Lecture1

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 Normative Economics: Subjective and Value-Based
 “It is a social good to provide free education; the government should provide it through
imposed collective taxation. It’s the patriotic and moral thing to do.”
 Positive Economics: Descriptive and Quantitative without Judgments
 “Data have suggested that the 10% increase in federal primary education spending in
early 1990s was a contributing factor to gains in worker efficiency and employment levels
in the mid-2000s before the Great Recession.”
 * Of course, even the most detached and analytical positive economic “statements”
lend themselves to normative economic statements…
What contemporaries thought
about their own economy
and how it should function
The Birth of Civilization and Economics
The sine qua non of civilization and the economy is the division of labor
 Persons need to eat approximately 500 lbs.
of wheat / wheat-equivalents per year in
order simply to survive.
 Thus farm production for any society must
be sufficient to feed both non-producers and
the producers themselves
 Grains, rice, and legumes provide the best
caloric yields for the labor that goes into
them.
 Mono-crop diets result in declining nutrition
for urban populations.
 Putting aside, that malnutrition increases mortality, especially in women, infants,
and the elderly… there is often much more ample arable land than farm workers…
save the case of hyper-productive river valleys such as the Tigris-Euphrates region
(Mesopotamia) and the Nile Delta.
 Therefore, to allow for a division of labor with specialized occupation-holders other
than farmers, most pre-modern societies mandate some type of compulsory labor /
surplus extraction (rent / taxes) to ensure that producers provide non-producers
with adequate food and resources for their survival / comfort.
 Rarely did producers sell their produce on open market exchanges… but
sometimes…
 Most people remained in rural settlements and villages (90% or more), but the
towns an cities largely lived off their surplus production—most often taken by
force.
 1) Family / domestic labor 2) Chattel slavery 3) “Feudal,” or peasant, labor 4)
Corvée labor 5) wage, or patronage, labor
 1) Family / domestic labor: The first form of exploitation. Put the family to work.
 2) Chattel slavery: Taking a captive or buying a person as property.
 3) “Feudal,” or peasant, labor: Demand locals to work your land / pay rent because
you are a noble / notable / “big man”
 4) Corvée labor: the state accepts labor in lieu of taxes.
 5) Wage, or patronage, labor: I offer an exchange of payment / promise of
patronage for your labor. Think the Mafia or Medieval guilds.
 *At any given moment or place, these various forms of labor could be complied,
e.g., working your son, your personal slave, a local peasant, and underemployed
wage laborers during the harvest season.
Germanic Populations
Celtic Populations
Scythians, Thracians, Steppe Peoples
ETRUSCANS / LATINS
Lydians / Persians
Semitic / Punic
Greeks
Semitic Groups
Egyptians
• Wisdom literature, typically in Gnomic poetic verse, is as old as literature itself.
There are Mesopotamian and Egyptian examples that reach back well into the
Bronze age.
• Wisdom (Sophia in Greek, Hokma in Hebrew): Homer, Pindar, and Hesiod use The
noun sophia as “skilled in a handicraft or art,” and more or less this is how the
Tanakh / Hebrew Bible/ Old Testament / uses the equivalent Hebrew.
• Wisdom, then, is not abstract philosophy but the ability to excel in a largely
agricultural, class-stratified society.
• Wisdom literature attends to assume a male reader, typically an elite.
Greek oikos (house) + nomia (management things)
• Wisdom literature, typically in Gnomic poetic verse, is as old as literature itself.
There are Mesopotamian and Egyptian examples that reach back well into the
Bronze age.
• Wisdom (Sophia in Greek, Hokma in Hebrew): Homer, Pindar, and Hesiod use The
noun sophia as “skilled in a handicraft or art,” and more or less this is how the
Tanakh / Hebrew Bible/ Old Testament / uses the equivalent Hebrew.
• Wisdom, then, is not abstract philosophy but the ability to excel in a largely
agricultural, class-stratified society.
• Wisdom literature tends to assume a male reader, typically an elite.
 Wisdom literature often, but not exclusively addresses matters of royal courts. In
other words, the authors presume kings and their advisors as their audience.
 Proverbs 14:18: “In the multitude of the people is the honor of a King, and for the
want of people cometh the destruction of the Prince.”
 Proverbs 14:35: “The pleasure of a King is in a wise servant: but his wrath shall be
toward him that is lewd.”
 Proverbs 22: 29: “Thou seest that a diligent man in his business standeth before
Kings, and standeth not before the base sort.”
 Takeaway: autocratic societies produce moralizing literature intended to constrain
the worst impulses of elites and prepare the ruling classes, especially, kings for
power.
God(s)
Smoke
Burned offerings
(immolations)
Harvest / Hunt
1.
Maintenance of land, labor, and capital (supplies) for production
2.
Planning and preservation of agricultural produce / profits.
3.
Rent-seeking behavior through private or public means, i.e. graft.
4.
Creating extended trust networks (marriages, clans, guilds, citizen bodies)
Remember: There were limited communication technologies, transportation systems,
mechanical power, and surplus crops. Famine, drought, disease, and depopulation
were the most persistent threat to ancient communities.
 Writing 750-650 BCE in Boetia (Central Greece); offering poetic advice on how to
be a good free farmer to his brother, Perses.
 Themes: toil / strife, prosperity and competition (agonistic culture), justice /
lawsuits, divine punishment / the need for piety (do ut des), downward progression
of history (age of men)
 Clear implications that there were kings, but also politico-judicial systems and
property rights.
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