1854. The problem of growth, ancient to modern continuity

Provocation #86 Ancient and modern growth.

Growth now is quite abstract, removed from its biological antecedents, having become a mechanical process of money, tech, finance, innovation, advertising.

But there is another perspective.
I’ve often mentioned, and fascinated by, that capital begins as cap. Latin for head, a new head of cattle. The great early societies were basically cattle ranches. Rome and Greece lived on cattle. The word for interest on a loan in all those languages and Mesopotamia was the same as the local word for offspring, calving or birthing. The possession of a herd meant exponential increase and this became the basis for conscious understanding of compound interest. Growth.

But it required management. Modern economics, I propose, is a mere tweaking on ancient systems built to handle the growing and feeding of people through sophisticated understanding of the growth problem of life and how to manage it. The core of what we call economics was in wide practice very early, by about 5000 BC. (These were much more complicated societies than we usually imagine.) Sex is one of the great mysteries of the universe and economics is deeply concerned, but unconscious, of this power it tries to manage.

When Aristotle wrote his book oeconomia, it mean home-laws, or at the time, estate management. That meant cattle farming. As soon as hunters started herding cattle rather than killing it in the wild, the issue of grazing land and ownership became important to explore and try to make sense of.
The word Greek nomos was earlier anomia and meant equal distribution. That is, the law pressed for equal distribution, not, as now (and in Locke and Smith), protection of the rich. The impulse to create law was to maintain equality whereas the natural process is toward concentration.
The two core issues in the cattle based empires were first, the ritual of killing, distribution, and eating, and second the breeding and ownership.The birth was capital, a new head of cattle – growth. In Mesopotamia 4000 BC the idea of compound growth of a herd was understood and could enter into transactions – based on paper (clay) (not on the intermediate of coin or paper money which had not yet been developed. See the amazing book by Goetzman, Money Changes Everything.)
The growth of the herd put pressure on grazing land, which led to disputes among state, temples and farmers. Growth is clearly the issue in breeding. It needs to be said that the sacrifice was a way of continuing the distributional side of hunter culture by uniting distribution with sacrifice, a distribution on which the population was dependent. The modern welfare state can be seen as a necessity for state survival just as it was in antiquity. Athens in 450BC had a temple owned herd of one hundred thousand head for sacrifice and distribution. These were meat-eating societies.

The modern issue is still how do we feed the people, who owns the process, how do we manage population of people and food? The rest of the economy, the economy of things and finances, are important but based on, requiring, the food/land system, and using the financial instruments that had their origin in growth management and ownership.
To me this leads to the challenge: how do we reintegrate humans with nature, the land, the sun. How is the land and its produce to be managed for human survival, human thriving, human quality of life?
Bring economy back to its origins – estate management, and realize that since the absorption of the Polis of Athens into the Macedonian empire the issues of estate management becomes regional and now earth management for the good of the species . But it can’t be done without innovations in government – hopefully that are technically adequate and while democratic in its consensus building.
The histories of China and India have similar logics at the core of civilizational survival – and hopefully though not yet realized – quality of life for all.

Googling “sex” in April 2017 yields approximately 3.140 billion results. That’s nearly four times as many hits as one gets when Googling “religion,” three times as many as “politics,” and about 50 percent more than “death”—but slightly less than “food.”

(From https://view.publitas.com/p222-9210/gmh-menmarswomenvenus/page/6-7)

So we get hierarchy of concerns


That describes the culture economics tries to make sense of by treating the economy as an isolated system. Growth and its management for quality of life is key. Management for elites to extract wealth from others is a vast detour.

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