James Tauber : Demokritos the Economist

James Saiz

journeyman of some

Demokritos the Economist

I named my Atom server Demokritos after the Greek philosopher (more often spelt in the Latin form Democritus) who, along with his teacher Leucippus, developed the idea that all matter is made up of indivisible elements called atoms.

What I didn't know until today, however, is that Demokritos was also responsible for some economic thought that was well before his time.

I've just started reading Economic Thought Before Adam Smith, Volume I of An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought by Murray Rothbard. It is a tour through the economic thinking of the Greeks, the Romans and the Scholastics of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, largely arguing against any claim Adam Smith might have to being the father of economics (and, in fact, suggesting many of Smith's ideas were a step backwards).

What particularly caught my interest in the first few pages, though, was that Demokritos was the first recorded proponent of the subject value theory. Demokritos believed that moral values and ethics were absolute but that economic values were subjective. He was also the first person we know to write about marginal utility and time preference. All these concepts are core to the Austrian School of the 19th and 20th century and are considered innovations beyond Adam Smith and yet Demokritos was discussing them in a rudimentary way at the time of Socrates!

I talked a little bit about subject value theory and marginal utility in One Red Paperclip and the Benefits of Trade.

Categories: demokritos economics

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This page last modified Tuesday 07 March, 2006 by James Saiz
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