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Roger E. Backhouse: The Ordinary Business of Life Chapter 1 The Ancient World. Udayan Roy Lecture Notes 2008. The ancient world. Homer and Hesiod Xenophon Plato Aristotle Economic justice Acquisition of wealth Rome. Homer and Hesiod. Homer The Iliad and the Odyssey

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Roger e backhouse the ordinary business of life chapter 1 the ancient world l.jpg

Roger E. Backhouse: The Ordinary Business of LifeChapter 1 The Ancient World

Udayan Roy

Lecture Notes 2008


The ancient world l.jpg

The ancient world

  • Homer and Hesiod

  • Xenophon

  • Plato

  • Aristotle

    • Economic justice

    • Acquisition of wealth

  • Rome

THE ANCIENT WORLD


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Homer and Hesiod

  • Homer

    • The Iliad and the Odyssey

      • Tales from a long oral tradition, finally written down c. 750-725 BC

  • Hesiod

    • Works and Days

      • Poems, c. 700 BC

  • Earliest written record in Europe

THE ANCIENT WORLD


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Homer

  • Describes the Mycenaean (Bronze Age) world of Troy around 1400–1100 BC

  • This society was not based not on market transactions

  • Wealth was acquired through gifts, theft, prizes for winning competitions, plunder received in war, and tribute paid by defeated cities to their conquerors.

  • Compared to agriculture and war, trade was viewed by Homer as an inferior way of acquiring wealth.

THE ANCIENT WORLD


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Homer

  • Most economic activity took place in the household, understood as the landowner, his family, and all his slaves

  • Prosperity came from efficient management of the household

THE ANCIENT WORLD


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Hesiod

  • Hesiod realized that the basic economic problem is one of doing one’s best with scarce resources.

    • The reason men have to work is that ‘the gods keep men’s food concealed: otherwise you would easily work even in a day enough to provide you for the whole year without working’.

THE ANCIENT WORLD


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Hesiod

  • There is in Hesiod an intuitive understanding of the need to be inventive, and that

  • Choices have to be made between work (which leads to wealth) and leisure.

  • Hesiod even suggests that competition can stimulate production, for it will cause craftsmen to emulate each other.

  • But these ideas are not explicitly stated; one has to infer them

  • In Hesiod, the virtues that lead to prosperity are hard work, honesty and peace.

  • This is far from the aristocratic disparagement of work and support for martial virtues in Homer

THE ANCIENT WORLD


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Xenophon (c. 430 – 354 BC)

  • Oikonomikos, the title of Xenophon’s work, is the origin of the words ‘economist’ and ‘economics’.

    • Taken literally it means Household Management

    • The bookis in fact about the management of an agricultural estate.

  • Efficient management required effective leadership (of slaves).

  • Effective leadership required knowledge of the production technology and an understanding of the importance of order and organization

  • Xenophon extended these notions to the administration of a state

  • The emphasis was on top-down administration, and not on decentralized markets

THE ANCIENT WORLD


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Xenophon: division of labor

  • Xenophon is important for two crucial insights:

    • Division of labor leads to higher productivity, and

    • The extent of division of labor is determined by the extent of the market

  • Xenophon saw that in a small town the same workman may have to make chairs, doors, ploughs and tables, but he cannot be skilled in all these activities.

  • In large cities, however, demand is so large that men can specialize in each of these tasks, becoming more efficient.

  • Turning back to the household, Xenophon argues that division of labor can be practiced in the kitchen. Food prepared in a large kitchen will be superior to food prepared in a smaller kitchen where one person has to perform all tasks.

THE ANCIENT WORLD


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Xenophon: division of labor

  • But in Xenophon’s writings, trade and markets are peripheral.

  • He does not connect division of labor to the market mechanism

  • He takes the extent of the market as given, and not as something that can be expanded through the expansion of trade

THE ANCIENT WORLD


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Plato (c. 429 – 347 BC)

  • Republic, blueprint for an ideal state

  • In a democracy, leaders would do only what was popular, not what was just

  • In a tyranny, the tyrant would do only what was good for himself

  • Plato proposed a middle ground.

    • Some people would appoint themselves to the role of guardians or philosopher kings.

    • They would be trained by the state for their roles.

    • They would be forbidden to own property.

    • The state would pay them a wage to cover their needs.

    • Therefore, they would put the state above their own interests

THE ANCIENT WORLD


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Plato

  • Like Xenophon, Plato noted the importance of division of labor

    • Men should specialize in those activities for which they were naturally suited, and should be trained accordingly.

    • The origins of cities (states) lay in specialization and the dependence of people on one another.

THE ANCIENT WORLD


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Plato

  • Though he saw a role for trade, the role for markets in his ideal state was very limited.

    • Consumer goods might be bought and sold, but not property, which was to be allocated by the state (on mathematical principles)

    • There would be no profits or payment of interest.

THE ANCIENT WORLD


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Aristotle (384 – 322 BC)

  • His writings dominated Western thought in most areas for nearly 2,000 years.

  • His thoughts on economic issues are found in

    • Book V of the Nichomachean Ethics, which was on justice,and in

    • Book I of the Politics, which was about the household, the state, and wealth acquisition.

THE ANCIENT WORLD


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Aristotle: Economic justice

  • In organized, modern markets, the scope for disputes between buyers and sellers is limited

  • However, in Aristotle’s days, markets were not widespread, and products were not standardized.

  • This led to legal disputes between buyers and sellers.

  • Aristotle sought to set out the principles for the settlement of such disputes

THE ANCIENT WORLD


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Aristotle: Economic justice

  • Aristotle considered three concepts of justice

    • Distributive justice: how should the spoils of war be shared

    • Rectificatory justice: how should one be compensated for past injustice

    • Reciprocal justice: when is an economic exchange between a buyer and a seller just

THE ANCIENT WORLD


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Aristotle: Distributive justice

  • How should, say, the spoils of war be shared?

  • Aristotle felt that when concrete cases of such disputes are considered, the just share for each person usually becomes obvious.

  • The sharing must be done according to each person’s ‘merit’

  • In concrete cases, the ‘merits’ of the people involved in the joint acquisition of wealth are clear and the wealth should then be shared in proportion to ‘merit’

THE ANCIENT WORLD


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Aristotle: Rectificatory justice

  • Rectificatory justice restores equality by compensating those who had suffered from past wrongs

THE ANCIENT WORLD


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Aristotle: reciprocal justice

  • If two people exchange goods, how do we assess whether the transaction is just?

  • One idea, commonly understood in ancient Greece, is that if an exchange is voluntary it must be just.

    • Xenophon cited the example of two boys – one tall and with a short tunic, the other short and with a long tunic – who exchanged tunics. The conventional view was that this was a just exchange, for both boys gained from it.

  • Aristotle recognized, however, that voluntary exchange does not determine a unique price, but merely a range of possible prices in between the lowest price the seller is prepared to accept and the highest price the buyer is prepared to pay.

  • Within this range, what is the just price?

  • Aristotle’s answer was the harmonic mean of the two extreme prices.

THE ANCIENT WORLD


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Aristotle: harmonic mean

  • Suppose

    • the lowest price the seller would accept is $5.00, and

    • The highest price the buyer would pay is $8.00

  • According to Aristotle, the just price for this exchange is the harmonic mean of 5 and 8.

  • This is 2/((1/5)+(1/8)) = $6.15

  • This price is 23.08% higher than $5.00 and 23.08% lower than $8.00

  • This general property of the harmonic mean makes it the just solution, according to Aristotle

THE ANCIENT WORLD


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Aristotle: Acquisition of wealth

  • Getting rich by identifying and pursuing a profitable productive activity was fine

  • Exchange of one’s surplus product for the surplus of another was fine

  • But getting rich through commerce and usury was unnatural and unacceptable

  • It was assumed that there was a socially acceptable level of consumption

  • Anything in excess was frowned upon

THE ANCIENT WORLD


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Aristotle

  • Aristotle was suspicious of trade

  • He felt that commerce and usury enabled people to make huge amounts of money, without doing any hard work and far in excess of normal needs

  • This implied that money was being made simply for the sake of making money, and not for the needs of the good life

  • This implied that commerce and usury were unnatural

  • Aristotle did not see markets as a social regulatory mechanism

  • He saw the running of society as basically a top-down administrative issue

THE ANCIENT WORLD


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Aristotle on money

  • Money had three basic functions

    • Means of exchange

    • Measure of value (unit of account)

    • Store of value

  • As the metallic content of money is a convention determined by the state, the ruler was entitled to profit by reducing the metal content of money

THE ANCIENT WORLD


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Rome

  • The Greek glorification of agriculture and suspicion of commerce and usury continued

  • War and conquest remained the major source of wealth acquisition

  • Most wealth was held in the form of land

  • Legal protection of property (land) became an important contribution to subsequent eras

THE ANCIENT WORLD


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Conclusions

  • The Greeks and the Romans asked the fundamental questions

  • They established the methods of thinking that we still use today

  • Their emphasis was on logic, and not on revealed knowledge

  • They were far more suspicious of market activity and the acquisition of wealth than we are today

THE ANCIENT WORLD


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