The Millionaire Next Door

Ancient Pyramids: A Productive Use of Resources?

While channel surfing, you are bound to come across programs on the “glory” of ancient Egypt.   Perhaps these programs should have a warning label.  No doubt the pyramids constructed during this time were quite impressive feats of engineering and management.  But they were  products of a system where wealth and the control of the nation’s resources were in the hands of the very, very few.  In a review of the book, A History of Ancient Egypt by John Romer, it was stated that  “. . . 70 tons of copper chisels were needed to cut stone for the Step Pyramid of King Djoser.  . . . Look and learn afresh.  What they teach us, which is nothing less than the development of a stunningly sophisticated and successful civilization.” 

What’s stunning to me is how a handful of people, including the Pharaohs, their families and close allies, completely controlled the economy and the very lives of those ancient citizens!  Also stunning is how the country’s wealth was devoted to building palaces and enormous tombs which to this day have produced very little, if any benefit, to Egyptians (tourism being the exception). Perhaps the Egypt of today would be more prosperous if its resources had been allocated to building schools to enhance innovation and socioeconomic mobility. 

But don’t get me wrong; I am in favor of monuments.  But I prefer the American kind such as universities with the names of Vanderbilt, Carnegie, Kennedy School of Government, etc.  Or edifices like the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, etc.  Compared to the pyramids, these monuments are quite modest.  But the achievements of the namesakes are what’re important, not the physical structures themselves.  The achievements of these citizens have made life and opportunity substantially better for all Americans.

In our society achievement in many ways is its own trophy, medal or “pyramid”, not the other way ’round.  For example, although the United States is a relatively young nation, it greatly outpaces older societies in terms of the proportion of its population who are college graduates as well as those who are currently enrolled in colleges and universities.   According to information published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the proportion of Americans enrolled in college per 100,000 people [6,586] significantly outpaces  Britain [3,976], China [2,342], Egypt [2,737], India [1,768], and Japan [3,025].



1 thought on “Ancient Pyramids: A Productive Use of Resources?”

  1. There is significant evidence that the pyramids were, in essence, government workfare programs for the people in the off season, when there was nothing for the people to do but get into trouble. This makes the pyramids even more like OUR monuments…

    I think that in a macro-sense, you look at Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece as two racing cars, and while Egypt was pouring money and resources into conquest (while not, then, holding the territory) and funerary monuments, Greece was developing Western Civ…shortly after that, the Ptolemies conquered Egypt anyhow.

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