The Roman Philosopher Lucius Anneaus Seneca (4 BCE-65 CE) was perhaps the first to note the universal trend that growth is slow but ruin is rapid. I call this tendency the "Seneca Effect."

Monday, October 11, 2021

The Age of Exterminations (IV). How to Kill the Rich

In our times, the Knight Templars have gained the fame of exceptionally good warriors. That may be more than a little exaggerated because when the time came to defend their leaders, arrested by the King of France, they vanished into thin air. Yet, the history of the Templars is interesting as a case of the periodic exterminations of the financial class in history. Could something similar happen to our modern financial tycoons, the Internet barons, Gates, Bezos, Zuckerberg, etc.? We cannot say for sure, but we cannot exclude that, either. The recent "incident" that shut down Facebook for a while may well be the harbinger of a reckoning to come.

"A house filled with gold cannot be defended." Lao Tsu, the Tao Te Ching

"All political power comes from the barrel of a gun." Mao Zedong

The Monastic order of the Templars (Pauperes commilitones Christi Templique Salomonici), was founded in 1119 as a military force to defend the Christian holdings in the Holy Land. In time, the order evolved into a financial structure: the Templars became bankers and they developed a sophisticated money transfer system that helped pilgrims and warriors to move to and from the Holy Land and to transfer money from Europe to Palestine and back. They have been termed "the first multinational corporation" in history. 

As you may imagine, the Templars were rich, despite the term "pauperes" (poor fellows) in their name. They had land, castles, palaces, and, of course, plenty of gold and silver. The problem was that, with the loss of the last lands controlled by the Christian crusaders in the Holy Land, at the end of the 13th century, they had become useless: no more crusades, no need of a banking system to finance them

At that point, the Templars attracted the attention of the king of France, Phillip IV, in dire need of money, as kings normally are. In 1307, he ordered the arrest of all Templars and the confiscation of their properties.  Most of the leaders were burned at the stake after that they had confessed under torture all sorts of evil misbehaviors: spit on the cross, deny Christ, engage in indecent kissing, worship the devil, and other niceties. 

As exterminations go, this one didn't involve large numbers: we read of 54 executions in France in 1310. Probably there were more in other countries, but the total cannot be higher than a few hundred. Nevertheless, it had a big impact: it is said that the fame of Friday the 13th as an unlucky day originates from the date of the arrest of the Templars: Friday, October 13, 1307.

The question is, of course, can it happen again? How about our class of hyper-rich, the "100 billion dollar club," that includes well-known names such as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, and a few more? They are clearly going to become trillionaires in the near future. But a house full of gold is hard to defend, as we read in the Tao Te Ching. Could our Internet barons follow the destiny that long ago befell another class of financial tycoons, the Templars?

As usual, the key to the future is in the past. Examining the destiny of the Templars, we may understand the factors that may lead to the extermination of a powerful (but not enough) financial guild. 

First of all, why were the Templars exterminated? I argued in previous posts (onetwo, and three) that certain categories of people can be exterminated and their possessions confiscated when they are 1) wealthy, 2) clearly identifiable, and 3) militarily weak, The Templars clearly satisfied the first two rules but not necessarily the third: after all, they were a military order. Yet, when the King of France descended on them, they didn't even try a military reaction. It may be that the prowess of the Templar Knights was much overrated: they were more like a private police force for a financial organization, not a real military force. But it may also be that it was exactly the presence of this force that hastened their downfall. Sometimes, a little military power may be worse than none at all, since it invites a decapitation strike. This is probably what happened to the Templars, exterminated just to make sure that they would not become a threat. 

The story of the Templars is just an example of a power struggle that has very ancient origins. One of the earliest written texts we have was written by the Sumerian priestess Enheduanna who complained with the Goddess that her temple had been desecrated by a local warlord. Enheduanna does not say if the warlord was after the temple's money, but we know that, at that time, temples were also banks, a tradition that remained unchanged for millennia. For instance, as late as during the first century AD, we have the record of a local leader who raided the temple of Jerusalem and attacked the resident bankers, most likely in order to finance an armed insurrection against the Roman governor. 

Temples and warlords remained in an uneasy relationship with each other during the Roman Empire, but a few centuries later, raiding Pagan temples became the normal way to finance the Roman armies, a tradition started by Emperor Constantine 1st ("The Great") during the early 4th century AD. Less than a century later, Emperor Theodosius 1st ("The Great") was the last emperor who still could find Pagan temples to raid for their gold and silver. Then, no more temples, and no more Roman Empire

And then, there was the time of the Catholic Church in Europe, which never officially acted as a bank, for a period even forbidding to charge interest on loans to Christians. That left the Jews as typical targets for raids and extermination, a tradition that continued for a long time. But the Church was nevertheless an economic powerhouse thriving on the donations of the faithful and on various economic activities, including owning vast swats of land, various kinds of manufacturing, and even employing prostitutes and managing brothels. It was a juicy target for the military leaders in Europe and the case of the elimination of the Templars was just the harbinger of much worse to come for the Church.  

During the 16th century, it was the turn of King Henry VIII to destroy the Catholic monasteries in England and confiscate their properties (a few monks and abbots were exterminated in the process). Later on, in France, a substantial part of the French revolution had to do with confiscating the Church's properties and beheading a substantial number of monks and priests. The wave of confiscations ended only when, in 1870, the Pope lost his last stronghold, the city of Rome, to the army of the king of Italy. This final battle, fortunately, didn't involve exterminations. 

Now, back to our times. Just like the last Roman Emperors had run out of Pagan temples to raid, our governments have run out of Churches to depredate. But some elements of the power game remain the same: if once temples were also banks, today banks are also temples. You can see that very well if you live in the US, where no respectable bank would renounce temple-like columns on the facade. 

But the question is not architectural: our society is possibly the most monetarized one that ever existed in history and the people who run our financial system yield immense power. That power, though, makes them attractive targets for another kind of power: the military one. Think of our Internet barons, Bill Gates and his ilk. By getting rid of a few tens of them, the government could cash in at least a trillion dollars in a single sweep. That is an amount of the same order of magnitude as the US military expenses in one year. Could that happen for real? 

Of course, right now, it is hard to imagine a court that sentences Mark Zuckerberg to be burned at the stake after having confessed under torture of consorting with the devil and other unholy behaviors. Yet, things that happened once in history can always appear again. 

It will all depend on a balance of factors: power, wealth, control, technology, and more. Something drastic could happen, for instance, if the US government were to find itself in truly dire financial straits. Then, the temptation of using military means to solve the crisis could become strong. After that all is said and done, as president Mao Zedong said, the origin of all political power is the barrel of the gun. Is the recent shutting down of Facebook a signal of a battle being already being fought in the ethereal "Metaverse" regions? Only time will tell.  


  1. I like these historical analysis, looking for patterns to try to foresee events in the near future. In this case, however, I think there is a difference that should be considered. The examples of exterminations to loot goods refer to real, material, stealable goods: gold, lands, etc. Today’s money is an abstract element that flows when transactions occur, but that cannot exist without moving. Almost like photons. Money is created by banks when they borrow money, and destroyed when you pay them back. The dynamics of money flowing into economy, determining it’s behavior, is complex, sometimes I think intendedly over-complex so that shaman-like stories can be used to explain it. Economy, the “science”, often looks like this. Money is used in economic discussions as if we knew what it is, and we don’t. This has not always been the case in history.
    When listing the conditions for looting exterminations I would add another one: 4-goods are there to be taken. This condition, then, asks for an analysis of whether it is still the case in today’s economy, for the potential victims listed. I must admit I do not understand anymore what wealth is today, so this analysis I’m asking is beyond my grasp.
    Maybe we could shift the discussion to a slightly different space. We could talk about different kinds of power trying to take over each other. Power to harm, power to influence people’s opinion, power to mobilize resources, power to send someone to jail, power to change the rules, power to turn the lights ON/OFF.
    Within this framework, it would be very much understandable that someone (some institution) with power to harm and power to change the rules might want to get part of the power to influence people’s opinion that facebook have. I think this approach is perfectly compatible with the historical examples in the article, only that omits the today confusing notion of money.
    (please, if anything, take this as an under-construction idea more than an elaborated solid one).

    1. You have a good point. I have been thinking about the same lines. A person such as Bill Gates is supposed to be a multi-billionaire just because there are some large numbers written somewhere in the memory of some computers. It would take very little for these numbers to be erased and transform Mr. Gates into a janitor of his own palace in Seattle.

      Yet, numbers or gold pieces are the same. They have value as long as people believe they do. The same for private property: you own something only as long as society as a whole agrees that you do. When the authorities decide that you don't own it anymore, maybe because you are a Jew or a Knight Templar, then you don't. Period. It is something I didn't include in this post, but a hugely interesting subject: wealth and power are both constructions of the mind.

    2. You are right gold pieces had value because "people agreed" they had value, but it's also true coins were less trusted if thinner (containing less gold), and same thing goes with silver, copper... And the gold used for coins could be melted and used to do jewels, or other coins. The better part of the value was "society-agreed", but there was a material base to back it up, typically a rare metal or mineral, and this material support was physically stealable and hard to substitute. Even relics used as money, or art, have a material base, they are placed somewhere, can be taken by force and are hard to replace. In all cases I agree the value is “cultural-dependant”. The lack of physical support troubles me but it’s not the main difficulty. I can understand, more or less, the cycle of these old kind of money. How they are created or destroyed, by whom, what the value depends on… With today’s money I’m lost. This makes it a concept I don’t understand, so I don’t feel comfortable using it. (using the concept, I use money in my mundane life :) It is a concept that, in an analysis, is not useful for me to understand things. From here it arises a tendency to distrust analysis when this concept is used “too freely”. You can guess this happens very often.
      That’s why I was suggesting using “power” instead and making distinctions as “kinds of power”. Although maybe we could get into similar or worse difficulties.
      Anyway, you are right. The fuzziness, abstraction, fragility of the concept “money” is not so shocking when we compare it to the concept “property”. Both cultural items (memes) strange and familiar, often uncritically assumed as absolute while completely dependant on the social context.

    3. Another thing to consider concerning the "wealth". Most of their "wealth" is in stock. In the not-too-distant future, their putative "wealth" could be shown to be quite ephemeral.

      If the government does seize the "wealth" they would need to sell it to get what they need from it. What will the stock be worth and what will it sell for if it is seized? Might have quite an effect on the value of stocks held by others.

      Now, this is not to say that I am opposed to the idea. Far from it. But the yield will not be what is advertised.

      I am happily fantasizing about the "proscriptions" of Messrs Gates, Bezos, and Musk...Doing so improved my mood greatly

    4. Richard Heinberg, an American writer about the limits to growth and a fellow at the Post Carbon Institute has written a new book titled "Power" which covers the issue of power in its broadest sense. A good read.

    5. Power?

      'Dominion is a wind of change: and power a deceptive lightning!'

      Al-Hariri, the Sufi.

    6. Not sure if this is besides the point or not, but Bill Gates is one of the largest landowners in the United States.

    7. Furthermore, destroying or seizing a corporation such as Facebook would destroy the whole fabric of the financial system, as the stock of these megacorps are not only owned by their creators ( who, in fact, often have a largeish, but minority, shareholding ) but by the really powerful financial organisations such as Blackrock and Vanguard, who would not stand for this. Vanguard is a private 'club' with a shadowy membership of the power elite, so TBTF. These folks are not into destroying their own wealth, after all.

  2. El problema está en el Estado. En si va a ser capaz de sobrevivir. No va a pasar que los Estados confisquen a los ultraricos globales, porque sus organizaciones, como antes los nobles, o los burgueses, se hicieron con el Estado, ellos van a ser los que van a asumir las tareas del Estado. No tienen, claro, ejércitos ni acceso inmediato a una energía con disponibilidad declinante, pero tienen muchos, muchísimos argumentos para negociar, y con éxito, con los Estados, o lo que sean, del futuro e instalarse en el centro de mando. Casi todo está en Marx, y en Maquiavelo.

  3. Más: Si es fácil borrar un asiento de la cuenta de Bill Gates, le es mucho más fácil a B.G. borrar las nóminas de los funcionarios( policía, ejército... ) , secuestrar las claves de los sistemas de defensa, sumir los transportes y suministros en el caos... los oligarcas globales llegarán a acuerdos, siempre lo han hecho, porque tienen mucho que perder. Mientras, los demás no podemos hacer otra cosa que mirar. Cuando quieran que participemos, ya sabemos el papel que nos tocará: carne de cañón.

    1. Tienes razon, Patxi. They will become the 'state': that is the '4th Industrial Revolution'.

      Agur - y aupa!


  4. Dear Ugo,
    The more wealth is concentrated in the hands of the few, the easier it is to nationalize and redistribute.

    The example of Louis Renault is illuminating ( The good gentleman was dispossessed after WWII, accused of indecent collaboration.

    The wealth and power of these men is based on more than digital money in an account. It is ownership of corporations and real estate. (The Dork Lord is the largest landowner in the US: The power is also in the esteem they get from being the "successful entrepreneurs".

    On the other end of the spectrum are all the debt-serfs. 10-30% of the population of all industrial nations are in negative-net-worth territory.
    According to David Graeber, the war-cry of most revolutions is: "Cancel the debts! Redistribute the land!"

    In the past, when we were in an expansionist phase regarding resource extraction and energy use, many revolutions were driven by utopian visions of wealth for all. I think the coming revolutions we have to concede with egalitarian burdens for all. Which is also a good thing, I think.

    In China, the attacking of individual industrial leaders seems to be successful, see e.g. the case of Jack Ma. (

    A house full of gold indeed...


    1. Yep. What pulled Russia out of the abyss was the ability of fighting the local oligarchs. An ability that we just don't seem to have, nowadays. But, who knows?

  5. Finally, an optimistic post!
    Thanks Ugo for this ray of light.
    I don't believe there are much chances of this happening anytime soon - you forgot the requirement that the government is powerful enough to kill the rich. In practice this means a strongman leader a la Caesar. China and Russia comes close but none of the western countries fit the bill. I still hope though...

    My favorite example from history (and probably the most effective) is the repeated proscriptions during the Roman empire. What a great way to redistribute wealth and keep the senatorial class nimble! Of course historians completely misinterpreted it since both ancient and modern writers are writing for the senatorial class (today that is spelled oligarchs).

  6. Violent revolutions will probably not be needed to redistribute wealth, which doesn't mean that there will not be the revolutions. One should keep in mind that from the time of Napoleon there is no absolute property rights for anybody. Absolute property rights, in jurisprudence terms, existed only in Medieval times. Every state, from the time of Napoleon, have right to seize any kind of property with or without compensation (expropriation or nationalization). It's only matter of intentions and needs of political class weather they will use force and fake justifications.

    Write off of debts (cancelation of debts) is absolutely necessary to solve the problems of the economy as explained by Prof. Michael Hudson in many of his excellent books. The way I see it is that political class is trying to keep rent extracting monopolies and that at some point tycoons will be targeted as sacrificial animals. But the political class itself has good chance to survive because today, unlike in the past, political class has incredible possibilities to form opinions of masses by using communication technology.

    1. Very nicely said "tycoons will be targeted as sacrificial animals." Did you hear that, Mr. Gates?

    2. I am still thinking that maybe Bill Gates reads my blog.......

    3. Then you are dreaming.

      One way to understand the billionaire psychopaths (and there are many, see for example Orlov's moneybags) is to accept that free will does not exist. For those people living on the edge of chaos where we have real choices, there is a chance that free will could sneak in. But for the rich (or the very poor) there really is no choice. They will do monomaniacally continue to do what they are doing until they are stopped physically.


  7. Dear Ugo,

    Another perspective I would like to offer is the myth of the purpose of society. We have been a century or so in the spell of "Production" as the foundational meaning of life. Make stuff. Buy stuff. Consumerism. Factory-centered ideals in both communism, socialism and capitalism. This is an ideology where there is no room for "unproductive" old people.

    This is very much different from the ethos of "Reproduction", as suggested by several antropologists, e.g. David Graeber as being the source of meaning of life for many cultures and eras.

    In the agrarian society from a century ago, the focus was on reproducing the farm. The family. The animals. The traditions. The songs.
    In this context, the most valuable people are the storytellers. The people who remember the heavy flood of five decades ago. Those who have themselves hands on experience with different varieties of grains and fodder. Those who can tell the stories about the grandfather who built the barn, the grandmother who built the bread oven, the forefathers who came to the village, the uncle who helped to build the church. The old people didn't eat so much and were taking care of the kids.

    Of course the old people did not accumulate their wealth as separate from the farm and the family in those days. The wealth was the land and the infrastructure that was built over generations. Now it is a different story, where most of the wealth of seniors is inaccessible to the younger generations.

    Is it possible to reintroduce the principle of "Reproduction"?
    What would it take?
    Would we revert to clan-based thinking in all aspects of life?
    When, in the story of the long descent, will this be unavoidable?

    1. Yes, the point is in the end to remain human. This is the basic thing we are losing, right now. Not sure at all that we'll succeed in reversing the trend

    2. Perhaps we can only remain human by keeping in mind that we are 'half angel, half demon' and striving to enhance the former?

      Not meld with novel bio-digital technologies.....

    3. Define human Ugo. Because in my opinion we lost a lot of our humanity when we had to switch to agriculture. We became weaker, smaller, sicker, more depressed, more antisocial and less understanding, due to malnutrition, the effect of wheat opiates on the brain and continued gut irritation. Elites since the Assyrians made sure that we ate weakening diets to keep us quiet. Obviously things have progressed a lot since the Assyrians, as we also have alcohol, sugar, vegetable oils, internet addiction, and 4th generation mass psychology at work. So I am not sure how much humanity is getting lost...

  8. It is a difficult task comparing past and present when technology has become a real game changer.
    What is a "rich"? A person with fiat money? Of course not. Fiat is worthless and its value is right now zero. So when you write that "By getting rid of a few tens of them, the government could cash in at least a trillion dollars in a single sweep", you are obviously wrong and know it.
    This is precisely because TPTB knew that risk that they designed the reset. A monetary and financial reset that happened (and may be still happening) in plain sight while we were busy discussing about covid and vaccines (not talking about you Ugo because your main quality is seeing the bigger picture) . My question is: where did the money go?
    Gold and metals? they already possessed it. Their price will soon skyrocket.
    Lands? Bill Gates has bought some in the US, I heard, but land can be taken by "men with guns" as you say.
    So what remains? Cryptos? Or another disruptive technology? How can a military take something that is not in the physical realm?

    Continuing your analogy with the past, do you know what happened to the treasure of the Knight Templars? According to some legends, the jewels would have become the Crown Jewels of England while the gold would have gone to Switzerland. Where the King of France could not get them. Another kind of reset.

    1. Anonymous, I know what you mean and I have been thinking about that. Still, your question arises from a misunderstanding of what "money" is. It does not matter if it is "fiat" or "metal" -- it is just a measure of the fraction of the pie (the economy) you are entitled to have. So, as long as there is a functioning economy, money will have an agreed value. Of course, this definition implies that money is also a "zero sum" game as long as the pie has more or less the same size. So, there is a difference for the government between printing a trillion dollar of fiat money and confiscating the same amount from ten 100-billlionaires. Removing those billionaries means that they are not there anymore competing for their slice and so the government can maintain its armed forces as before. In the case of printing money, the change will be only temporary, since it will be siphoned off by the billionaires and if the pie is shrinking (as it is) the government will have to shrink the size of the military apparatus. BTW, it is exactly what has been happened with the "Quantitative Easing"

    2. "In the case of printing money, the change will be only temporary, since it will be siphoned off by the billionaires and if the pie is shrinking (as it is) the government will have to shrink the size of the military apparatus" Nice observation!
      Apart from that, you are right, this is all about competition. I doubt though the governments would be the winners, I'd rather think they are all buggered. Politicians are puppets, so how can you imagine them fighting the billionaires?
      And about the treasure, I have serious reasons to believe that the legend is true!

    3. Fiat currency has value as long as the monetary sovereign can compel you to pay its taxes, fees and fines so denominated.

  9. Technology is a game changer only when you have enough electrical energy (grid). Take for instance blockchain and crypto. It's great technology if you want to protect your wealth from confiscation, but as soon as somebody decides to turn off the grid you have absolutely nothing. The future problem is problem of resources and energy. The one who controls energy is the one who controls everything. If shortages of electrical energy become a problem in the future all technology of the world won't save you from disaster. In fact, all the high tech will become worthless. And extremely complex technology, like blockchain, is the first technology to disappear. That's the lesson from Prof. Tainter - the complexity itself doesn't have future and all the people who trust it for the preservation of their wealth are in for big surprise. The complexity is most sensitive to disruption.

    1. I have been thinking about this a lot and I do not have a definitive conclusion, yet. I still don't believe that high tech will become worthless, at least the most important parts of it. There are more tricks than we can guess and imagine that, let's say 50% of the energy remaining is dedicated to cryptos (or anything similar), what's the point? If they decide this is the most important asset, so what? We are obviously going to less complexity, that doesn't mean that there will be no priorities among what to save, or not save. Do you get it?

  10. BTW. Nobody commented on this sentence: "For instance, as late as during the first century AD, we have the record of a local leader who raided the temple of Jerusalem and attacked the resident bankers." Is it because it is obvious to everybody who that "local leader" was?

    1. Was the cleansing of the temple by Jesus a historical event?

    2. I think so, yes. Once you frame it in the right way, it is obvious that if you want to start a rebellion, you need money. And raiding a bank is a good way to get it. The raid is often described as involved an attack against the "money changers" but the term used in the gospels is "trapezitai" -- which has the literal meaning of "bankers".

    3. About the treasure of the templars, yes, there are many legends. I wish I knew where it is buried. Then I could buy Mr. Gates' mansion......

  11. Killing all the rich on Earth wouldn't change the fact that the following Circular narrative on Energy - is a lie...

    Why China Can't Keep The Lights On

    Killing anyone, poor or rich, or even killing all humans - wouldn't change a thing;

    The need for a new Social Contract today is immense, pressing and urgent:

    "Energy, like time, flows from past to future".


  12. Are you familiar with the Calavera Catrina? Posada's satrical sketch of the upper class female who was already dead with the coming Revolution and didn't know it? That's how I have been thinking of everyone in the US and Europe this last year...I'm kissing them good bye...I think they are going to die in the next few years...maybe me too..but who knows, the campo in Mexico, considered a terrifying place to most Americans, may be more protective than I know. My nephew just announced his third child coming...clueless...I think most are. They remind me of chickens used to someone coming to feed them...then, one day...Christine

  13. I think that Hitler and the holocaust began as Class Warfare and not a war against a religion.

    It was 2 years into the Great Depression and the Lower Class within Europe were having to sell any valuables they had in order to survive, and were quite angry that a majority of the pawn shops were owned by Gypsies and Jews.
    People remembered the "Roaring Twenties" and how the Rich Folks flaunted their wealth.
    And the anger was huge!

    In addition, Jewish Folks held the most senior posts within Russian security apparatus and Jewish Folks were killing millions.

    From 1934–1941 alone, some 7 million victims were sent to the system of concentration camps known as the "gulag," including one million Poles, hundreds of thousands Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians, and half the entire Muslim Chechen and Ingush people. Volga Germans, Crimean Tatars, Bashkirs, Kalmyks followed. Stalin’s gulag did not need gas chambers: cold, disease and overwork killed 30% of inmates yearly.

    Nearly half the those holding the senior posts within the Stalin security forces were of Jewish decent.