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380                The Legacy to Modern Egypt
led the world, and was tutor to the Greeks, should have been
so slow to profit by one of the greatest inventions of mankind.
It is not that money is strange or unwelcome: everyone under-
stands it and grasps at it; yet the same peasant who uses money
in the town goes back to barter when on the land. Perhaps the
best reason I have heard is that 'they are accustomed to do so
from ancient times'. The real problem is not why customs per-
sist, but why they ever change. Inertia has preserved barter,
but not stupid inertia.
We are apt to ascribe to customs and institutions an absolute
value. We believe money to be a boon everywhere under all
conditions, and conclude that a people that cannot see those
advantages must be dense indeed. The Egyptian peasant, how-
ever, has been trained for millennia in the hard school of
experience and not of abstract economics. He prefers barter
because it eliminates the middle man. An excellent reason for
being paid in maize is that maize is food; but if food is to be
had directly from the neighbour's field, why go a roundabout
way to get it through a shop ?
From the landowner's point of view it is submitted that to
pay in money means keeping a reserve at the bank to be drawn
on weekly or monthly, whereas under the sharing system settle-
ment takes place twice a year as the crops come in. The
Egyptians have never taken kindly to finance. Greeks and
Syrians were welcomed in antiquity because they supplied a
missing sense. They still continue as grocers to fill a gap which
the Egyptian is disinclined by temperament to fill.
The configuration of Egypt has never favoured the growth
of such an ability in the country-side. Commercial genius finds
most opportunity in long-distance trading. It is only through a
narrow opening to the north that Egypt can export and import
on a large scale. Internally each bit is so like every other that
there cannot be much exchange of commodities. Overseas, trade
has therefore been undertaken mainly by maritime neighbours