention trade is most telling. Latifundium comes to mind too.

    A trade deficit leads to higher unemployment. Higher unemployment leads to a higher deficit (and monetary action in modern times). In short, Cicero misses key variables. Public debt is addressed by a key variable (trade), rather than the dependent variable (public debt). Many other quotes by Cicero can similarly be refuted.

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