ECONOMICS. Economics may be defined as the science of the production and distri bution and consumption of wealth. It is con cerned with the activities of man in the process of earning a living and of applying his income to the satisfaction of his wants. As a science economics is scarcely more than a century old, but economic phenomena must have attracted attention and caused reflection as long as think ing beings labored to gain a living. At first economic thought was inchoate and confused, finding expression chiefly in the moral codes of priestly lawgivers. And when economic doctrines began to be differentiated from moral or political precepts, were still conditioned by the religious, industrial and social environ ment in which the thinker lived. With every important social change new economic theories have arisen which have sought to explain the existing situation. Hence economic progress has been accompanied with the development of economic thought and the rise of new the ories. And as society came to be organized primarily for economic rather than for mili tary or religious purposes greater attention has been directed to economic problems and to their theoretical explanation. The development of thought shows a progressive comprehension of economic phenomena and a steady develop ment in scientific treatment. To understand the scope and content of the science of eco nomics to-day we cannot do better than to trace its historical development.
Ancient The earliest expres sions of economic thought are to be found in the moral codes of Oriental peoples, of which the Mosaic and Brahminic codes may serve as illustrations. These were primarily religious and economic concepts and were com pletely dominated by theological considerations. Spiritual.perfection was the end to be achieved and economic well-being or poverty were held to be ordained by divine will. Everyday life was minutely regulated; custom ruled and change was avoided; the individual was entirely subordinated to society. Under such circum stances there was little opportunity for the development of economic progress or of eco nomic theory.
While the Greeks resembled the Oriental people in their confusion of economics with morals, in conceding the dominance of ethical motives and in emphasizing the importance of the state, they yet appreciated more fully the importance of material wealth and analyzed the nature of economic wants more carefully. It has been said that every one is a follower of either Plato or Aristotle, the two leading Greek philosophers. Plato described an ideal state in which the individual is completely subordi nated to the state, community of property and of wives and children is established, population is regulated. Aristotle opposed this extreme communism, approved of personal freedom, private property and individual initiative. His analysis of economic activities was rational in contrast with the metaphysical Oriental specu lation or the idealism of Plato and marked a considerable advance in economic method.
There was little advance made by Roman writers. As their interests were military and political, industrial activities were regarded as ignoble — with the exception of agriculture and consequently little thought was directed to these subjects. The chief writers who di rected their attention to economic matters were Cicero, Cato, Varro and Columella, but all of them concerned themselves rather with techni cal advice about agriculture and laments at its decline than with national economy. In gen eral the Romans followed the Greek writers. Their chief contribution lay after all in the development of the science of jurisprudence.
The slight development of economic thought in antiquity was due to several reasons. In the first place practical economic activities were not far developed. War absorbed a great part of the energy of the people. Agriculture was rude, manufacturing and commerce were in a still more primitive state. Owing to the insecurity of life and property there was little incentive to or possibility of the accumulation of capital. The system of slavery, upon which all ancient societies were based, led to a con tempt for labor and prevented real economic progress.