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Exploitation, Human Nature, and Social Institutions


  • Jon D. Wisman


Exploitation exists where some gain advantage at others' expense. Its root force is found in human biology, the fact that as a socially-reproducing species, humans compete for mates and the exploitation of others can generate a competitive advantage. Social institutions direct and channel this competitiveness. Thus, during 97-98 percent of our species existence, competitiveness was not expressed by accumulating material wealth and political power, but by being good warriors and foragers, being cooperative, and being generous. However, with the rise of civilization and the state, elites gained ownership and control over the means of production, thereby subjugating all others and appropriating their surplus. Although violence stood behind this exploitation, ideology served as the principal political tool for its maintenance. It is the force of ideology that clarifies why, even with free speech, free press, free assembly, and the franchise, exploitation continues to exist.

Suggested Citation

  • Jon D. Wisman, 2018. "Exploitation, Human Nature, and Social Institutions," Working Papers 2018-03, American University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:amu:wpaper:2018-03

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    More about this item


    Inequality; ideology; Sexual selection; Economic Surplus;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • B52 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Current Heterodox Approaches - - - Historical; Institutional; Evolutionary; Modern Monetary Theory;
    • N00 - Economic History - - General - - - General
    • N40 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation - - - General, International, or Comparative
    • P00 - Economic Systems - - General - - - General

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