Faculty of Economics and Business Administration Publications Database

The Applicability of Modern Economics to Forms of Capitalism in Antiquity : Some Theoretical Considerations and Textual Evidence

Volume: 8
Number: 1
Pages: 131 - 163
Link External Source: Online Version
Year: 2011
Keywords: Antiquity; Capitalism; Primitivists; Modernists; Max Weber
Abstract: The applicability of modern economic conception to forms of capitalism in antiquity has been controversial at least since the debate between primitivists and modernists (the Bücher-Meyer-Controversy, revived by Finley, among others). The Debate and its present extensions are of interest to ancient historians, archaeologists, economic historians, sociologists and economists. I shall try to contribute by means of a critical assessment of Max Weber''s texts on capitalism (not modern capitalism!) in antiquity and by using some textual evidence, primarily taken from Plato''s Nomoi and Xenophon, in order to identify fundamental reasons why the core of modern neoclassical theory is at best of limited applicability. The great variety of model building in modern economics blurs the result, since one often can construct some variant of a model that seems fit to represent some aspects of a pre-modern formation. I shall argue, by contrast, that there are still good reasons to regard the economic rationality of the ancients as sufficiently different from ours to expect differences between mainstream economics and analytical or verbal approximations.