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Apple’s Success and Peak Empire

December 13, 2010
Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand

Even before Edward Gibbon published his famous treatise in the late 1700s, historians have frequently debated the causes of the fall of the Roman Empire.

Some, like Gibbon, argued that Roman society’s moral decline was the root cause, while others such as Toynbee suggested that the mere concept of the empire was doomed from its inception due to institutional decay.

Whatever the reason, one thing is certain: it happened gradually, with each successive generation of Romans becoming accustomed (willingly or forcibly) to the new normal of their inflationary police state.

Most historians point to the reign of Emperor Commodus (180-192 AD) as the beginning of the end of the Roman Empire; early Roman historian Cassius Dio described the rule of Commodus as Rome’s turning point from a “kingdom of gold to one of rust and iron.”

Commodus was known for his harsh cruelty, debauchery, and insanity; contemporary historians suggest that Commodus actually believed he was the reincarnation of Hercules, and he had a penchant for staging expensive (and fixed) gladiatorial exhibitions in which he would personally compete.

By the time of his assassination, Rome was nearly bankrupt… though this didn’t stop future emperors from continuing the tradition of self-indulgent largess.

If they didn’t have enough gold, they would plunder. If their armies were too weak to plunder, they would raise taxes and debase the currency. By the time of Aurelian in 270, the silver content in Rome’s coins had fallen to less than 2%, losing any appearance of being silver at all.

It didn’t seem to matter much.  Romans were convinced that the gods favored them, and that it was their natural place in the global pecking order to be the world’s dominant superpower.

The games continued, and Romans were too preoccupied watching gladiators and chariot races to notice that, like boiling frogs, they were being slowly heated by their imperial leadership.

I was thinking about this history recently while browsing some financial headlines like “Apple stock heading to $500” and “This will be Apple’s Decade” and “Steve Jobs- Messiah.”

Apple is certainly an innovative company, and Steve Jobs is a media and technology visionary…  but since dropping the “Computer” from its name in 2007, Apple Inc.’s primary focus is designing devices that facilitate the consumption of mindless and distracting media drivel.

Sure, iPhones and iPads are nice things, but with so many analysts expecting the stock to keep soaring, what does it say about our society that this may soon become the most valuable company in the world?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to the company or any of the consumer devices that it develops… it just seems to me that, given all the problems in the world, there are more pressing matters than camping out for 3-days to get the latest iPad release.

Like the Romans, our currencies are being debased and our governments are bankrupt. Economies are stalling, North Korea is saber-rattling again, worldwide governments are stamping out privacy and transparency, and a global food and water crisis is looming.

And, like the Romans, most people seem too preoccupied to either care much or make the necessary preparations to ride out the storm.

Technology is really a wonderful thing; I think that it will be newly developed technologies that ultimately pull humanity out of the mess that we’ve created for ourselves.

We live in rather interesting times, though; the technology sector’s engineering brilliance goes where demand and financial incentives are the greatest… and for now, that seems to be designing devices that can mimic flatulence or geolocate the nearest pizzeria.

This will change eventually as the problems worsen and society’s priorities shift… but for now, I think that Apple’s soaring profits and society’s evangelical devotion to its products may be a social reflection of the final days of Rome.

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Empires Rise, they peak, they decline, they collapse, this is the cycle of history.

This historical pattern has formed and is already underway in many parts of the world, including the United States.

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About the author: Simon Black is an international investor, entrepreneur, permanent traveler, free man, and founder of Sovereign Man. His free daily e-letter and crash course is about using the experiences from his life and travels to help you achieve more freedom.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Modelerr

    When I was a freshman in H.S. I authored an essay for English Class relating what I felt was the downward trajectory in our country (across many fronts) to the Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire. I was proud of my well-received essay and considered myself very prescient. That was back in 1964, and suffice it to say after a plethora of upheavals and jolts to our system & culture, we haven’t crashed yet. A little perspective, please.

  • robspe

    “Technology is really a wonderful thing; I think that it will be newly developed technologies that ultimately pull humanity out of the mess that we’ve created for ourselves.”

    Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in his latest book, “The Bed of Procrustes”, has this to offer:

    “The twentieth century was the bankruptcy of social utopias; the twenty-first century will be the bankruptcy of technological utopias.”

    I think we’d better stop wishing and hoping for the Singularity and learn how to use the simplest technical means, like the hoe, to keep ourselves alive.

    • http://justen.us Justen Robertson

      The best technical means is the one that produces the most value for the least amount of investment. In the next century that might be a hoe, but it could also be a solar-powered artificially intelligent gardening robot. Evaluate things solely on measurable facts and you won’t go wrong, but to stake your future in luddism is about as irresponsible as staking it on science fiction.

      • robspe

        Taleb’s point is, I think, that technology will reach a point of diminishing returns. The world is just too complex for happiness to be assured by nano-tech or solar powered anything. Having your own garden might be the happiest thing you could do. The Luddites wanted to ban tech because they were afraid of it. Perhaps our century will let technology rust because it’s just too darn boring.

      • http://justen.us Justen Robertson

        It could be that a lot of tech ends up being phased out as impractical, inefficient, or dependent on an industrial manufacturing paradigm that no longer exists. Whether a tool is used depends mostly on whether it increases production of value, so as cultural values change so do tools. It may be that everyone loses their taste for vapid pop starlets and the ipods start getting recycled (or hacked) into something with some other sort of utility and it may be that we melt down all the old rusting factories and turn them into artwork. Who knows? All we can say for sure is that the things we take for granted or stand in awe of today will seem quaint and idiosyncratic to our grandchildren, and if we’ve any good sense at all that will bring us great joy :)

    • http://twitter.com/MichaelPorfirio Michael Mason

      “learn how to use the simplest technical means, like the hoe,”

      Are you talking about Pimping?

      Just kidding.

      I just hope for our “Empire” to last a little longer. Then its “nice knowing you”.

  • http://justen.us Justen Robertson

    It could be that social cycles happen faster these days than they did in the age of Rome, and I hope that’s true. I’d like to see the disintegration, dark age, and subsequent renaissance happen within my lifetime, and that means something in the order of 20 times faster than it happened with Rome (if it is the case that we are presently at ‘peak’ or just after it).

    Another thought, while Rome was falling other civilizations were flourishing (a point I’m sure Simon Black would like to highlight), but has has the modern global economy and global empire affected that dynamic? Or just shifted it around a bit? Can we really expect to jump ship to another society that is just hitting its stride, or is it that as Rome goes, so goes the world?

    • http://twitter.com/LucaZombini Luca Zombini

      think that if you are looking at level of nation states we’ve missed something else. some fortune 500 companies go through the types of ‘cycles’ as fast as you are thinking already.

      • http://justen.us Justen Robertson

        Yeah definitely. You can see it happen in just about any kind of social structure. I just wonder whether the speed is linked to scale, or to interconnection of individuals inside (i.e. quality of communication), or to some other factor, or maybe it’s just a huge variety of influences that are too vast and unpredictable to understand.

      • dubld

        This is exactly why Apple’s stock price is poison, not a golden egg…

  • http://zerohypothesis.blogspot.com h0

    To fully appreciate the similarities between modern day societies and ancient Rome, Professor Joseph Peden’s 50-minute lecture on “Inflation and the Fall of the Roman Empire” provides some eye-opening insights (available for free from Mises Institute’s website).

    In his mind, Rome’s turning point came with emperor Trajan, 117 AD, who debased the silver denarius to contain only about 85 percent silver.

  • http://twitter.com/polomora Paul Moore

    Hello “Simon”,

    I just found your site though a referral from another site (your article comparing the fall of the Roman Empire with the prospective fall of Pax Americana). To stretch the analogy even further, another possible reason for the Roman Empire’s fall was that in the end, it was a plunder enonomy, depending on the bounty and riches supplied by the conquered lands to pay for the free bread and circuses in Rome. Overreach resulted, and decline set in. Sound familiar..

    Thanks for the article, I have subscribed to your newsletter.


  • Geoff Orchard

    I couldn’t have put it better myself.

  • Diogenes

    Apple most certainly is a roman circus icon in modern America, and Simon is the first to state that important fact. However tech by itself wont save America or the globe. What’s also needed is a large scale adaption of anarcho-capitalist principles and businesses to bring those principles into action.

    For example, one of the biggest reasons Apple has achieved distracting the masses as it has is the support it gets from the government in the enforcement of immoral intellectual property laws. Apple is doing the same type of thing that the big TV networks have done for decades-use a government granted monopoly position to forcibly create unnaturally large audiences. The large airwaves monopolized cell phone companies are Apples partners in this.

    Because the TV networks, the cell phone companies, and Apple all like their government created coercive monopolies, they will automatically pursue an agenda that is favorable to the government-the cultivation of lowest common denominator mass markets that inherently support the status quo. Phone and TV companies have even been caught directly supporting the government, such as with lies about Iraqi wmd’s and government eavesdropping. When will Apple get caught for doing something to directly and coercively support the government? I don’t know but it will be astonishing if they don’t.

    • dubld

      Kind of like Facebook spying on you 75 different ways including turning private pages over to police?

      If you are using Facebook on your Apple its already happening…

  • Dantwalker

    You use a lot of examples from Roman history. Have you checked out The History of Rome podcast? It’s been a fascinating review of human history. Nearly 120 episodes now.

    • Dylboz

      Well played, sir. Well played.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-Newton/1673450658 Chris Newton

    This article effectively articulates my often disjointed thoughts on the issues society is facing today, and our inability to stop navel … er … ipod gazing.

    I do have one bone to pick though …

    ‘Technology is really a wonderful thing; I think that it will be newly developed technologies that ultimately pull humanity out of the mess that we’ve created for ourselves.’

    This is a fallacy of our times … akin to the blind Roman belief that their gods were looking out for them. Cheap energy has afforded us an average lifestyle in the west arguably better than the Emperors of Rome. Cheap energy has also allowed us this lifestyle and it fuels our technological society.

    Continued cheap energy might allow us to save ourselves … but look what we have done with it already! The future cost of energy will ultimately prove that the Emperor is naked AND there is no more power for his ipod.

    One last thought … Luddites were not afraid of technology. The original Luddites were protesting the inappropriate use of new technology.

    Speaking as a modern Luddite!

    • F0rthurst

      “One last thought … Luddites were not afraid of technology. The original Luddites were protesting the inappropriate use of new technology.”

      Pathetic. Luddites were craftsmen whose crafts were being replaced by machinery. I am really getting rather tired of the continuous process of attempting to replace historical fact by present propaganda. Why can’t just we have facts instead of evil factory-owners, misunderstood industrial saboteurs etc.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-Newton/1673450658 Chris Newton

        ‘Luddites were craftsmen whose crafts were being replaced by machinery.’

        Exactly … and they protested the introduction of technology that threatened their livelihoods and more generally social cohesion. In my view this does not make them afraid of technology, it make them intelligent enough to question changes that may not be an actual improvement.

        ‘Why can’t just we have facts instead of evil factory-owners, misunderstood industrial saboteurs etc. ‘

        Hmmm … I actually am an ‘evil’ factory owner. I have owned and operated a manufacturing business for over ten years. The sad reality is that rampant industrialization and globalization have turned our work places into dehumanizing environments for both workers and owners. To me this is a simple fact. I do not consider anybody in this situation evil or misunderstood … I simply think we have moved too far in the wrong direction (economic globalization) and it is time to look at alternatives.

  • Sailor Jo

    This expresses my thoughts very well. The US political system is patterned after the old Roman system with senators working for their personal agenda instead of working for their country. Like the Romans, the US people believe they are in “god’s own country” and that the US is “the best country in the world”.

    This arrogance prevents an unbiased view of reality and leads to the downfall which is in the cards (of the house of cards).

  • Rabidchiuahuah

    Apple isnt half as bad as the entire world being addicted to programs such as x factor, XXX has got talent, and reality shows.
    Talk about being occupied with garbage, as banksters and politicians scream for higher tax, bigger government, more government intervention and control of every aspect in our lives.
    Kind of like a bread and circuses. Before we know it, most of us might get wiped out by the most obvious political and financial problems due to being preoccupied with triviality and frivolity .

  • Noel Falconer

    America doesn’t matter. Humanity does. And we’re ALL headed for hell in a handbasket.

    The reason is our over-breeding. When I was born there were a billion and a half of us. Today, discounting lying government over-optimism, five times that many? Fossil resources are running out – you can argue about when but not whether. Water and land are becoming deadly scarce.

    Nothing will or even can be more than a palliative until we halt and reverse this. Against the will of nations and religions and mega-mulitudes of individuals . . .

    • friend of liberty

      Thanks, but America (North) does indeed matter, as it is the last domino to fall. And when we go, look out – we at least still have some armed citizenry. The problem/proposition is we ARE a nation of brainwashed dummies – either idiot leftist rubes or bone-headed flag waving war mongers – but both groups resist radical change and this is the only thing that has stifled total NWO domination, until now. But as a reminder, lets review liberty for the individual in our free world with or without so-called overpopulation:
      Europe: FAIL
      Asia: FAIL
      Africa: FAIL
      South America: FAIL

      The point is, the world does need a mentor/archetype/model of liberty and resistance to tyranny and the story of America is a dirty but good one.
      Is the ship of liberty listing? Absolutely.

      Billions of people living harmoniously together empowered with liberty and responsibility = Heaven
      Billions of people falling into the NWO trap of divisiveness, overcrowding myths and licking the boots of their murderous demonic slave masters = Hell

      BTW – if you really feel so crowded in our world, there’s still the poles or maybe a therapist…

  • dubld

    Apple, to me, personifies the same type of denial that our greater society is immersed in. Apple calls the US COC “irresponsible” for questioning Global Warming. This as their factories pollute China, skirting US regulations, and their employees in China jump out of windows whenever a new product is leaked. Apple owns 8% of the market share. Yet you hear their name in the MSM 15 times a day. Is this really because their crappy Fisher-Price inflexible-computers-for-dummies are really that good, or just because they go along with whatever whims their politically connected board (Al Gore) pushes on them? Microsoft is running on over 90% of computers worldwide, yet their stock price is $25 and going nowhere. Even as there are 10 Windows PCs sold to every Apple. But again, this is the denial of the US dumsky. The stock market is a wasteland, but the lure of getting rich quick has people putting their life savings in Apple because its making headlines. Its self perpetuating stupidity. Nothing about Apple is driving these prices except the headlines themselves. Note the words here:

    people are dumping all their wealth into an “investment” that they feel is going to increase in value indefinitely because they said so on the news

    Heard that one before? Americans are HELPLESS FOOLS. Time and time again they will risk everything and go broke chasing a rag to riches longshot than TAKE CONTROL OF THEIR AFFAIRS, THEIR GOVERNMENT AND THEIR MEDIA and be happy being the country of frank talking, productive realists that we were when times were good. Instead everyone thinks they can spend $100 on an iPod and cash out a million dollars on Apple stock never seeing the numerical gap. Its moronic.

    I have an iPhone. Its the biggest POS that has ever touched my hand that wasn’t a REAL POS. The touch screen is the worst ever, apps crash regularly, it lags horribly even when they do run well, and as a phone its unusable. This is the same experience that EVERYONE I know has had with theirs as well. Yet all the MSM reports is how perfect and infallible all Apple crap is. Yet last year when a hacker exploited an iPhone in 15 seconds in front of a live audience it never made news.

    I’ll make it simple:

    GWB and the MSM steered you towards home mortgages as a can’t lose investment. America went broke and then had to pay off the banks gambling debts with a trillion dollars stolen from future generations.

    Now (career strikeout leader) Al Gore is on the board at Apple and the same MSM is telling you that at $300+ a share their stock is a can’t lose investment. This despite the relative flop of the iPad and the fact that Apple is clearly already in over its head. Is it even possible that fools are again lining up to give away their life savings to the next help-your-corporate-buddies-get-rich-at-the-expense-of-American-stupidity scheme? Really?

    Those of us with good sense only have so much to pay to cover the stupidity of everyone else. This is why Rome crashed and burned, and it is why Apple and America will too. Unfortunately Steve Jobs billions of dollars won’t buy food at a store with barren shelves. Yet everyone plays their part in this charade that will end with the end of America…

    • Chris Allen

      A bit of the religious “I HATE APPLE” speech is okay, but I have used Apple products for the past 3.5 years, and the total cost of ownership and the hassle from using these products has been much less that the Windows based PCs I have used. My experience is… once you go Mac… you never go back… at least I will be continuing to purchase and use their products as I enjoy their vastly superior craftsmanship and aesthetics.

      However the over exuberance for Apple stock, and for Steve Jobs… is irrational. Time will hopefully bring us to our senses… or turn our dollars to cents.

    • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/6EWDTDGGPM2NUB23WZXTLKO6DI Lorili

      Apple is more of a marketing company than a technology company. Their products always look good, usually just average in function and way overpriced. But they know how to get people to buy them anyway. Since their business model depends on a 100% markup over their competitors, they will eventually have serious problems. You can only run on BS for so long.

      • Al Banting

        Apple is a FOCUSSED technology company that produces premium consumer computer and digital media products. Similar to BMW for cars, they also do effective marketing for a subset of the market that appreciates their product. When one sells to consumers, marketing is part of the process. Evaluating Apple products on a Total Cost of Ownership model, they generally are about the same as any Windows based PC. As far as Apple engineers, if you haven’t met them, then you don’t have a clue as to whether they are a technology company. In the areas of technology WHERE THEY FOCUS, they are leading edge. They tend to take emerging technology and make it integral and effective in solidly designed products.

        On the broader topic, every society has economic swings, and during tough economic times, affordable pleasures are in demand. People cut back on what they spend, but generally they do not cease giving themselves or others gifts.

        Finally, as US manufacturing has declined, the rest of the world has risen in economic and political power. Capitalism as a process looks to create the most product from deployment of capital, which is not always “buying local.” But, many other governments have elected to create economic barriers to sustain their own economies, and perhaps the US should do so as well. (Germany, for example, has strict laws on sourcing of chemical and manufacturing products.) If the US were to place taxes on products manufactured in other countries, then that would drive manufacturing back to the US, but would change the geopolitical landscape dramatically.

  • Dobner

    People will never be any better than they have ever been. Just because people spend time playing Farmville on Facebook or that new bird/pig game on Smartphones is meaningless. I think the line of thinking that is important to me is to know that an economy has a bead on meeting customers’ needs with real value as perceived by the customer. What happens after that will be determined by how well a society gets behind that. Personally Apple is a brilliant marketing and technology company. The fact that it is an American company makes it even better for me since I live in that place. If anything, I think Apple could be the iconic beacon for 1) great marketing mentality and execution 2) hiring sophisticated engineering graduates in my country 3) stirring the pot in the industry to keep competitors on their toes.

    I would not get to rough on Apple. Let’s look at them and figure out we can make more and better of it.

    I still totally agree on the diversification of geographical, citizenry, financial assets and interests.

    Keep up the great work and I hope my opinion provides some counterpoint that is productive to your discussion.


  • http://www.givejonadollar.com/ Give Jon a Dollar

    Came here from Rockwell’s site. Not a bad article, but I didn’t like the popup that followed. :)

  • Chris Allen

    Insightful… unfortunately the masses are asleep, and and are not interested in waking up to the reality of their awful situation.

  • robertsgt40

    It won’t be the technology that pulls mankind out. It will be a spiritual change of heart. Look what technologies are available today. In the hands of evildoers it just further enslaves us.

  • dougdiggler

    Steve Jobs = Marcus Aurelius? I dunno, but after Commodus, Rome was a military dictatorship first run by foreigners who didn’t care one iota for Roman Republican niceties, when that dynasty (the Severans) was killed off Rome endured 50 years of military anarchy which reduced the economy to barter.
    btw, I don’t want to live through 50 yrs of military anarchy.

  • http://twitter.com/veucasa Alan Veucasovic

    Of course, this article was created on a computer, and published via computer, and we’re all commenting via computer. Put up or shut up. Anyone who is against Apple making “tools” to edit video, make music, write, or read articles, just sell your computer and focus as what you’ve proclaimed to be more important. Anyone? didn’t think so.

  • Ahsan Jafrri

    this article is correct. 100% correct.

  • gt

    Mr. Veucasovic,

    You have missed the points of this article completely. Mr. Glacier is not belittling the technologies that have made, say, “edit video make music, write, or read articles” possible. Read the article carefully, and you’ll notice he has praised Apple’s creativity and success more than once. The main point of this article is that how a vast majority of Americans have let themselves indulge in petty things such as Apple’s latest gadgets, while there are numerous serious issues that they should pay attention to. On a personal note, thanks to computers (I use PC in office and Mac at home), I do have a chance to read and learn about the important issues.

    Thanks Mr. Glacier for this insightful article.

  • Guest

    This article is really a stretch. I’m writing this on my MacPro which I use to do all manner of web and graphic design, plus make daily materials for an elementary classroom… mindless and distracting media drivel?

    I’m not happy that Apple chooses to make much of its kit in Chinese sweatshops, but I don’t just go all gaga over their latest gadget.

    Get real…

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_XLHQQXWO4I63KCALKLPG57UOE4 Crewton Ramone

    Translation: SELL Apple stock buy silver.

  • Eyeknow

    Oh Sure, Apple is bad, but Microsoft’s Bill Gates wants to release hoards of vaccine mosquitoes on the public, thinks there are too many people, and is investing in Monsanto and GMO crops.

    Keep howling at the moon. I will go back to producing video, soundtracks, and literature on my 12-Core MacPros

  • matty

    Where would you run away to? Our decline is due to globalist controlled destruction to bring us into a world government. Where do you run away to, to escape a world government? The moon?

  • http://libertas.ws David Singhiser

    Do the people who comment actually read your articles? The criticisms of this one seem to be based on arguments you never made.

  • http://www.lacertabio.com Carlos N Velez/Lacerta Bio

    Forget the Apple analogy. The analogy to Rome is far more important. ALL societies, no matter how large or aged, will go through periods of growth, stasis, and decline. Pick one: Mayans, Aztecs, USSR, Napoleonic France… There is no reason to think that Western/US society will behave any differently. I don’t think we’re completely doomed and destined to disappear. But decline is inevitable. The only question is deciding how we as individuals adjust to the new realities.

  • Frankie D

    I compare your thoughts to those who said, man was never intended to fly, talking movies are a passing fad, we will never be able to land a man on the moon and on and on… War’s, Depressions, Pandemics, as well as a host of other things will unfortunately certainly continue to happen but, it doesn’t change the relentless progress of technology and it never will!

    • trodaball

      Ahhh, you kind of misssed the whole point. Technology, or the continued developement of it is not the author’s contention. It’s the distracting, mesmerizing taste for peripheral, even trivial indulgences while our nation sinks into a financial sink-hole whixh is beyond unsustainable.

  • Pancho Villa

    Yet another “the sky is failling” story. You and your doom and gloom cohorts need to stop wasting our time with illogical unsupported statements of gloom and doom.



  • Hoef

    For a moment I thought you were writing about the United States

  • http://www.seasonalworld.com/ in ground pools 

    The very first Crane Stand was crafted of powder-coated steel with the help of aeronautical engineer and designer Brandon Wilke. The mobile laptop stand was first released at Decibel Festival (An International Electronic Music Festival) in 2008 in Seattle and received an overwhelmingly positive response from the music community. Soon thereafter, hands were shook securing a deal with a large-scale distributor, and it wasn’t long until the Crane Stand was in full scale production.


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