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The book is written from an anthropological angle and claims that stone age economies were the original affluent society. The claim is startling as it is original, as it runs counterintuitive; weren't people in early primitive (as defined by level of societal complexity) communities not always on the border of starvation and their needs much unfulfilled? Here the author points out that in the central concept of economics, scarcity, or the tension between wants and means, can be reduced either from the supply side (which is what modern production and exchange economies do) or on the demand side, the Zen way to happiness so to speak, by not having much of any demand. Within their own context such hunter-gatherer societies were therefore quite well-off and not on the brink of disaster. To have high wealth in the form of goods was simply not practical in this way of life as you had to carry all of it around hence slowing you down. Similarly, there was often an under-use of resources rather than a constant bumping against existence limits. Of course, there were very real Malthusian limits also as a result of the societal organization. Nevertheless, the point on scarcity is well made and can be seen as a (mild) critique of consumer society. It also bring the social and cultural context in which economics plays to the fore. At the same time, the author discusses the role of gift exchange in return for other goods as a social phenomenon next to the purely economic terms of exchange. Gifts and trade rather than war has a very real meaning in societies and is especially tangible in less complex groups, somethinh he shows in true antropologist fashion by referring to some interesting studies of several small societies in Africa and Polynesia.
The same idea also of course holds for more developed nations, but here the direct social relationships among and between much larger groups is much more anonymous and diffused.
I am an economist, not an anthroplogist, and found it very interesting to read this well-written and sometimes humorous book in order to realise once again how economics is a social science in the true sense of the word. Nothing to be ashamed about, and it is always good as a refresher to read from different angles on the fundamentals of your own profession.
This superb work discusses the types of economic organization which currently exist and which have existed throughout human history (and into pre-history). It then shows the effect of such economic organizations on social structure.
This book should be required reading for all students of economics, as it has major implications for our own societies today.
Stone Age Economics is also a very interesting and readable text, not at all dry or boring. It is filled with information about various cultures and interesting details such as the fact that the hunter-gatherer Bushmen in the Kalihari desert spend only about 1 1/2 hours per day on staying alive, and spend the rest of the time singing, drinking and telling stories.
This is a truly important work.
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