Markets, Productivity, and Happiness in a Historical Perspective

Trapped into Lycurgus’ path: Inequality, equity, happiness, liberty, and the writing of a global history of property in the European Enlightenment

Bohorquez Jesus, ICS-Universidade de Lisboa

The debate on property’s origin and impacts acquired an empirical facet in the mid-eighteenth century. This “empirical turn” has so far deserved scant attention. Compelled by intellectual circles that cast doubt on the assumptions deduced from natural-law theory reckoned as evidence, the economist got involved in a research agenda that ultimately placed history at the center of the quarrel. This paper’s main goal is precisely to shed light on the shapes that this particular “evidence versus observation” debate took. In order to demonstrate that property was the atemporal foundation that bound all societies, different historical cases were addressed. Three instances regained great attention, though: the Incas government, Ancient Sparta, and China. This “empirical turn” incorporated into the debate aspects such as property and inequality, property and happiness, and property and liberty. In this global history of property, Lycurgus’ trap was granted a particular place for it proved that legally enforced equity corroded, and ultimately, generated social disruption.


Keywords: Physiocracy, Enlightenment, history of property, China, Incas, Sparta