1. Ancient and Medieval Economics

1. Ancient and Medieval Economics - 2 Ancient and Medieval...

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2. Ancient and Medieval Economics S. Todd Lowry Subject Economics » History of Thought DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631225737.2003.00003.x 2.1 Introduction When dealing with the economic thought of antiquity, we must give primary attention to the ancient Greeks, whose writings have been preserved and form an integral part of our European intellectual heritage. Unfortunately, the two most prominent contemporary classical scholars who deal with the issue, M. I. Finley and Scott Meikle, emphatically deny that the Greeks had any relevant economic thought ( Finley, 1970 ; Meikle, 1995 ). The problem is, however, definitional. These writers insist on defining economics in terms of Marx's “bourgeois exchange,” characterized by late-eighteenth-century international markets. They ignore the broader conceptual perspective of most modern economists and of the earlier political economists such as Marx with his interaction between the “relations” and the “factors” of production; paralleled by Veblen, the interaction between “institutions” and “technology,” and Lionel Robbins, the interaction between “unlimited wants” and “limited resources.” This survey focuses on the concepts reflected in policies and institutions applied to economic processes. Outright analyses framed in jurisprudential and political terms have also contributed to modern formulations of economic problems. We can best organize the discussion in terms of three categories - the administrative, the moral, and the analytic - that are frequently intertwined. 2.2 The Administrative Tradition Ancient administration emphasized personal leadership and decision-making involving labor, materials, and efficient organization. In retrospect, the best evidence shows that primitive human beings and their hominid ancestors evolved in East Africa as hunter-gatherers in simple extended family groups. In such a system, anthropological studies indicate that social bonding and informal leadership roles provided the organizational cohesion necessary for survival ( Reader, 1998 [1997] ). The first records of formal economic organization and accompanying intellectual frameworks come from the ancient river basin economies where grain was produced in coordination with the annual flooding that left raw mudflats as a seedbed. In the Nile and Euphrates Valleys, high yields and dry conditions for storage resulted in stable populations that required land measurement (geometry) and public regulation. The population concentrations and cultural accumulation made possible by this form of agriculture are reflected in the Old Testament
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account of Joseph, in the role of an economic advisor, administering the storage of surplus grain to withstand future famines ( Paris, 1998 ). Egyptian literature documents the annual accounting of keepers of the royal granaries, whose
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1. Ancient and Medieval Economics - 2 Ancient and Medieval...

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