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Sharing, Gift-Giving, and Optimal Resource Use Incentives in Hunter-Gatherer Society

  • Matthew J. Baker

    ()

    (United States Naval Academy)

  • Kurtis Swope

    ()

    (United States Naval Academy)

In the typical hunter-gatherer society, decision-making is collective, yet decentralized, access to resources is shared, goods are typically distributed via reciprocal exchange, sharing, and gift-giving, and the distribution of both income and decision-making power is egalitarian. We argue these features are interrelated. We adopt an incentive-based view of sharing and gift-giving, in which the fundamental role of sharing and gift-giving is to implement socially desirable production decisions in the face of a common resource use problem. We show how this system decentralizes decision-making, while at the same time encouraging agents to make production decisions in the best interests of the group. Sharing rules give agents optimal use incentives, while gift-giving obligations give agents incentives to reveal private information about skill. The system has some interesting properties; for example, it may result in a relatively equal distribution of income, even though the productive capabilities of agents differ. Our theory is also able to account for some features of the ethnographic record that do not jibe well with existing theories of sharing; for example, why the rather extensive free-riding on the efforts of the most productive agents is typically tolerated in hunter-gatherer society.

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File URL: http://www.usna.edu/EconDept/RePEc/usn/wp/usnawp8.pdf
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Paper provided by United States Naval Academy Department of Economics in its series Departmental Working Papers with number 8.

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Length: 34 pages
Date of creation: May 2004
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:usn:usnawp:8
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  1. Anderson, C. Leigh & Swimmer, Eugene, 1997. "Some empirical evidence on property rights of first peoples," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 33(1), pages 1-22, May.
  2. Bailey, Martin J, 1992. "Approximate Optimality of Aboriginal Property Rights," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 35(1), pages 183-98, April.
  3. Sethi, Rajiv & Somanathan, E, 1996. "The Evolution of Social Norms in Common Property Resource Use," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(4), pages 766-88, September.
  4. Stephen Schott & Neil Buckley & Stuart Mestelman & R. Andrew Muller, 2002. "Output Sharing Among Groups Exploiting Common Pool Resources," Department of Economics Working Papers 2002-06, McMaster University.
  5. Ellis, Christopher J., 2001. "Common Pool Equities: An Arbitrage Based Non-cooperative Solution to the Common Pool Resource Problem," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 42(2), pages 140-155, September.
  6. Richard A. Posner, 1979. "A Theory of Primitive Society with Special Reference to Law," University of Chicago - George G. Stigler Center for Study of Economy and State 7, Chicago - Center for Study of Economy and State.
  7. repec:cup:cbooks:9780521477185 is not listed on IDEAS
  8. Alchian, Armen A. & Demsetz, Harold, 1973. "The Property Right Paradigm," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 33(01), pages 16-27, March.
  9. Lueck, Dean, 1994. "Common property as an egalitarian share contract," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 25(1), pages 93-108, September.
  10. Kranton, Rachel E, 1996. "Reciprocal Exchange: A Self-Sustaining System," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(4), pages 830-51, September.
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