The Beauty of Markets and Markets of Beauty

In looking through William Stanley Jevons’ Principles of Economics, mostly a collection of unpublished fragments, Jevons concluded a section on negative value with a fascinating story from Herodotus on auctions in the Babylonian marriage market. The story speaks for itself and requires no commentary on my part.

137: “According to Herodotus the Babylonians managed to find husbands for all their young women. They collected together whatever maidens might be of marriageable years and sold them by auction, beginning with those esteemed the most beautiful. They gradually proceeded downwards in the scale of comeliness until some damsel equidistant between beauty and plainness had to be given away gratis. Then the plain and the ugly and the deformed were brought out by degrees, and the bidding went on; but in the other way, the premiums obtained for beauty being spent as dowries for the less favoured. All the women found husbands, and all the husbands found what they desired.”

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