Thoreau’s economics: the truly precious costs precious little

John Kaag and Jonathan van Belle in Psyche:

The word ‘economy’ evolved from the Greek root οἶκος. ‘Oikos’ had three interrelated senses in ancient Greece: the family, the family’s land, and the family’s home. These three, taken interchangeably, constituted the first or fundamental political unit in the ancient Greek world, especially in the minds of Greece’s hereditary aristocrats, for whom family mattered more than all other affiliations. The family, then and after, was viewed as the state in miniature, with its rules of order and its exemplars (of moral strength or moral incontinence).

Henry David Thoreau, knowing his Greek, loving puns and etymologies, and being a punctilious writer, was likely quite deliberate in the choice of ‘Economy’ as his title for the longest and first chapter in Walden (1854). By living in his spartan little pond house, his oikos, and getting this house in order, as it were, Thoreau meant to help others get their houses in order – and, house by house, family by family, give new life to society. The dry title hides a pun with a deep purpose, one that whispers: this is a book about a house, a simple one on a pond, but also a not-so-simple one, a disordered one, orbiting the Sun.

More here.