Thoughts on economics and liberty

Is caste a derivative of state socialism? (lessons from Roman socialism)

A couple of days ago FEE published a brilliant extract from Durant: https://fee.org/articles/will-durant-on-diocletians-socialism/

This extract is a wonderful depiction of what happens when the state takes over control over industry and trade. Durant shows how rapidly socialism can decay into feudalism. He says:

“Labor was “frozen” to its job, forbidden to pass from one shop to another without governmental consent. Each collegium or guild was bound to its trade and its assigned task, and no man might leave the guild in which he had been enrolled. Membership in one guild or another was made compulsory on all persons engaged in commerce and industry, and the son was required to follow the trade of his father. When any man wished to leave his place or occupation for another, the state reminded him that Italy was in a state of siege by the barbarians and that every man must stay at his post.”

This reminds me that Kautilya’s Arthashastra involves significant state control over the economy. Sanjay Sonawani’s hypothesis is that sometime during the Gupta era, India’s guilds started becoming ossified into what became castes, later.

India had massive trade relations with the Roman empire, which obviously included the cross-fertilisation of ideas. The ideas of the Sophists and Socrates definitely arose from contact with Indian philosophers. Plato’s Republic has also strong elements of the Vedic caste system.

Is it possible that Roman state socialism infiltrated into India at the time when the Vedics were gaining a political foothold during the Gupta period, and this combination of state socialism + Vedic “caste” finally destroyed the social and economic mobility of India’s trade guilds?

Thus, could caste be a derivative of state socialism? Should we at least partly blame the Romans for India’s caste system? I’m sure we’ll hear more in the coming decades about the many ways in which socialism has harmed society wherever it has been implemented.

Sanjeev Sabhlok

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