Essays in the economics of hunter-gatherer and indigenous peoples

Date of Completion

January 2000


Economics, General|Economics, Theory




I apply economic theory in the analysis of some of the enduring institutions of hunter-gatherer, peasant, and tribal societies. In chapter 1 I synopsize the development of economic anthropology as a field and the study of traditional societies in economics. ^ In chapter 2 I study the interrelationship between two common hunter-gatherer institutions: shared access to resources and shared output. I study production incentives created by output sharing rules. Sharing introduces interdependency among resource users; agents care about the effects production decisions have on others. The shared access/shared output system does not require that the actions of individuals be observed or monitored. Sharing rules can both solve the commons problem and also result in an equal distribution of output. I discuss sharing and resource access among Kalahari Desert hunting-foraging peoples. ^ In chapter 3 I study the ecological conditions behind the emergence of land ownership. I apply tools from the economics of conflict and analysis of spatial oligopoly. The result is a theoretically sound exposition of economic defensibility models common in anthropology. Different ownership regimes can emerge, depending on the relative scarcity of resources, the variability of resources, and the technology that groups use to defend land. I discuss indigenous land ownership among Kalahari Desert peoples. ^ In chapter 4 (written with Thomas Miceli), we study land inheritance. We explain the economic forces underlying different inheritance rules. In our model, potential heirs make land-specific human capital investments prior to the date of inheritance. The testator then decides how to allocate his land in the best interests of his family. Allowing the testator discretion over land distribution leads to wasteful competition between heirs. A fixed rule eliminates competition, but disallows beneficial reallocation of land if the prespecified heir turns out to be a less able producer than another potential heir. Land markets render the rule irrelevant; if heirs can buy (sell) land, they buy (sell) land until they have acquired the efficient amount. Knowing this beforehand, heirs invest efficiently. We study inheritance rules using a cross-cultural data set comprised of. approximately 400 world cultures. ^