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The Origins of Inequality: Insiders, Outsiders, Elites, and Commoners

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Abstract

Permanent economic inequality is unknown among mobile hunter-gatherers, but hereditary class distinctions between elites and commoners exist in some sedentary foraging societies. With the spread of agriculture, such stratification tends to become more pronounced. We develop a model to explain the associations among productivity, population density, and inequality. We show that regional productivity growth leads to enclosure of the best sites first, creating inequality between insiders and outsiders. This is followed by the emergence of elites and commoners at the best sites. As this process unfolds, elites and commoners have increasingly unequal food consumption. In some cases, the elite specializes in guarding land while relying entirely on the food produced by commoners. Our analysis is consistent with archaeological evidence from southern California, the northwest coast of North America, southwest Asia, and Polynesia.

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File URL: http://www.sfu.ca/econ-research/RePEc/sfu/sfudps/dp09-03.pdf
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Paper provided by Department of Economics, Simon Fraser University in its series Discussion Papers with number dp09-03.

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Length: 58
Date of creation: Jul 2009
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Handle: RePEc:sfu:sfudps:dp09-03

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Postal: Department of Economics, Simon Fraser University, 8888 University Drive, Burnaby, BC, V5A 1S6, Canada
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Web page: http://www.sfu.ca/economics.html
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Postal: Working Paper Coordinator, Department of Economics, Simon Fraser University, 8888 University Drive, Burnaby, BC, V5A 1S6, Canada
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Keywords: inequality; stratification; prehistory; archaeology; anthropology; insiders; outsiders; elites; commoners; productivity; population density; foraging; hunting and gathering; agriculture;

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  1. Matthew J. Baker, 2003. "An Equilibrium Conflict Model of Land Tenure in Hunter-Gatherer Societies," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, University of Chicago Press, vol. 111(1), pages 124-173, February.
  2. Dow, Gregory K. & Reed, Clyde G., 2011. "Stagnation and innovation before agriculture," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 77(3), pages 339-350, March.
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