The Need for Governmental Inefficiency in Plato's Republic
Journal of History of Economic Thought (2021), 43(1): 103-117.
In book II of Plato’s Republic, Socrates discusses the cities of necessity and luxury (372d-373a). Discussions of these cities have often focused on citizens desiring more than they need, which creates a demand for luxury. Yet the second part of the equation, which is not usually recognized, is that there must be sufficient supply to meet this demand. The focus of this article is on the importance of supply in the discussion of the first two cities in book II of the Republic. This article argues that the way Plato models the cities makes it the case that a surplus above levels of necessity will be generated from time to time. That the unwanted surplus cannot be spontaneously disposed of entails that the first two cities are institutionally incomplete. A government is needed in order to coordinate the disposal of the surplus supply the city will produce.