Posts Tagged ‘economics’

Do the !Kung San like to share?

October 19, 2010

Not according to David Kaplan:

Everyone who has worked among the Bushmen has commented upon the continual dunning [badgering] and constant pressures to share that go on. Here is Patricia Draper (1978:45):

The give and take of tangibles and intangibles goes on in the midst of a high level of bickering. Until one learns the cultural meaning of this continual verbal assault, the outsider wonders how the !Kung can stand to live with each other. . . . People continually dun the Europeans and especially the European anthropologists since unlike most Europeans, the anthropologists speak !Kung. In the early months of my own field work I despaired of ever getting away from continual harassment. As my knowledge of !Kung increased, I learned that the !Kung are equally merciless in dunning each other.

Both Wiessner (1982:79) and Marshall (1968:94) have commented on the fact that the persistent pressures to share have led the !Kung to limit their work effort, since in working harder they would likely expose themselves to demands to share the fruits of their additional labors. To refuse to share opens oneself to accusations of stinginess or worse. Here are Wiessner’s (1982:79) observations:

In reciprocal relations, one means that a person uses to prevent being exploited in a relationship … is to prevent him or herself from becoming a “have”…. As mentioned earlier, men who have killed a number of larger animals sit back for a pause to enjoy reciprocation. Women gather enough for their families for a few days, but rarely more. . . . And so, in deciding whether or not to work on a certain day, a !Kung may assess debts and debtors, decide how much wild food harvest will go to family, close relatives and others to whom he or she really wants to reciprocate, versus how much will be claimed by freeloaders.

The !Kung, we are told, spend a great deal of time talking about who has what and who gave what to whom or failed to give it to whom (Wiessner 1982:68). A lot of the exchange and sharing that goes on seems to be as much motivated by jealousy and envy as it is by any value of generosity or a “liberal custom of sharing.” In his survey of foraging societies, Kelly (1995:164-65) notes that “Sharing… strains relations between people. Consequently, many foragers try to find ways to avoid its demands …. Students new to anthropology..,. are often disappointed to learn that these acts of sharing come no more naturally to hunter- gatherers than to members of industrial societies.”

Score this round for Steven Pinker.

If you’re lost, read this. And this.


Has George Lakoff been reading Marx?

August 16, 2010

Perhaps my favorite paragraph yet from Lakoff’s Whose Freedom?:

Part of the economic liberty myth is that employers “give jobs” to employees. The flip side of that is a deep truth: Working people provide profits to those who pay their wages, and it is the work by workers, even low-skilled workers, that provides profits to employers. In America over the past thirty years, wages have not risen much for the middle class, while efficiency and the corresponding profits and executive salaries have risen enormously. In short, the profits from productivity increases are not going to the workers who are being more productive. Instead they are going to owners and investors who are not doing the more productive work. That is unfair and un-American. Middle-class working people have been providing more and more profits to owners and investors without making higher and higher wages. An economy that works this way is immoral.

Atlas shrugged, indeed.

Scientific post-colonialism: randomized trials vs. global poverty

April 24, 2009

Back in ’05 I ganked a story from Marginal Revolution about randomized trials of NGO programs in poor countries. Examples from MIT’s Poverty Action Lab:

Colonialist? You decide. My story:

By randomly splitting people into two groups, one of which receives an experimental intervention, researchers can set up potentially simple, unbiased comparisons between two approaches.

The emergence of cheap, skilled labor in India and other countries during the 1990s changed that, Banerjee says, because these workers could collect the data inexpensively. At the same time, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were proliferating and started looking for ways to evaluate their antipoverty programs.

Fast forward to yesterday, when Tyler Cowen tells me two of the economists who co-founded the MIT lab are on somebody’s short-list for an economics prize considered a prelude to the Nobel.

[T]he clear favorite is Esther Duflo, 36, who leads the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Jameel Poverty Action Lab with MIT colleague Abhijit Banerjee.

Re: the other co-founder, Sendhil Mullainathan:

One insight: The behavioral weaknesses of the very poor are no different than the weaknesses of people in all walks of life, but because the poor have less margin for error, their behavioral weaknesses can be much more costly.

Ahem. Indeed.

So anyway, where to pitch a story? If only the idea of incremental good works had cultural caché.

Update: the winner was Emmanuel Saez, who studies income inequality.