Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Ancient Greek ersatz econonomics

This subproject of 'From Homo Economicus to Political Animal' will be on ancient analogues for modern-day “ersatz economics”, the economics of the “man in the street”.

2021 - 2024
Tazuko van Berkel
NWO Vidi NWO Vidi

Subproject description

“Ersatz economics”, the economics of the man in the street (“airport economics” according to Paul Krugman), is often approached as “nondiscourse”, i.e. as a “mostly random set of irrational elocutions lacking both structure and consistency” (Amariglio & Ruccio 2016). However, for modern ersatz economics, it has been shown how this knowledge practice involves a particular form of storystelling that is historical, anthropomorphic, with tales that feature heroes and villains, winners and losers (Klamer & Leonard 1992).  Moreover, ersatz economics seems to be characterized by a particular anthropology, where economic knowledge always announces a specific set of interests.

This subproject will offer an analysis of the ancient Greek analogue of modern-day ersatz economics: folk economic theory in Greek antiquity. Up to date, there has not been a systematic study of folk economic theory in classical Greece. This subproject aims to analyze:

  • the ways in which such forms of economic knowledge are structure, produced and reproduced;
  • the authority mechanisms involved
  • the types of reasoning and storytelling involved

The subproject will focus on economic reflection in proverbs and gnomic statements, fables, action chreiai and anecdotes, and analyze the distinct ways in which these knowledge practices articulate economic concepts and shape particular understandings of human nature and the place of human being in the larger order of things. Each of these knowledge forms has a distinct way of propagating norms and of implying general validity. Moreover, better known forms of ancient economic thought (see subproject 1 and subproject 2) interact with these knowledge practices: Xenophon, Plato, Aristotle and Plutarch make ample use of gnomic statements, proverbs, fables and anecdotes. Such interactions, or reuses, are in themselves informative for interpreting the epistemological value attributed to these knowledge forms and will be analyzed as such.


This section will be updated during the project.

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