Roger E. Backhouse: The Ordinary Business of Life Chapter 1 The Ancient World Udayan Roy Lecture Notes 2008

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  • Roger E. Backhouse: The Ordinary Business of Life Chapter 1 The Ancient World Udayan Roy Lecture Notes 2008
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  • THE ANCIENT WORLD2 The ancient world Homer and Hesiod Xenophon Plato Aristotle Economic justice Acquisition of wealth Rome
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  • THE ANCIENT WORLD3 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
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  • THE ANCIENT WORLD4 Homer Describes the Mycenaean (Bronze Age) world of Troy around 14001100 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.
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  • THE ANCIENT WORLD5 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
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  • THE ANCIENT WORLD6 Hesiod Hesiod realized that the basic economic problem is one of doing ones best with scarce resources. The reason men have to work is that the gods keep mens food concealed: otherwise you would easily work even in a day enough to provide you for the whole year without working.
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  • THE ANCIENT WORLD7 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
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  • THE ANCIENT WORLD8 Xenophon (c. 430 354 BC) Oikonomikos, the title of Xenophons work, is the origin of the words economist and economics. Taken literally it means Household Management The book is 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
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  • THE ANCIENT WORLD9 Xenophon: division of labor Xenophon is important for two crucial insights: 1.Division of labor leads to higher productivity, and 2.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.
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  • THE ANCIENT WORLD10 Xenophon: division of labor But in Xenophons 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
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  • THE ANCIENT WORLD11 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
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  • THE ANCIENT WORLD12 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.
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  • THE ANCIENT WORLD13 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.
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  • THE ANCIENT WORLD14 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.
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  • THE ANCIENT WORLD15 Aristotle: Economic justice In organized, modern markets, the scope for disputes between buyers and sellers is limited However, in Aristotles 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
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  • THE ANCIENT WORLD16 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
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  • THE ANCIENT WORLD17 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 persons 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
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  • THE ANCIENT WORLD18 Aristotle: Rectificatory justice Rectificatory justice restores equality by compensating those who had suffered from past wrongs
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  • THE ANCIENT WORLD19 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? Aristotles answer was the harmonic mean of the two extreme prices.
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  • THE ANCIENT WORLD20 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
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  • THE ANCIENT WORLD21 Aristotle: Acquisition of wealth Getting rich by identifying and pursuing a profitable productive activity was fine Exchange of ones 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
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  • THE ANCIENT WORLD22 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
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  • THE ANCIENT WORLD23 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
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  • THE ANCIENT WORLD24 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