Writing in The Guardian, historian Peter Frankopan looks at how the Byzantine Empire, which had “the distinction of being one of the very few realms to survive for more than a millennium,” might offer clues to a way out of the current Eurozone crisis.
Frankopan, author of The First Crusade: The Call from the East, notes that “like the EU, the Byzantine empire was a multilingual, multi-ethnic commonwealth that spread across different climates and varied local economies, ranging from bustling cities to market towns, from thriving ports to small rural settlements. Not only that, but it also had a single currency – one, furthermore, that did not fluctuate in value for centuries.”
More on the history of the Byzantine gold coin known as the solidus or, in Greek the nomisma, here.
Frankopan asserts that government in Byzantium was “lean, simple and efficient.”
If Eurocrats could learn from the structure of the empire, then so too could they benefit from looking at how it dealt with a chronic recession, brought on by the same deadly combination that has crippled western economies today. In the 1070s, government revenues collapsed, while expenditure continued to rise on essential services (such as the military); these were made worse by a chronic liquidity crisis. So bad did the situation become that the doors of the treasury were flung open: there was no point locking them, wrote one contemporary, because there was nothing there to steal.
Those responsible for the crisis were shown no mercy. The Herman Van Rompuy of the time, a eunuch named Nikephoritzes, was lambasted by an angry population faced with price rises and a fall in the standard of living, and was eventually tortured to death. Widespread dissatisfaction led to others being unceremoniously removed from position, often forced to become monks, presumably so they could pray for forgiveness for their sins.
Read “The Byzantine empire’s own ‘eurozone’ crisis offers a lesson for the EU today” by Peter Frankopan in The Guardian.
If you haven’t read Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg’s new book, Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and How America Can Avoid a European Future, what are you waiting for? (No, he doesn’t prescribe torture for free-spending EU bureaucrats.)