At Rome, 114 A.D.
I went down to Trajan’s market to see if it were possible to obtain two plump chickens and a few ripe figs for a dinner party that I was giving to celebrate with my friend, Septimius, the occasion of the birth of his fourth child. I found, to my surprise, Pallidus the Muleteer standing near a tavern on the Via Biberatica delivering a dreadful oratory to another citizen that was filled with his usual nonsense and anger. As I had time to spare, I thought it a fine opportunity to amuse myself by poking a little fun at his argument. Thus, I approached him to offer my greetings. What I had intended to be an entertaining distraction became quite a serious matter. I spoke first and this is what was said.
Why, hello there, Pallidus! Fancy seeing you still in the city! Nice day today.
“There’s nothing nice about it. Nothing nice about any day, anymore. Every day is a dark cloud of oppression.”
What is the matter? Did your son wreck the mule and cart again?
“Well, let me tell you, Scipio. I’m mad, that’s what the matter is.”
Ah. Yes, your friend Inflatio Putris told me that you were complaining to Culus the Elder about the government again in the market yesterday. I see that you are still in a snit.
“Damn government. It’s out of control, I tell you. Way out of control.”
What has happened now?
“You mean that I have to tell you?”
Well, yes. Besides, it strikes me as something you’d enjoy doing.
“It doesn’t take a genius to see what’s happening, Scipio! The whole nation is going to hell in a handbag. We’ve got to take it back, I’m telling you. We’ve got to take it back.”
Take the nation back? What on earth do you mean? It’s already here. We already have it.
“No, no, no! We’ve got to take it back to the Republic. We’ve got to get back to the Twelve Tables, damn it!”
Get back to the Twelve Tables? That was written almost 530 years ago! Seriously?
“You bet I’m serious! I carry around my wax tablet copy of the Twelve Tables right here in my satchel wherever I go.”
That’s really interesting.
“Are you being a smart mouthed, philosophical Greek-lover, or something?”
It’s called sarcasm.
“What’s that? Some new kissy-poo Greek word?”
Never mind. You were saying?
“I carry the Twelve Tables around with me to show people how the government is trampling our rights.”
And how is the government trampling our rights?
“Well, damn it, I’ll show you how. Let me just whip out my copy of…”
I’m sorry that I asked.
“Pay attention! Now, you look here. Right here, Table 4, Section 1 of the Twelve Tables clearly says, ‘A dreadfully deformed child shall be quickly killed’. And what does this un-Twelve Tables Trajan do? He’s going around telling everyone that we don’t need to pay attention to the law of the land that was handed down to us by our founding patricians. He just ignores it saying that Rome needs more children for a strong future Rome.”
Trajan’s not such a bad guy, Pallidus.
“You’d better watch your mouth, young man. He’s a traitor to Rome, that’s what he is! He’s trampling everything that’s Roman. He doesn’t care about Rome. The only thing he cares about is getting all kissy-poo with these Jupiter damned Greek intellectual elitists. Now, Domitian; he was a true leader in the spirit of the founders.”
What? Domitian? You’ve got to be joking.
“Don’t you laugh, damn you! Don’t you laugh. I am not joking! He was a good man that was working to take Rome back to its founding principles. He exiled that traitor, Dio and took back our property that those damned Greek intellectual elitists stole from us.”
Wait! Stole from us?
“That’s right! And what does dear leader do? He just gives it all back to the Greeks. He says, here you go. You can have our Roman soil that our founders fought and died for to liberate our nation from the oppression of the Etruscan kings. I’m ashamed to be Roman and I secretly want to be Greek. Oh, kissy-poo, kissy-poo. Probably dresses up like a hoplite in private.”
“Plus, he let that traitor, Dio and all those other un-Roman bleeding hearts back into the country. That, and the fact that he’s pissing all over the Twelve Tables proves right there that he’s a traitor to Rome.”
You are out of your mind.
“Am not! He hates Jupiter and worships Zeus.”
Jupiter is Zeus.
“Nope. Dear leader just wants you to think that. It’s all a Greek plot. See, the damn Greeks have their false god they call Zeus, and what they want to do is make the Roman people think that Zeus is Jupiter so we will all bow down to a false god. Trajan is an anti-Jupiter Zeus-lover and he is in cahoots with the Zeus Brotherhood.”
Wow, ok? Just, wow. You are way overdoing it on the Absinthe. Put the amphora down, mate. What the hell does any of this have to do with the Twelve Tables and putting to death deformed children?
“That damned Trajan wants to take away my Twelve Tables rights to kill my dreadfully deformed child!”
You don’t have a dreadfully deformed child. Well, at least not physically. Do you teach your son this stuff?
“Damned right I do!”
Then perhaps he is dreadfully deformed. That explains a lot.
“Damn government’s encroaching on my rights! We need to get back to the Twelve Tables as the founding patricians intended.”
The government is doing what to your rights?
“Encroaching! You know, impinging! Infringing on the Twelve Tables! What’s the matter? Can’t speak Roman?”
“Roman, I said. That’s another problem with this country. Everyone wants to get all kissy-poo with those dirty migrant Berbers who are in cahoots with the Greeks, coming into Rome illegally, picking our olives and taking jobs away from decent, hard-working, Jupiter-fearing Romans.”
Stop. They aren’t migrants. Some are slaves, some are citizens, and some are merchants. Only the slaves pick the olives.
“Boy, you don’t know a thing, do you? It’s all a plot to destroy our language. Nowadays, we got public monuments in both Roman and a bunch of other languages everywhere you look. These barbarians don’t have to learn to speak Roman, but we have to learn to speak their language, because we need to be all kissy-poo and suck ass. And dear leader just lets them come on in. He says, you all can just flood on across the border whenever you please because we aren’t going to do a thing about it. You’re probably one of those young elitists who can’t speak proper Roman any more, aren’t you?”
No. Look, stop. You’re getting way off topic here. I know what encroaching means. What I meant was…
“You can blame our Jupiterless un-Twelve Tables government for that; letting all of those bleeding heart, democracy-loving intellectual Greek elitist philosophers infiltrate our educational system, teaching our children to be good little democrats. Rome was founded as a republic, not a democracy! They push nothing but Greek on our kids to the point where our children can’t read or write in Roman no more.”
Stop. I know what encroaching means, ok? I speak Latin.
Whatever. The point is that ‘encroaching’ is such a big vocabulary word for somebody like you, and I was surprised that you used it.
“I listen to Stultus Ructatus, a Jupiter-fearing true Roman. He’s Rome’s truth detector! He speaks in the Forum Monday through Friday, from 10 am to 1 pm. All decent real Romans listen to him.”
Yeah, I know who that gas bag is, ok. He’s the moron who whines and complains about the ‘plebian media’ and the government giving the poor two loaves of free bread every day.
“He’s right, by Jupiter! He’s right!”
“The Jupiter damned government’s been handing every lazy, poor moocher two loaves of free bread and a ration of wine per day for years now.”
“Well, I’m looking through my copy of the Twelve Tables here and it doesn’t say anything about the government giving free wine and bread to the poor every day.”
It doesn’t have to. Look, Pallidus, the Twelve Tables is nothing more than a founding document to establish certain basic rules concerning legal matters and governance upon which the government and the nation will be built. It was not meant to be the last word on everything for all eternity. We wouldn’t be able to add any new laws if it were. Wouldn’t need a Senate either. What’s the point if they cannot create new laws? Every hear of change? It’s a thing that occurs in nature. There’s nothing you can do about it.
“Mule shit! That’s a bunch of kissy-poo, bleeding heart Greek philosophy talk.”
No, it isn’t. One does not lay the foundation of a house and then not build the house. One cannot live in the foundation. If a person lays the foundation, then he clearly intends to build a house upon it. In the same way, to create a nation, one must lay the foundation and then build upon it. Later on, change demands new construction. You cannot govern from a bare foundation alone. Use your reason here, Pallidus.
“Nope. It’s all Greek to me. What are you, one of them damned emotionless Stoics who are afraid of a fight, or one of those Jupiterless Epicureans?”
Mars give me strength! Rome is a huge empire these days. It isn’t a tiny farming community of grass huts anymore. It is a massive, complex civilization today with engineering, architecture, artworks, a professional army, aqueducts, plumbing systems, roads, and other public works, and it has millions of people all living within a complex economy and society. The needs of the nation have changed over the last 530 years. Change occurs. Have you no ability to see the obvious? Have you no ability to figure this out?
“I don’t need to figure anything out. I’ve got the answers right here in my copy of the Twelve Tables.”
And let me guess. You’re looking through it right now and the Twelve Tables doesn’t say anything about engineering, architecture, artworks, aqueducts, plumbing systems, roads, and other public works.
“You got it.”
It doesn’t say anything about a professional army either.
“I’ve heard about that false god too, and I know what that pile of mule manure is all about. That blasphemous sect of Jews call themselves the disciples of ‘Christos’.”
So? What’s your point?
Give me a break, please!
“Christianity is a Greek plot. They’ve convinced the Jews to go running around all over Greece preaching that heathen ‘gospel’ as they call it, leading people away from Jupiter and the true gods.”
You said that the Greeks already had a false god named Zeus.
“Yep. And now they’re working on another one called Jesus. They want to confuse the people of Rome, destroying this nation from the inside out, leading us all into the pit of Pluto.”
“They’re already trying to get Jupiter out of government. Next thing you know, they’ll have the commands of the gods and their likenesses stricken from public buildings, sacrifices will be outlawed, and the government will go on a gladius grab trampling our right to bear arms. You watch! Everything will be Jesus this and Christos that. Rome is a Jupiter-fearing polytheistic nation!”
Anyway, you were angry about losing your Twelve Tables rights to kill deformed children?
“I’m angry about a lot of things. Now dear leader is talking about providing everyone free health care too. Another un-Roman, Twelve Tables violating, kissy-poo feel good policy paid for with my tax denarii!”
First of all, the legions of Rome receive free health care, so why not the people of Rome?
“I don’t see anything in my copy of the Twelve Tables about giving everyone free health care!”
Free health care for the legions is not in the Twelve Tables either.
“That’s different. The military is combat-related. These men defend Rome and we need a fit and healthy military.”
It’s not in the Twelve Tables.
Implied? Pallidus, for a time I entertained myself by poking fun at your nonsense, but now I grow weary of your tiresome harangue. Implied here, but not implied there when it suits you, is it? You are not allowed to be interpretive when something is sympathetic to your political and ideological notions, and then strict when something is not. I tell you the truth, neither your political or ideological notions are founded upon anything more than an appeal to an idealized version of what Rome is and should be, conjured up in your own mind, and your arguments in defense of that fantasy are nothing but appeals to emotion, and appeals to authority coupled with heaping piles of pure nonsense and hypocrisy, unencumbered by logic, reason, and common sense, because you know that these things condemn your silly beliefs. The Twelve Tables have nothing whatsoever to do with the subject of free health care for all. So, you wish to speak of things that are implied, dear Pallidus? Very well. I shall oblige you. I will speak of that which is implied and you will now listen and answer.
Let us say that I provide you with a job. A job has specific duties to be performed.
“Indeed, it does.”
I tell you what those specific duties are. One of them, is to sweep the floor. Do you then sweep the floor?
Tell me, Pallidus, what then do you do with the dirt that you’ve swept into a pile?
“I either sweep it outside into the streets, or I pick it up and I throw it away.”
But I did not tell you to pick up the dirt afterwards.
“No, you did not.”
Because it is implied, Pallidus. I need not tell you to do that. What do you do with the broom afterwards, Pallidus?
“I put it away.”
And I also did not tell you to do that because it is implied, Pallidus. A particular job implies many other jobs that need not be outlined immediately, or at all.
“I understand this already.”
Then do understand this too, Pallidus. The government of Rome is the supreme authority of the nation. Whether you agree or not means nothing. Your feelings on the matter mean nothing. That is the reality which your feelings do not change. It alone possesses the right to issue the denarius, which it does by stamping both the image of the emperor and a face value on a coin, and then promises to accept the coin back as payment for taxes. The government of Rome owns the denarius, nobody else. Those outside of the government of Rome who are caught counterfeiting denarii are swiftly and surely punished.
The government of Rome, dear Pallidus, taxes not for revenue, but to force you to use its denarius so that it can easily and surely obtain the necessary goods and services that it requires to function as government.
“You are wrong!”
Does not Trajan demand a tax to be paid?
Answer me, Pallidus! Does not Trajan demand a tax to be paid?
Does he not declare a harsh punishment for not paying the tax?
And does he not declare that the tax is payable only in denarii?
To avoid the punishment for not paying taxes, you now need the government’s denarius. The same applies to everybody else. And both you and they will do what must be done to obtain the denarius, selling goods or their labour to the government in exchange for the denarius, then afterwards, through buying and selling with each other using the denarius. Now then, to your Twelve Tables nonsense and your talk of things that are implied.
“This is all a bunch of Greek kissy-poo feel good talk.”
Be quiet! I have spent a good part of my time listening to you speak. The least you could do is listen to me.
“The government doesn’t create denarii. It only wastes my denarii!”
What do you think, Pallidus? Do you really think that people outside of government are just stamping denarii whenever they need more money? If that is the case, why don’t you shut up about your problems, start stamping some coins, and solve your problems?
“Because the government would punish me for doing that.”
Indeed it would. Do you really believe that the government has the power to punish people for stamping denarii, but the government itself doesn’t have the power to stamp denarii? That makes no sense whatsoever. Where then do denarii come from if not the government?
“If you read the…”
Shut up. I’ve no time for your political nonsense. If everyone stamped denarii, the economy would be total chaos. Society would be chaos. It is necessary for there to be a lone authority that supplies the economy with denarii, else chaos will ensue.
“Chaos. Sounds like another Greek…”
I must ask you to suspend your mindless political propaganda and set it aside momentarily so that human reason which both you and I possess, though you regularly suppress it, might have a chance to prevail.
“Go on, then.”
The denarius is but a coin struck by the government that bears the likeness of the emperor and a face value. A tax is imposed and the coin is the only thing that can settle the tax obligation because the government promises to accept the coin, and only that coin back as payment for taxes. The force of tax both makes it accepted by everyone as payment for goods.
“Nope. The silver in the coin is the money.”
Silver is just a commodity like figs are a commodity. What makes the denarius money is the coin itself bearing the likeness of the emperor, the face value declared by the government, and the fact that the government promises to accept it back as payment for taxes. In fact, the denarius was once just copper or brass. No silver was contained within it.
“Then why did they start putting silver in the denarius?”
Because of trade with your beloved Greece; the people which you love to hate. Greek city-states preferred to put silver in their own coins, and silver coins were the only thing they would accept as payment. So, Rome mined silver and then stamped silver coins to conduct trade with Greece.
“But Greece doesn’t use Roman money, so why would the Greeks accept Roman money?”
They melted the coins down and used the silver to make more of their own coins. Some Roman coins they saved for trade purposes with Rome.
“Very well. I can accept that explanation. But why circulate those coins in Rome today and what of all this talk about the need to fill the coffers of Rome’s treasury?”
A choice. Nothing more. As to the coffers, because silver is a commodity and because more silver is hard to come by, the Roman government can run out of silver as the coins leave the government’s hands and enter the hands of the public. What the government of Rome cannot run out of is denarii because the government stamps them at will. Since the Roman government chooses to use silver in its coins, then there are coffers that need filling with silver. But as far as the denarius goes, there are no coffers to fill.
“That makes sense.”
Now then, do you agree that the government of Rome is a public entity?
Do you agree that the government of Rome is charged with the authority to create laws that govern the public?
Do you agree that without denarii to buy what you need to survive, survival is very difficult if not impossible?
Then as the Roman government is a public entity, and as it is charged with the responsibility to create laws that govern the public, and as there is no other supplier of the denarius but the Roman government, and as everyone needs the denarius to survive, then as the currency-issuing and regulatory authority, the job of the government of Rome is to supply the Roman people with the needed currency. Therefore, when the government of Rome stamps and then spends denarii, its primary duty is to spend for that which ensures and advances the public purpose because public purpose spending is already implied. It is already legal by virtue of its authority and responsibility to govern the public and see that the needs of the public are met at all times.
“But the public is…”
Not one single individual, Pallidus. The public is every citizen together as one nation. The individual is a member of the public, not the public itself. The government of the Rome is charged with the duty of ensuring and advancing the public purpose, not the individual purpose. Individuals derive their private benefit from the government’s attention to the public purpose, not the other way around. The government sees to the whole and the individual makes of it what he will. Universal health care is a public purpose initiative.
Allow me to finish. A vibrant, healthy population is in the best interests of the public; private profit is in the best interests of the individual. As I said, Individuals derive their private benefit from the government’s attention to the public purpose. Afterwards, if an individual can derive good benefit from a particular public purpose initiative, then he partakes of it. But, on the other hand, should he feel that the public purpose initiative contains no benefit to him, then he ignores it. Yet, what does not benefit one, does benefit another.
On this correct view, Pallidus, those that see no benefit for themselves in free health care go unharmed by its existence, whilst those that do see benefit in it also remain unharmed by its existence and they can partake in it.
“I can see that, at least, this much is true.”
So it is, Pallidus. Yet, I can see that you are a staunch advocate for freedom. So be it. Then, as we can now understand, though government sponsored and administered universal health care exists, you still have possession of your freedom. You have lost nothing. Since it is not your money that will fund universal health care, then you are free to partake in the benefits of free health care, or you can choose to forego the benefits on principle and not participate. Or, perhaps you can try and beg your doctor to take payment directly from you, if it is that important to you. But, think clearly: If giving a doctor your wages or savings in exchange for medical treatment means more to you than the treatment itself, or even equal to it, then surely you must admit that such a thing is highly questionable at best, insane at worst.
“I am not sure on this point.”
Perhaps paying your doctor with your own wages is the essence of freedom to you. At the point where medical treatment becomes a matter of life or death, what then shall we say of your narrow definition of freedom? That the freedom to pay your doctor with your own wages is far more important than your financial health, or your physical health and indeed, your life?
“When you put it that way, my answer is no. Paying a doctor with my own wages is not that important.”
Correct. But what of the lives of your countrymen and women that comprise the nation of Rome, which you claim to cherish above all things? What of them, Pallidus? For without them, there can be no nation called Rome, can there?
“No, there cannot.”
Given the fact that we now understand that the government of Rome is the sole supplier of the denarius; that its main function as that supplier is to ensure the public purpose, and that it will not be your money that pays for universal health care, sound reason demands us to conclude that he who has the means to pay for health care goes unharmed and he who doesn’t also goes unharmed.
“But what if, one day in the future, government run health care becomes messy and inefficient?”
Firstly, such a thing would be the fault of politicians, not universal health care itself.
“That much is certain.”
Then clearly, we agree. Since this is a hypothetical future problem, we can do nothing but leave it for future generations to address. But, what we can and must do today is embark upon universal health care since change is unavoidable and now, because Rome has changed from a grass hut community to a massive, complex nation containing millions of people, the needs of the public have also changed and the public purpose now demands it. As to possible future problems, we take steps today to ensure that any future problems which we can easily foresee are prevented. As long as Rome has the non-monetary resources to provide universal health care, then universal health care is both affordable and possible.
Enough doctors, medicines, hospitals, et cetera to ensure the treatment of all citizens and their good health.
“Yes, now I understand that.”
As to the politicians, we must endeavor to encourage all citizens to become civic minded again. That which we require as the public must be ensured and protected by our government. If our politicians fail us, then the public must reprimand them, looking to its own best interests and not the interests of any one individual because if we are to even have a nation, then an individual must derive his benefit from that which benefits the public as a whole and not at the expense of the public as a whole. A nation is made up of every, single citizen and all must derive good benefit from their economy and society. It is the duty of the government to ensure that the nation, as a whole, derives good benefit from the government’s public purpose initiatives, and then the individual can derive his own personal benefit from the public purpose. That is not an idealized version of Rome. That is what a nation is. That, dear Pallidus, is Rome.
“I would agree with that.”
But let us speak no further on the matter today, Pallidus. Instead, let us try to enjoy the rest of our day.
“I am still mad though?”
“My son wrecked the mule and cart again.”