2100. Economy and its deep history

I have dealt with much of this before, but I think it is so compelling, as we rethink economics, to heave these fully in mind. I think a little reflection on what capitalism comes from can help in thinking through what ought to be its future.

The word comes from cap. latin for head, and used in Rome for “a new head of cattle”. We still use that language today. “how many head you got over  to your place?” Capitalism thus has its origin in sexual reproduction and increase. Cattle was to Greece and Rome much like an argentine cattle ranch – it was central to the food economy.

When a new calf is born it is potentially destabilizing – of land for grazing, ownership – individual or community – and what can happen to it – sacrificed, sold, bred..

(see Jereny McInerney Cattle of the Sun: Cows and Culture in Ancient Greece.)

Hunter gatherers killed the animal and shared  it communally. As they contained animals into herds, open range at first and then fenced, the sacrifice maintained the culture of the hunt, because the sacrifice was shared communally. In The Odyssey when Odysseus and his sailors landed on an island hey sacrificed a “hecatomb” of cattle, a hecatomb is 100 head.  The place of sacrifice in ancient cultures is a way of feeding the community

Land aquited by a community was  divided based on grazing rights and was  nomia, a division of grazing rights among equals. Nomia is the same word Plato used for Law, but by his time it meant a collection of laws, not the particular nomia which meant equal distribution.

(see by Carl Schmitt, Nomos of the Earth)

That the history of cap and nomia lie deep in the history of eco-nomy I think is pretty amazing. Equal distribution would not have gained the power of law if there wee not a need for it, which in that ase must have been a threatening trend  toward in-equality. The law, and hence the nomia that is the nomos of eco-nomos that became our word economy, thus has its origin in a social desirable equal distribution of what was valuable.

Private property, to continual looking at key words, has an amazing history.

Property is the same root as proper, “are you dressed properly for the party”, and proper meat appropriate to show the status of a man of rank in society. Property began as a social sign, and explicitly could not be sold or “alienated” from its person.

Private comes from latin privatus, to remove from the public sphere. Private didn’t go from individual to group, it went from group to individual.

For Plato and other greeks, economy meant well managed estate. And if an estate was well managed, it should produce a surplus. They discuss the purpose of that surplus and concluded it was to create leisure time for philosophy and politics and explicitly not for extended consumption.

To go further, that model moved into early Christianity and the idea of the economy of god’s estate which is well-managed should produce the time for contemplation in prayer.

The word economy is used frequently in the New Testament, which was written in Greek, but Cicero translated it into Latin as “disposition.” so modern reader do not know that the word used was economy.

(see Agamben The kingdom and the Glory – for a theological genealogy of economy and governance.)

The history is rich and the modern period seems thin and self-satisfied. New economics,  which will need to deal with land and its usee and ownership, can learn from this past.

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