“Secrecy jurisdictions,” the subject of an important, new documentary, The Spider’s Web: Britain’s Second Empire, are geographical zones where the laws allow the ultra-rich to deposit their ill-gotten or “excess” gains in secret bank accounts, and all information about the accounts is kept … secret. Whereas until recently Switzerland was the go-to country for this underhanded purpose, the current secrecy jurisdictions are located mostly in the Caribbean with a few in Great Britain — and the “secretive” financial institutions are owned mostly by investors in Great Britain and the United States.
These jurisdictions are a great evil in the world. They hinder governments from collecting a fair amount of taxes from the ultra-rich — mainly billionaires — and in doing so, put up roadblocks to countries as they attempt to raise the funds they need to finance such public necessities as infrastructure, education, and health care, and vital social services. They also hinder governments from ensuring that the ultra-rich class use their vast wealth in legitimate ways.
It is clear that the motives of the ultra-rich in hiding their Ill-gottne and “extra” money are never good. These motives, in many ways, bear an uncanny resemblance to those of the ancient Romans who availed themselves of the vomitorium in order to eject the food that they had gluttonously consumed while seated at a feast so they could return to devour anew.
I admit that the word “vomitorium” is a misnomer, but was so well-suited to the meaning it was erroneously attached to that it stuck. Apparently, Aldous Huxley’s use of the word in 1923 for the specific meaning I am referring to was the first to be recorded in the English language, according to Cecil Adams, who wrote the article, “Were there really vomitoriums in ancient Rome?”
According to Mr. Adams:
While there was something called a vomitorium (from the Latin vomitus, past participle of vomere, to vomit), it wasn’t a room set aside to vomit in. Rather a vomitorium was a passageway in an amphitheater or theater that opened into a tier of seats from below or behind.…
That’s not to say the Romans were unfamiliar with throwing up, or that they never did so on purpose. On the contrary, in ancient times vomiting seems to have been a standard part of the fine-dining experience. In his Moral Epistles the Roman philosopher Seneca writes … “When we recline at a banquet, one [slave] wipes up the spittle; another, situated beneath [the table], collects the leavings of the drunks.” OK, it doesn’t literally say puke, but come on. The orator Cicero, in Pro Rege Deiotaro, says matter-of-factly that Julius Caesar “expressed a desire to vomit after dinner” …, and elsewhere suggests that the dictator took emetics for this purpose.…
There are so many analogies to be drawn from the comparison of secrecy jurisdictions and vomitoriums that it makes one feel like a kid in a … Roman feast. For one, the greed of the ultra-rich is very much like the gluttony of the ancient Roman feast-goer. The ancient Roman reveler’s “deposit” of the gourmet delicacies they had consumed into a suitable receptacle is much like the modern-day ultra-rich’s “deposit” of their excessive or illegitimate gains into one of the “financial vomitoriums” to be found in secrecy jurisdictions. The unsavory “disposal” of both is performed in a private, “secret” place because both acts are, well, embarrassing. The only significant difference seems to be that today’s greedy billionaires may avail themselves of a go-between to shuttle the deposit to a secret account, whereas the gluttonous, ancient, Roman “gourmet” had no such recourse and was completely on their own in making their “deposit.”
In addition to the above similarities, the modern-day billionaires are fiendishly accumulating wealth at a frenetic pace and in decadent and immoral ways, just as the glutton of the ancient Roman feast fiendishly and frenetically consumed gourmet dishes in a decadent and immoral way. The billionaires of today are able to accumulate incredibly immense piles of money at a rapid pace only because the playing field has been rigged in their favor — by them. Still, they don’t hesitate to help themselves to more and always more. They are like the ancient Roman revelers, who, after having become satiated with one delicacy, hunt down a new dish to pounce on. And when their culinary conquests have become painfully burdensome to their middle, they excuse themselves to eject their “burden” so they can return to the table to gorge themselves on still more.
It wasn’t the appetites of the ancient Romans for tasty, gourmet food that was abnormal or unhealthy, but that many of them came to use their natural appetites in a perverse way. Likewise, it is not the desire to accumulate wealth that is abnormal or unhealthy in today’s billionaires. In any normal situation, we would call this desire “ambition” — and it would be a positive, constructive quality. However, the ultra-rich have exaggerated and distorted the natural and desirable human quality of ambition to the point where it has morphed into an unnatural, destructive monstrosity that is as cruel and freakish as it is insatiable. This is why the greed of the modern-day ultra-rich so uncannily resembles the gluttony of the ancient Roman feast-goers, and the financial institutions of the secrecy jurisdictions so uncannily resemble ancient Roman vomitoriums.