In “Book II” of Plato’s, Republic, Socrates discusses what it means to be “just” with Adeimantus using the analogy of a city to create a powerful image of being “just.” As the analogy of the city begins to grow, Socrates discusses what it takes to create a “just” and well functioning city beginning with the jobs that each person in the city will have.
First and foremost he discusses how “because people need many things, and because one person calls on a second out of one need and on a third out of a different need, many people gather in a single place to live together as partners and helpers. Such a settlement is called a city” (369C). This depiction of a city as a spot where people live together as “partners and helpers” closely resembles the economic principles of specialization and trade, which indicate that it is wise for one country to work with another country because each country is better at something than the other.
This economic principle is further perpetuated when Socrates states, “we aren’t all born alike, but each of us differs somewhat in nature from the others, one being suited to one task, another to another,” indicating that to create the most well functioning city people should specialize in the tasks they are best suited to do (370A-370B). The reason this method is so successful is that each member of the community is able to work on the task he or she is best at and then “contribute his own work for the common use of all,” thus giving everyone the highest quality work possible (369E).
In context of the economic principle, the countries develop what are known as terms of trade, which determine how much of which good each country makes to maximize the production possibilities of each independent nation. The same is true for Socrates’s description of how to construct the best city possible. For example, people who are excellent cobblers will develop a cost for their goods relative to the price of fruit and vegetables from farmers, so that the farmer can get the best shoes and the cobbler can get the best fruit.
I think the intersection between economics and the study of forming a knowledgable and well functioning society is interesting. The ability to cross-apply the same concept to two entirely unique fields allows one to develop an even better understanding of the same principle and learn new methods to apply it. Prior to reading Republic, I never would have associated a common economic principle with the philosophy of forming a society designed to maximize the capabilities of a successful city.