When I was setting up this blog, I had a devil of a time coming up with a URL that wasn’t already taken. Google wanted me to use “employmentinterestandmoney.blogspot.com” but I just couldn’t ask people to type in that whole thing. I ultimately settled on “andytheeconomist” for the bottom level name because it was easy to remember and not too long, but my mind went to some strange places along the way. It’s just as well that I thought better of “makronoikonnemo.blogspot.com” – not too long, but who is going to remember it?
Nonetheless, I can’t purge “makron oikon nemo” from my mind, so, since I need something for a first blog entry, that’s going to be my topic. Literally, provided I haven’t made a mistake in the morphology, “makron oikon nemo” (μακρον οικον νεμω) is Classical Greek for “I manage a large house.” That might seem to have very little to do with anything, but the words μακρον, οικον, and νεμω are also the etymological roots of the word “macroeconomics.” (By the way, I’m an economist, not a linguist, so you shouldn’t necessarily trust anything I say about etymology. But then again, I’m not sure you should trust what I say about economics either.)
“Oikon” (οικον) is an inflected form of “oikos” (οικος), which means “house.” “Nemo” (νεμω) – which by the way is usually pronounced with the “e” as in “bed,” not as in “Finding Nemo” – means “I manage.” (It is conventional to identify Greek verbs in the first person form rather than the infinitive. If we were talking about the English verb, we would probably say, “to manage” rather than “I manage.”) In Classical Greek, the two words were combined into the word “oikonomos” (οικονομος), which means “house manager.” The etymological meaning survives to some extent in English phrases like “home economics,” which they used to teach in grade school when I was young. (Do they still teach Home Economics?)
Anyhow, a house manager for a man of substance had a lot of coordination to do – a lot of arranging and buying and selling and making sure things would be in the right place at the right time – to keep the house running smoothly. A similar art could, in principle, be applied at the level of the city-state, or “polis” (πολις). And someone who practiced that art at the level of the state would be a “house manger of a state” or “state house manager” – “politikos oikonomos” (πολιτικος οικονομος). I have no idea whether the ancient Greeks actually used that phrase, but somehow it showed up in Modern English as “political economy” – the study of how to manage a state’s production and consumption, or something to that effect.
Somehow “political economy” turned into “economics.” How that happened I don’t know, but the phrase “political economy,” to the extent that it is used today (other than in the title of an academic journal), usually refers to a specific branch of economics which deals with the political context of economics (in the modern sense of the word “political”). Once upon a time, however, there was no “economics” at all, just “political economy.”
And then there is the prefix “macro,” which occurs so often in English that its meaning needs no discussion. The canonical form of the Greek adjective is “makros" (μακρος), which of course means “large.”
...and so on....I could go on about this, but I have to get back to managing a large house.
Rogoff on The Money Illusion
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