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​Professor of economics at Birzeit University and visiting researcher at the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies

Palestinian economist Adel Zagha, now a Visiting Lecturer at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies delivered the ACRPS' weekly seminar on Wednesday, 9 November, 2016. Zagha's discussion with the regular seminar audience gave listeners an introduction to the contributions made by medieval Islamic thinker Al Maqrizi to the modern-day discipline of economics. An understanding of the contributions made by Maqrizi, said Zagha, serves to overturn the "Western-centric" view which presently dominates the social sciences and humanities.

Zagha began with a general explanation that humanity sometimes had to wait hundreds of years for someone to "re-discover" a general law or property first uncovered much earlier by a scholar from another civilization. The example Zagha gave was Ibn Khaldun's general precept on taxation, elucidated by the Arab thinker in the fourteenth century, was reborn in the latter part of the twentieth century as the "Laffer Curve", allowing Arthur Laffer, said the speaker, to take credit for "reinventing the wheel".

In a similar vein, as Zagha pointed out, Maqrizi was responsible for a fourteenth century version of what can be called Gresham's law: shortly, the theory that coins made by relatively less valuable metals will outstrip coins made from more valuable materials in circulation. This eventually led to the minting of coins of two-metal alloys in many parts of the world. It was only two centuries later, however, that Tudor official Sir William Gresham was able to arrive at the same conclusions as Maqrizi.  

One other, more prosaic contribution made by Maqrizi was his understanding that famine could be the result of non-natural causes. Specifically, and after empirical observations of medieval Egyptian markets, Maqrizi came to the conclusion that unfettered monopolies could lead to massive income balances in society and, eventually, famines. Tying both of these together, Maqrizi had also advanced understanding in his day of the impact of inflation on income inequality, showing an understanding far ahead of his time of a number of monetary issues.