EC 12. Pointers No. 1

FAQs on early thinking about economic concepts and related issues from the time of the Ancients to that of the Middle Ages

These cover the Prologue and the first two chapters of Backhouse, and McCloskey’s Three-Minute History of economic thought.

General pointers:

Get a textbook on introductory economics, such as those by Gerry Sicat, Mankiw, or Parkin. Such a book will help you to understand concepts discussed in the history of economic thought.

Before doing any of the assigned readings, take some time to ask yourself what you want to learn from the readings. This means you have to skim the material to get a sense of what they cover, and whether the topics discussed are interesting.

Specific pointers are given here in the form of questions that could be part of an essay exam or homework. Read the material in search of answers to the pointer-questions. You may jot down notes for yourself on how you would answer the questions.

1.Do ethical questions properly belong in modern economics? Why or why not?

2.According to Backhouse, who is the founder of economics? Explain.

3.What is the objective of Backhouse’s book?

4.Backhouse says a “Whig history” is unconvincing. What is a Whig history? Why is it unconvincing? What is a better alternative history of economic thought?

5.What was economics in the time of Aristotle? Did the word even exist?

6.According to McCloskey, what is the main determinant of government spending in the US?

7.According to Xenophon, what is required of a good leader?

8.Describe/explain Xenophon’s concept of division of labor. Extra credit: Was it different from the concept of division of labor used by Adam Smith?

9.What was Plato’s main contribution as a philosopher?

10. Define and distinguish the three concepts of justice propounded by Aristotle.

11. The ancients didn’t think much of markets as important to the economy. Why do you think they thought in this way?

12.What is the economic explanation of the rise and fall of the Roman empire?

13.What, for the Greeks, was the major source of wealth? For the Romans? Extra credit: Today, what is the major source of wealth?

14. When did the Islamic religion begin? What were the main contributions of Islam to economic thought?

15. What improvements on the ideas about money from the ancients were improved upon by the Muslim philosopher, Averroes?

16.What was the practice called “feudalism” during the Middle Ages? What did it accomplish?

17. Who was William of Auxerre, and what idea or concept did he contribute to economic thought?

18. What is “scholastic economics”? Who were the principal thinkers of this school?

19.What arguments were made by the scholastic school regarding the morality of private property?

20. How did the scholastics define “just” price? What in the discussion of the just price came to be a rationale for supporting the existence of markets? What was this rationale?

21. Extra credit: Define and distinguish “damnum emergens” and “lucrum cessans”? Explain how these concepts were used in the debate regarding the morality of payment of interest on a loan.


2 thoughts on “EC 12. Pointers No. 1

  1. Interesting post and questions. I’m less sure about the mixing-up of widely different societies and historical periods under a single analysis. For instance, in Q. 11, consider that relatively few long-distance markets existed in ancient Egypt, even though it was favorable place to have them because of the Nile. Trade beyond village bartering was mostly in luxury goods. The state was of course concerned with what revenues it could get for itself, spending most of its surplus on temple and funerary establishments. But had they vision and desire to develop a more comprehensive government penetration among the populace, the limitations of bureaucratic technique would have prevented it. Egyptians were capable of long-range planning, but everything was personal, done face-to-face. They had weights & measures but no good systems for archiving accounting data. Parties to legal events kept their own documents. Each time a king died, the regime basically had to be set up all over again-one reason monuments were left unfinished or usurped by successors.


    1. My best guess is that in the ancient times, the idea of markets had to compete with the idea of religion as an institutional means of solving what we now call “the economic problem.” Then, it was a matter of codes of conduct enforced by superstition and religion, though over time, more secular attitudes to morality and legal rules came to have more acceptance.


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