Solon, the sixth century poet and statesman (c. 630–c. 560 BC), “left norms of proper conduct that carry important ethical implications for all manner of human affairs, including commercial activities and the pursuit of wealth” (Lewis, 2009: 123). Solon was concerned about widespread debt in Athens, which pushed many small landholders and farm workers into selling the only thing they still possessed, namely themselves, into slavery after defaulting on loans.
What can we learn from Solon in an era that bandies about the phrase “wage slaves” and has seen the treatment that the European Union has given to Greece as a debtor state? Students are asked to think about this and related questions. They may also formulate their own opinions and ask themselves why this problem is so persistent in human history. Can the relationship between the debtors and creditors in a society be more fairly designed? What are the consequences to a society when numbers of common people are crushed by debt? Should the wealthy members of a community be concerned about income inequality? How does altruism (or philanthropy for that matter) fit into this question? An examination of Solon’s solutions to these problems (not only what he did, but the manner that he did it) offers us a valuable window from which to view business practices about credit and debt today.