Solon Can’t Come to the Phone Right Now …

Not sure if that headline makes any sense at all; I’ve been waiting for someone to bring this up … from CNBC:

If the secret to understanding a nation lies in understanding its founding, those trying to understand Greece might want to look to Solon.

Solon is the founder of Greek democracy—which is to say he is the founder of democracy altogether. And one of his most famous acts was the repudiation of debt.

When Solon came onto the Greek scene in 6th century BC, Athens was in disarray. Plutarch tells us that strife had engulfed the city, bringing it to the brink of anarchy. The source of this strife was that “all the common people were weighed down with debts they owed to a few rich men,” according to Plutarch.

Making matters worse, debtors who were unable to make payments when they were due were seized and sold into slavery.

A fragment of Solon’s poetry describes a situation in which many of the poor “have arrived in foreign lands/sold into slavery, bound in shameful fetters.”

In 594 BC, Solon was appointed archon of Athens. His solution to his city’s strife was to cancel both public and private debts and end debt slavery.

The freeing of the debt slaves and the cancellation of debt set the stage for the flourishing of the Athenian economy and culture. Freed slaves and unencumbered landowners formed the basis of an agrarian and democratic political culture that gave Greece its military might and helped shape the formation of western civilization.

Listen closely to the protestors in Greece. When they decry austerity plans that “turn workers into slaves,” they are echoing the sentiments of their ancient founder.

… somewhere along the line, someone needs to say that someone is giving someone else too much credit, then duck for cover …

4 thoughts on “Solon Can’t Come to the Phone Right Now …

  1. This stuff about “debt repudiation” is all a bit of a weasel-word, you know. The reality is rather different.

    Money is extorted from those in Britain and Germany too poor to afford good lawyers and accountants, on pain of imprisonment, and under the pretext of providing roads and hospitals. That money is diverted by politicians — we could equally well say “embezzled” — to make “loans” to governments in places like Greece that proposed to bribe their electorates or themselves, with things that they did not earn and cannot obtain other than by fraud. Those in receipt of the money then decide to object to the terms for repayment and default. Everyone wins! … except the poor who paid for it all.

    Let’s call it what it is — theft from the hardworking poor.

  2. Please note that I have closed comments on this one … Dr Pearse’s comment was sufficient to show how the Solon analogy doesn’t quite work as an analogy or a practice. I don’t want this to turn into a discussion of modern politics …

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