Ancient Economic Thought (Routledge Studies in the History by Betsy Price

By Betsy Price

This publication explores the interrelationship among monetary perform and faith, ethics and social constitution in a couple of historical cultures, together with old East Indian, Hebraic, Greek, Hellenistic, Roman and rising ecu cultures.

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Sukra in his Sukraniti (a latter-day adaptation of Kautilya’s opus) lays down that if a householder neglects his family, the king “should manacle him, set him on the work of repairing roads, and out of the wage earned by him by such labour give one-half to the deserted family” (cited in Rangaswami Aiyangar [1965]: 148). Santi Parva, section 8. The Mahabharata (1993), vol. VIII, 12. There is no clear distinction between income and wealth in the literature. Both are used interchangeably. Obvious consumer goods like an ornament or a sack of grain and productive assets such as cows or land, are treated simply as possessions to satisfy our material wants and desires.

If conflicts arose, which advice should be accepted was a question that worried many. Some attached importance to Manu, the most famous of all the law givers, but then which of his commentators should be followed? There were many of them, the most important being Medhatithi, Kulluka Bhatta and Govindaraja. Others suggested that a majority opinion from among the texts should be given credence. A third view suggested that which is “reasonable” given the times. What should be noted here is that though the Dharmasastras are important, they were not static.

Whether they consciously practised them or not, simple living remained an ideal even for the common man. Much later, as we approach the Gupta period (circa AD 320–540), references to luxuries and items of consumption increase, but only in connection with kings and merchant princes. For the common man, purity and simplicity remained the ideals. When Hiuen Tsang, the seventh century AD Chinese pilgrim visited India, he found that even Kshatriyas and Brahmins were clean-handed, unostentatious, simple and frugal in their lives.

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