Early Preclassical Economic Thought

Early Preclassical Economic Thought

Classical economics is dated from the publication in 1776 of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations. That, of course, is only a rough date; as we will see in the next chapter, the ideas in Wealth of Nations were being developed during the two hundred years before 1776. We divide the prior period into two parts: an early preclassical period from about 800 BC to 1500, and a preclassical era from 1500 to 1776. In this chapter we deal with the early preclassical period. Because the early preclassical period spans 2,300 years, roughly twelve times the two hundred or so years that have passed since 1776, enormous selectivity is necessary. In making our selections, we have relied on the work of a number of scholars who in the past fifty years have made important contributions to understanding this period.


We divide the early preclassical period into four subperiods: (1) early Eastern economic thought, represented by the writings of the seventh century BC figure Guan Zhong (725-645 BC); (2) Greek thought, in which we focus on the work of Hesiod (c. 800 BC), Xenophon (c. 430-355 BC), and Aristotle (384-322 BC); (3) Arab-Islamic thought, in which we focus on the writings of al-Ghazali (1058-1111) and Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406); and (4) economic thought of the scholastics, in which we focus on the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274).