Economics is essentially the science of wealth. It is the knowledge of the laws that govern the production of wealth and its distribution. It goes without saying that economics must then have an almost unbounded influence on human conduct, both in public and private life. This all-pervading activity of economics is still more apparent in the realm of government at the level of the State. Throughout all of ancient and modern history, there is scarcely a single political event of any significance that has not been caused, either directly or indirectly, by some economic influence. While it is true that some religious, social, or physical causes may also have been at work, the economic factor nearly always seems to have been the most constant and the most pervasive force at work.
In ancient Greece, it was the depression of the debtor, combined with the depressed condition of trade, that occasioned the reforms of Solon — reforms which, in their turn, led up to the completely democratic constitution of Clisthenes. The great revolution that included the rise of the people to political power was occasioned directly by economic causes. Indeed, one remarkable feature of the genius of Solon is the way in which he saw that his legislative reforms, in order to be effective, must also be accompanied by economic reforms. He saw that any concession of political power would be useless if the people were still left to groan in misery and to starve by inches. Hence the great part of his reforms not only relieved the misery of the debtor but also tended generally to further industries of all kinds and the fuel the expansion of trade.
In modern times, the relation between politics and economics is still closer as specialization has caused even more interdependence. Hostilities between nations, the formation of alliances and treaties, the good or bad understanding between rulers and their subjects, can nearly all be traced to economic causes. We might quote, as an illustration, the Hundred Years’ War between England and France. During the whole of that war, England had on her side the faithful assistance of Flanders. At root, the reason for this alliance was the economic interdependence of England and Flanders. England was essentially an agricultural country, fleece being her most important product. Flanders, on the other hand, had the art of manufacturing the fleece into wool. Thus, the two countries were mutually dependent, one upon the other. Neither could have repudiated the alliance without great inconvenience. Thus, all during the vicissitudes of the Hundred Years’ War, there was a natural and effective tie between these two countries.
As any student of history can easily see, there has been a steady progression of the widening influence that economic concerns have had on the direction of history. As societies have become progressively more specialized in order to achieve ever increasing productive capacity and expertise, so too have their reliance and dependency on economic allies who can do for them what they are incapable of doing for themselves. As this dependency passes the economic point of no return, political considerations essentially become economic ones. As ridiculous as it sounds, it may well be more economically expedient to fight France than to learn how to raise sheep and produce fleece.
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