History of Economic Thought

Economic Ideas from Ancient Greece

Many modern economic concepts can be found in ancient Greek thought as the philosophers wrestled with fundamental economic issues. Although Greece did not have a highly developed economic system, problems of scarcity prompted the search for efficient methods, and discussions of ethics included notions of economic justice. Like all who write about economic concepts, the Greeks did so from the perspective of their time. Their understanding of economics is perhaps simplistic by today’s standards, but it fit the institutional arrangements of the day.

The question facing historians of economic thought is, “To what extent did the ideas of Greek philosophers influence the development of modern economic thought?” Most agree that fragments of economic ideas are contained within Greek philosophy, but there is wide disagreement about whether this can be treated as a systemized body of thought. Some argue that economics was too tightly interwoven with other considerations (including religious and moral convictions) to be of intellectual value to our modern understanding. Others contend that the focus was strictly normative and of limited analytical value. Some conclude that the writing is too obtuse to discern clearly whether the content was economics or something else. Still others argue that modern economics is well rooted in Greek philosophy. Even if well-developed economic theories emerged from
ancient philosophy, it is not clear to what degree they have affected economists of the past 500 years. This chapter does not attempt to establish a clear lineage of ideas; rather, it points out a few modern economic concepts that have antecedents in Greek philosophy.


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