Pompeii

pompeiiPompeii was a wealthy city in Southern Italy until its population was destroyed by the eruption of a neighboring volcano in the year 79 CE. However, the eruption left much of the city intact, and preserved it under several meters of ash. It is slowly being dug out and has become a tourist attraction where people go to see what life was like at the beginning of the common era.

Pompeii was impressive for its orderly neighborhoods, metal water pipes, and some clever civil engineering. It was much smaller, and much less grand, than the city of Rome located a short distance to the north. Yet, in comparison, Pompeii seems to shine as a city that never lived past its prime. Rome, on the other hand, is a shadow of its former glory.

The interesting question, however, is not whether Pompeii would have suffered the same decline as Rome, but why so many civilizations seem to rise and fall with the historical tide. Is it part of human nature that societies must decay?

History provides many examples of such collapse. Myanmar was once an incredibly wealthy part of the world. Eight hundred years later, it is now one of the poorest. The British Empire controlled a quarter of the globe and now has a only a fraction of that territory. France. Japan. Russia. Germany. Modern states like North Korea and Venezuela have recently suffered rapid decline.

The rise and fall of societies is far from regular. Some never rise above subsistence. Some create great wealth and slowly decay. Some destroy themselves rapidly. One commonality is that societies on the rise accumulate capital and societies on the decline dissipate it. Capital does not only mean physical goods, but also productive social structures. When a state is especially abusive towards the people in its territory, this leads to more rapid degradation of social structures. People start to worry less about how to get rich and more about how to alleviate infringements on their liberty. Both of these factors would seem to lead to greater instability as individuals push back against the state or turn to non-market sources of income.

This correlation between liberty and stability seems to be corroborated by the speed at which oppressive regimes self destruct. Just look how much longer the soft-socialism of the United States has lasted compared to the hard communism of Soviet Russia. Brutal dictatorships in Africa, South America, and Asia flare up an die like sparks on the wind.

There also seems to be a relationship between capital and social stability. Societies cannot survive without capital. Societies with more capital tend to outlast poorer ones. Socialism cannot even exist unless capitalism first produces wealth for it to feed on. Mixed economies that have some private industries producing wealth while that wealth is simultaneously being consumed by government seem semi-stable. Perhaps the greater the ratio of wealth and wealth production to consumption, the more stable the society will be.

If there really is a tendency for more oppressive states to be more unstable, and for poorer states to be more unstable, it would be a good sign for anarcho-capitalism. A theoretical ancap society would maximize both liberty and wealth. It might produce cities that do not wither after 50, 1000, or 10,000 years, but rather continue to grow and improve indefinitely. Greater stability means a tendency to expand in population and territory. It might be that anarcho-capitalism is the only system stable enough for a global community.

Pompeii was robbed of its potential by a natural disaster. Far more cities have been robbed of their potential by unethical behavior, especially the suppression of the free market. Let Pompeii stand as a reminder that societies need not wither away, but that they only did so in the age of statism.

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