quinta-feira, agosto 12, 2004
"Bread and Circuses" in the Modern Welfare State:
Is the Worm Finally Turning?
Artigo de Anthony de Jasay na Library of Economics and Liberty.
From about the third century A.D. onwards, between a fifth and a quarter of the population of Rome, some 200,000 people, regularly received free distributions of bread and cooking oil from the Emperor. The Emperor, in turn, received the bread and the cooking oil one way or another from the producers of these goods. The welfare state had duly started to churn. We all know how the churning ended, in slow and messy agony, three centuries later. One quibble one could raise against Gibbon?s monumental history of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is that he does not really answer the obvious question of why the agony lasted as long as it did.
As vital as the bread and the oil for keeping the people happy, were the numerous and frequent circuses scattered all over the city, where gladiators fought wild beasts and each other. This free entertainment, too, was provided by the Emperor. In the modern welfare state, the equivalent of the gladiators are professional football players and athletes, and the equivalent of the circuses are mainly provided by the television networks out of the advertising revenue they attract. Like in ancient Rome, so in our modern civilisation, it is ultimately the final producers of all goods who provide both the bread and the circuses. They do so both for themselves and for those who do not produce.
As then and so too today, there is a variety of reasons for producing nothing, or at least less than one could with a reasonable effort. Laziness and shirking are probably not the chief culprits. The dominant causes are more complex. Some are bad and cannot be defended, but others can honestly be argued both for and against.
posted by Miguel Noronha 11:24 da manhã
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