Is Development Uniquely Modern? Athens on the Doorstep
35 Pages Posted: 22 Dec 2013 Last revised: 7 Nov 2015
Date Written: December 6, 2015
Is development uniquely modern? Economists and political scientists define development in terms of features that are unique to modernity, such as high GDP growth, liberalism, and centralization. In this paper, we deploy the case of ancient Athens as an existential counter to these theories. Moving from CNWW’s definition of development as the transition from ‘natural state’ to ‘open access,’ we contend that the ancient polis of Athens was, in many relevant respects, ‘developed.’ The development path followed by ancient Athens illustrates how development requires, at a minimum, a) security against arbitrary acts of violence and b) predictability, provided by reasonably fair rules and their reasonably impartial application and reliable enforcement. As in modern liberal democracies, in Athens these institutions were associated with sustained growth in state capacity and in per capita consumption. Our definition highlights intuitive requirements of development that existing definitions fail to stress. Moreover, our definition suggests, empirically, that development does not depend on a set of specific institutions that have been hard to establish, let alone consolidate, in modern developing countries.
Keywords: economic and political development, rule of law, institutions, property rights, natural state, open access
JEL Classification: H11, H41, K40, N43, O10, O52, P50, J71
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