Jan 23, 2015

Innovation and Economic Progress in the Ancient World

In the topic of the economic history of Greece and Rome, there is this interesting paper: "Technical Innovation and Economic Progress in the Ancient World" [gated] the paper was written by M. I. Finley. He makes a very interesting argument about innovation, or better, the lack of it. A piece:
... Tocqueville, whose 1831 notebooks are filled with the theme that 'slavery is even more prejudicial to the masters than to the slaves', because, as a leading Louisville merchant said to him, "it deprives us of the energy and spirit of enterprise that characterizes the States that have no slaves." Greek and Roman slavery functioned in a different context, to be sure, both internally and externally, and comparisons must be made with caution and reserve. But this particular one seems to me to be valid and necessary. (p. 44-5)  . . . 
The ancient world had only two solutions to the disequilibrium brought about by a serious increase in population. One was to reduce the population by sending it out. The other was to bring in additional means, in the form of booty and tribute from conquests. Both are stop-gaps, not solutions, and therefore proof of an incapacity to raise productivity sufficiently, or, indeed, significantly. For a relatively brief time Rome offered the illusion of an escape from this dilemma. Having acquired large, sparsely occupied areas, she proceeded to a rapid internal colonization (in Spain and Gaul, for example). The illusion came to an end in the first century. Some historians think that there followed a stable equilibrium, Gibbon's golden age of the Antonines, but it is unnecessary to debate the question. Barbarian pressures now began to place new demands on the empire. That challenge the economy and the political organization could not meet in the west. (p. 45).
The paper was written in 1965. 

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