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What Makes Humans Economically Distinctive? A Three-Species Evolutionary Comparison and Historical Analysis


  • Christopher Boehm



The fundamental problem, of what makes humans economically distinctive, is addressed here by using a highly focused cross-species analysis to examine the evolution of property relations. Chimpanzees and bonobos are compared with mobile human foragers, and it is argued that our egalitarian political practices, in conjunction with variance-reduction practices we applied prehistorically to large-game meat consumption, led to a critical evolutionary transformation. The transition began with private property at the ancestral level, but ended with humans having not only private property, but communal property. Copyright Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004

Suggested Citation

  • Christopher Boehm, 2004. "What Makes Humans Economically Distinctive? A Three-Species Evolutionary Comparison and Historical Analysis," Journal of Bioeconomics, Springer, vol. 6(2), pages 109-135, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:jbioec:v:6:y:2004:i:2:p:109-135
    DOI: 10.1023/B:JBIO.0000040455.83350.1d

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Samuel Bowles & Herbert Gintis, 1998. "The Evolution of Strong Reciprocity," Research in Economics 98-08-073e, Santa Fe Institute.
    2. Samuel Bowles & Astrid Hopfensitz, 2000. "The Co-evolution of Individual Behaviors and Social Institutions," Working Papers 00-12-073, Santa Fe Institute.
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    Cited by:

    1. Klaus Jaffe & Astrid Flórez & Marcos Manzanares & Rodolfo Jaffe & Cristina Gomes & Daniel Rodríguez & Carla Achury, 2015. "On the bioeconomics of shame and guilt," Journal of Bioeconomics, Springer, vol. 17(2), pages 137-149, July.
    2. Landa Janet T., 2014. "Emergence of Sago Palms as Private Property: An Extension of Demsetz’s Thesis of the Origins of Private Property," Man and the Economy, De Gruyter, vol. 1(1), pages 1-17, June.
    3. repec:spr:jeicoo:v:12:y:2017:i:3:d:10.1007_s11403-016-0180-1 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Janet Landa & Michael Ghiselin, 2005. "The Economics and Bioeconomics of Classification: Introduction," Journal of Bioeconomics, Springer, vol. 7(3), pages 215-220, December.


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