The Invention of Enterprise
By Arnold Kling
I am still slogging through the new book edited by Landes, Mokyr, and Baumol. Again, self-recommending if From Poverty to Prosperity left you hungry for more in-depth reading.
In chapter 1, Michael Hudson discusses my Most Wrong Belief, which is that true interpersonal market exchange economies are a recent phenomenon. He thinks that there were genuine enterprises in early Mesopotamia. However (p.23-24),
the westward shift of antiquity’s military and political center was associated with a lower status for commercial enterprise, mainly because of its association with aliens and low-status individuals deterred high-status individuals from taking a direct role. Apart from the Near Easterners, slaves and freedmen played the leading role in Greece and Rome…the Roman ethic preferred “bad” or unproductive enterprise, asset stripping, and hoarding over more economically productive modes of gain-seeking.
In chapter 3, which I am currently reading (the book has 18 chapters), Timur Kuran discusses Islamic cultural impediments to enterprise. p. 71:
coffee producers, traders, and consumers encountered opposition based, formally, on the notion that “black water” amounted to bid’a–a harmful innovation incompatible with Islam…In its strictest form, bid-a served to dismiss as un-Islamic every commodity, habit, and idea unknown in Arabia during Muhammad’s lifetime…Over the long run, fin fact, the anticoffee campaign failed momentously. In sixteenth-century Arabia many clerics urged their congregations to destroy coffeehouses. A half-millennium later, leaders of Saudi Arabia’s puritanical Wahhabi sect proudly serve coffee to their guests, treating it as an ancient Arab delicacy, usually without awareness of the history of Arab and Islamic resistance to this now-cherished custom.