I’ve completed reading The New Deal in Old Rome: How Government in the Ancient World Tried to Deal with Modern Problems by H.J. Haskell. Rather than to present a synopsis of the work, I have found many sources for just such a thing and rather than to reinvent the wheel will leave it to a link that will give a fair description. Nevertheless, I will make a couple of statements.
Many of the references in this essay were already known to me but in a different context. Although we think the Romans were technologically advanced for the times, they had serious deficiencies because of the development of the centralized state and the gradual decline in the admiration for the intellectual inquiry that initially was caused by the potent Greek influence. Indeed, the Romans were very advanced in hydraulics, fish farming, agriculture, and in other areas but, beyond the building of a network of roads, did not advance in terms of the distribution of goods. Also, due to the political climate, the insidious nature of slavery, and the lack of development beyond certain points, mass scale production of goods was not supported. Rome did not industrialize the way it could have.
Even so, Rome did manage some grand things in terms of supplying water and food. A good example is an aqueduct and mill at Barbegal, near Arle in France. Here, 16 wheels churned out an immense amount of flour for bread. Unfortunately, not only was the bread subsidized but so was the grain and its transportation.
The progress of enterprise is best governed by a respect for the rule of law. This respect also suffered a gradual decline from the establishment of the totalitarian state and the influx of people from cultures not as advanced and with little history of law except the dictates of a strong man or the narrow, local conventions of a tribal existence. Many of those brought into the Roman world didn’t care that there were various forms of Roman order based on the codification of behavior in law or tradition.
Eventually, there was not only a collapse in the body politic but also in art and literature. Gone were the days of Cicero, Livy, and Virgil. What does a barbarian care about the ancient history and traditions of the Republic or the grand feats of the times of the early Emperors?
Rome’s collapse was economic as well as cultural. When Constantine founded Constantinople and soon after began the Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire, the same seeds of destruction were left uncorrected, even though the east lasted until the 15th century.
I recommend reading this work if you are interested in the evolution of the ancient Roman world. Its influences still have an effect on world culture today.
One other note: Of the numerous interesting aspects of the economic history of Rome is the fact that neither the Republic nor the Empire had the modern advantage of borrowing capital in international markets as in the selling of instruments such as treasury bills or in selling bonds by a central bank. There was no large scale trade in foreign currency. Therefore, the Roman denarius was devalued by dilution of the purity of the metals and by natural economic circumstances. At some times, the currency even developed shortages that impeded business. Where in a modern economy a government might engage in deficit spending, such a resource was not available to Rome. Who could loan the imperial government money? Even though there was trade with India and China, the trade only involved exchanges of goods and not government notes. Altogether, the Roman economy was almost entirely self-contained and could not look to central banks or international bodies. When the expansion stopped, the influx of wealth from the sale of slaves from conquered territories, the flood of gold, silver, and other objects from captured places like Dacia and Judea stopped. It became increasingly more difficult to build a Trajan’s Forum or a Flavian Amphitheater.