Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

Taxes, spending cuts, and a few sweeteners - rather how the emperor Vespasian dealt with his financial crisis when he came to came to power in Rome in AD 69, but less inventive. Nero had poured gazillions into military campaigns and the construction of a fabulous palace (the 'Golden House') for himself. The great fire of Rome in AD 64 burned another vast hole in the accounts.

But Vespasian was a man suited to the task ahead. He was of humble origins, with simple tastes, hard-working (he rose early) and with a good sense of humour (on his death-bed he observed, 'Good heavens! I do believe I am turning into a god'). It is not clear that Mr Osborne shares these winning characteristics.

Vespasian's first move was to sell off some imperial estates and nearly double taxes in the provinces. Those were the days. Then he cut the consultants by making himself censor. This gave him power to get the best deal from juicy revenue-raising options: leasing out public property, selling off the right to collect taxes in the provinces, and letting out contracts for public works.

He knew where to make the pips squeak. …

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