An EconTalk Podcast Listening Guide

Josiah Ober on the Ancient Greek Economy

Listen to the EconTalk podcast Josiah Ober on the Ancient Greek Economy and consider these questions.

1. Roberts begins the interview by noting that the standard view of the ancient Greeks is that they were very poor. Why does Ober suggest that this is the case?

2. Summarize Ober’s description of the ancient Greek political system. How does this description compare to descriptions you have heard in the past? Is it a favorable or unfavorable comparison, and why?

3. Describe the demographic evidence Ober found to show that the ancient Greeks were, in fact, relatively wealthy.

4. To what extent did the ancient Greeks have, and support politically, freedom of migration? What evidence exists from which we can deduce an answer?

5. Roberts asks Ober why the ancient Greeks were relatively more prosperous than their neighbors. Ober cites the existence of relatively egalitarian institutions and a great deal of institutional innovation. Describe some of the examples he offers of each.

6. How secure were property rights in ancient Greece, and again, what evidence is there which suggests an answer?

7. Roberts presses Ober to explain why the innovation of democracy did not spread beyond ancient Greece. Why does Ober suggest this was the case? Can you think of any other historical parallels?

8. Ober suggests that some scholars have rejected his “wealthy-Hellas” thesis. Why would some have a vested interest in rejecting this thesis? How persuaded are by Ober’s thesis, and why?

9. What sort of additional data is Ober hoping will be discovered in the future, and how might it contribute to our understanding of the ancient Greek economy?