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Panem et Circenses

There have been many phrases used to describe this phenomenon in our current society. Some of the origins comes from a free rider problem of a large empire; some of it comes from a culture in decadence; yet some of it comes from the base nature of government itself.

Panem et Circenses was first used by Juvenal, lamenting on how the culture of the people has degenerated from a people taking pride in their civic duties to voting to whoever gave them most. This could be seen in the United States, how John F Kennedy’s quote “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country”, quickly devolved in half a century to “I think when you spread the wealth around it’s good for everybody”, a blatant example of Juvenal’s lament on the decadence of Roman society.


Evolutionary game theory could explain why the change to a bread and circus type of political economy could never be replaced. Given that such social policies are erected, we can assume that there is no cultural opposition to such policy in the land. It stars with the perfect opportunity of hard times and sympathetic politicians. The politicians unanimously agree to set up just one policy, to help the down trodden. The people who voted for the bill will be heralded as people who care for the community. As such, if there are only a few politicians that use this tactic, they would not want to go against welfare because such political moves will not alleviate taxes or spending. On the other hand, if everyone is for bread and circus, voting against would be political suicide — and the people who vote against in either situation are quickly ousted out of office, presumably replaced by someone who would vote in social policies.

This also applies to the general populace. If the majority do not partake, you can mooch off without hurting too many people, and there will be that incentive to support political welfare. If the majority do partake, you will be stupid not to receive something free (that you have rightly paid for), and thus you will end up on the same system. If you have enough resources to support yourself and have honor to not be plugged in, you will find yet another obstacle in the way — that the fellow upstanding man is either too busy working, does not care, or could not find enough people that are alike.


And thus, the vicious cycle of suppressing honor and encouraging parasitism is perpetuated. We instigate a revolution to gain freedom from an oppressive provider, and use that freedom to put ourselves under an oppressive provider.


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