An email forward has been making the rounds ever since appx 2008, suggesting that Marcus Tullius Cicero (wiki), a famous Roman orator, statesman and philosopher, spoke about how necessary a balanced budget was for Rome, supposedly remarking:
“The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt. People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance.” –Cicero – 55 BC
An image is occasionally found alongside, or perhaps more easily propagandized over Facebook’s sharing function:
From my own research, the consensus seems to suggest that the source is actually from a fiction novel called, “A Pillar of Iron” by Taylor Caldwell, in which a fictional Cicero is spoken of by the narrator of the novel, to have had such beliefs.
I went so far as to find the first edition of the book in question personally through Inter-Library Loan, and took photographs of the passage in question (and the bookplate which includes the popular “no relation to anyone real” clause, clearly upon it)
The actual passage in question —
Cicero looked at his colleague’s cheerful and handsome face and his winsome eyes, and shook his head in dismay. Reared in republican virtues, Cicero found himself frequently confounded by Antonius. Antonius heartily agreed with him that the budget should be balanced, that the Treasury should be refilled, that public debt should be reduced, that the arrogance of the generals should be tempered and controlled, that assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt, that the mobs should be forced to work and not depend on government for subsistence, and that prudence and frugality should be put into practice as soon as possible. But when Cicero produced facts and figures how all these things must and should be accomplished, by austerity and discipline and commonsense, Antonius became troubled.
“But this–or that–would bring hardship on this–or that–class,” Antonius said. “The people are accustomed to lavish displays in the circuses and theatres, and the lotteries, and free grain and beans and beef when they are destitute, and shelter when they are homeless and a part of the city is rebuilt. Is not the welfare of our people paramount?”
“There will be no welfare of the people if we become bankrupt,” said Cicero, grimly. “We can become solvent again, and strong, only by self denial and by spending as little as possible until the public debt is paid and the Treasury refilled.”
“But one cannot–if one has a heart at all–deprive the people of what they have received for many decades from government, and which they expect. It will create the most terrible hardships.”
“Better that all of us tighten our girdles than Rome fall,” said Cicero. (Pillar of Iron by Taylor Caldwell, 1965 HC first edition, historical fiction)
Editor’s note, 02-17/2013 — The post above discusses the authenticity of the falsely-attributed Cicero quote’s attribution, not matters of authenticity regarding interpretation/meaning of the misattributed quote. That is, although the incorrectly-attributed quote’s *message* may ring true to some, it was not actually a quote from Cisero as far as the consensus of my research can determine.