Category Archives: Billet d’humeur

Thinking economies during Covid-19 times

Since few weeks now, the world is facing a viral epidemic with various impacts on daily life and on our relationship with the surrounding and distant environments. The governments reacted differently with this situation, but one aspect seems to be now common to most of them: fixing the economic impact of the epidemic.

Working on times far far away, this preoccupation rises questions. The situation is portrayed as a one-way road where only a substantial increase in work and consumption can fix the problem.

Historians and archaeologists face a major issue when they try to rebuild ancient societies. They cannot completely break free from their own habits and social structures. From an economical point of view, the neo-liberal economy, which makes the Earth go round nowadays, is spreading to all levels of way of life: production, exchange and consumption of course, but also social structures, relationships between human beings, hierarchical constructions, etc.
Because of this heavy weight of neo-liberalism in our own societies, we tend to portray ancient societies with modern features. From one scholar to another, these aspects can change: an early use of money, a strong place of market in society, the ideas that values are acting as prices with a large and multilateral spread on material and immaterial goods, etc. Hidden behind all these proposals, there is, I think, the unbreakable idea that everything can be quantified, calculated, and monetised.

This state of research is at the origin of many debates about ancient economies and more particularly concerning the 1st millennium BCE which see the confrontation of populations coming from different regions of Mediterranean and Europe and animated by quite different goals.
But I think we see today another consequence of such a situation. As historians and archaeologists are so used to the neoliberal mechanisms, they injected during the last decades, willingly or not, capitalist and neoliberal aspects in the vision we have of ancient societies. And as everyone is now accepting that ancient societies have already adopted centuries ago such ways of life, it seems impossible to consider solutions to crisis that would not pass by an extreme financialization of the processes.

Thibaud Poigt