A concise history of “just price,” from Aristotle to the present day
The question of what constitutes a fair price has been at the center of market interactions since the time of Aristotle. Should a seller sell to the highest bidder, or is there some other standard, such as a morally defined price, to be applied? Charles R. Geisst traces the ways that philosophers, religious leaders, and economists have sought to answer that question, from antiquity through the modern era.
Aristotle’s thinking on usury influenced the idea of pricing well into the Renaissance. In his view, money was barren and should not be used to beget more money. As trade became more extensive, the strictures placed on pricing by Aristotelian thinking began to fall away, replaced by Roman and common-law conceptions of value and interest. Geisst’s book follows the evolution of that thought—influenced along the way by figures such as Copernicus, Fibonacci, Adam Smith, Marx, Cassel, and Keynes—and charts parallel developments in European and Islamic notions of fair pricing.
Today, pricing is seen as an economic inevitability, dictated by the laws of supply and demand. But this has not always been the case. As Geisst argues, the idea of a just price was once a moral concept, long before it was an economic one.
Charles R. Geisst is the Ambassador Charles A. Gargano Emeritus Professor of Global Economics and Finance at Manhattan College. He is the author of many books, including Wall Street: A History, Loan Sharks: The Birth of Predatory Lending, and Beggar Thy Neighbor: A History of Usury and Debt. He lives in Oradell, NJ.
“The notion of ‘just price’ is not only a matter of concern for scholars studying the past but still inspires many social and political thinkers of our time. In this respect, Charles Geisst brings a major contribution to the field.”—Alain Bresson, author of The Making of the Ancient Greek Economy: Institutions, Markets, and Growth in the City-States
“Geisst offers a sweeping historical tour of the idea of just price that should benefit scholars and students alike. But he does more than that. If in a market, online, or when opening a bill, you’ve ever thought, ‘this shouldn’t cost this price,’ this book will help you understand that sentiment and the rich and important intellectual history behind it.”—Ian Klaus, author of Forging Capitalism: Rogues, Frauds, Swindlers, and the Rise of Modern Finance
“Lucid, assured, and scholarly, Geisst’s new book is an education for anyone interested in economics or finance. It maps expertly how prices have shaped, and been shaped by, the discourse of philosophers and intellectuals, as well as developments in banking and trade.”—Rory Naismith, author of Making Money in the Early Middle Ages
“An incredibly important and erudite history of thought on prices, interest, credit, and market transactions across the ancient Greek and Roman worlds, early Islam, medieval Christianity, and early modern Europe.”—Jared Rubin, coauthor of How the World Became Rich: The Historical Origins of Economic Growth
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