Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1142825
“There is the anecdote of Thales the Milesian and his financial device, which involves a principle of
universal application, but is attributed to him on account of his reputation for wisdom. He was reproached
for his poverty, which was supposed to show that philosophy was of no use. According to the story, he
knew by his skill in the stars while it was yet winter that there would be a great harvest of olives in the
coming year; so, having a little money, he gave deposits for the use of all the olive-presses in Chios and
Miletus, which he hired at a low price because no one bid against him. When the harvest-time came, and
many were wanted all at once and of a sudden, he let them out at any rate which he pleased, and made a
quantity of money. Thus he showed the world that philosophers can easily be rich if they like, but that their
ambition is of another sort. He is supposed to have given a striking proof of his wisdom, but, as I was
saying, his device for getting wealth is of universal application, and is nothing but the creation of a
monopoly. It is an art often practiced by cities when they are want of money; they make a monopoly of
, Book 1.
Prophecy, eclipses and whole-sale markets: a case study on why data driven economic
history requires history of economics, a philosopher's reflection
I Summary and Introduction
In this essay, I use a general argument about the evidential role of data in ongoing inquiry
to show that it is fruitful for economic historians and historians of economics to
collaborate more frequently. The shared aim of this collaboration should be to learn from
past economic experience in order to improve the cutting edge of economic theory. Along
the way, I attack a too rigorous distinction between the history of economics and
economic history. In the next section drawing on the history of physics, I argue that the
history of a discipline can be a source of important evidence in ongoing inquiry. My
argument relies on the claim that it is a constitutive element of science that evidence is
never discarded forever and is thus historical in nature. In the final section, I offer a case
study by explaining a research proposal that turns on a long-running data-set Babylonian
whole-sale prices of six commodities noted in pre-Hellenistic and Hellenistic times.
Quoted from <
>, accessed on May 28, 2007.
The first major section of this paper has considerable overlap with a companion essay, “Philosophy and a
Scientific Future of the History of Economics” (forthcoming in
Journal of the History of Economic
2008) but can be read separately.