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Anthropology, Economics, and Choice

Anthropology, Economics, and Choice

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    Anthropology, Economics, and Choice
    Book Description:

    In the midst of global recession, angry citizens and media pundits often offer simplistic theories about how bad decisions lead to crises. Many economists, however, base their analyses on rational choice theory, which assumes that decisions are made by well-informed, intelligent people who weigh risks, costs, and benefits. Taking a more realistic approach, the field of anthropology carefully looks at the underlying causes of choices at different times and places.

    Using case studies of choices by farmers, artisans, and bureaucrats drawn from Michael Chibnik's research in Mexico, Peru, Belize, and the United States,Anthropology, Economics, and Choicepresents a clear-eyed perspective on human actions and their economic consequences. Five key issues are explored in-depth: choices between paid and unpaid work; ways people deal with risk and uncertainty; how individuals decide whether to cooperate; the extent to which households can be regarded as decision-making units; and the "tragedy of the commons," the theory that social chaos may result from unrestricted access to commonly owned property.

    Both an accessible primer and an innovative exploration of economic anthropology, this interdisciplinary work brings fresh insight to a timely topic.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-74245-1
    Subjects: Anthropology, Economics

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-19)

    Three decades ago Gary Becker wrote a book in which he made extraordinary claims about the usefulness of economic approaches for the understanding of questions in social sciences. In a now-famous introductory essay toThe Economic Approach to Human Behavior(1976), Becker succinctly states his views:

    I have come to the position that the economic approach is a comprehensive one that is applicable to all human behavior, be it behavior involving money prices or imputed shadow prices, repeated or infrequent decisions, large or minor decisions, emotional or mechanical ends, rich or poor persons, men or women, adults or children, brilliant...

  6. CHAPTER 1 How Important Is Decision Making?
    (pp. 20-37)

    When I went to Belize in the fall of 1971 to conduct research for my doctoral dissertation, my overall goal was simple enough. I wanted to learn how rural residents of three communities made decisions about how much time to spend over the course of a year on alternative ways of producing food and earning income. This turned out to be a difficult task, involving careful analyses of the costs, benefits, and risks associated with different ways of earning a living. For the most part, I avoided thinking too much about why these costs, benefits, and risks were what they...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Choices between Paid and Unpaid Work
    (pp. 38-59)

    Social scientists analyzing diverse economic decisions have often attempted to estimate the monetary value of unpaid labor and production for home consumption. In this chapter I discuss the reasons for these attempts and examine some of the theoretical and methodological problems associated with such efforts. My focus is on estimates of the value of three types of unremunerated work—subsistence agriculture, non- timber forest products (NTFPs), and domestic labor (housework). In order to understand why anyone would want to make such estimates, it is helpful to consider certain measurement problems that arise when economists attempt to make cost-benefit analyses.


  8. CHAPTER 3 Risk, Uncertainty, and Decision Making
    (pp. 60-89)

    When I bought a new home in early 2009, I was faced with several complicated financial decisions. How much of my savings should I use for a down payment and how much should I borrow via a mortgage? Should I take out a bridge loan during the period between the closing date on the new house and the sale of my current residence? Which assets should I sell to cover the down payment?

    The world economy at the time was in the midst of a severe recession. The value of my stocks and bonds had dropped precipitously over the previous...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Experimental Games and Choices about Cooperation
    (pp. 90-117)

    Sociocultural anthropologists, unlike their colleagues in psychology, sociology, and economics, rarely experiment. The field situations of anthropologists ordinarily do not allow the intentional, careful manipulation of variables required in good experiments. Furthermore, most sociocultural anthropologists explicitly avoid such manipulation; their goal is to minimize the effects of their presence on what they observe. Many have theoretical objections to experimentation. The isolation of a few variables for analytic purposes in experimental research differs markedly from the many holistic studies in sociocultural anthropology that emphasize the complex interaction of multiple variables.

    In recent years, however, a close-knit group of sociocultural anthropologists has...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Who Makes Household Economic Decisions?
    (pp. 118-141)

    Anthropologists and economists analyzing decision-making situations in particular times and places need to specify who exactly has the power to make choices. Before around 1960 economists ordinarily assumed that decision-making units were either individuals or groups acting as a single entity. This assumption simplified their models of choice based on neoclassical economic theory. In the real world, however, many group decisions are the outcomes of discussions between people with conflicting goals. For example, the firms that are the subject of extensive economic theorizing have numerous decision makers who may disagree about what their companies should do in particular situations. Some...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Is There a Tragedy of the Commons?
    (pp. 142-163)

    Four decades ago an unusual article appeared in one of the world’s most prestigious journals. Most authors of papers in Science present their findings in language difficult for nonspecialists to understand. Garrett Hardin’s “The Tragedy of the Commons” (1968), in contrast, is a breezily written essay about a group of problems said to have no technical solution. Hardin argues that resource destruction and social chaos often occur when individuals have unrestricted access to commonly owned property. His paper inspired a generation of scholars in the biological and social sciences to examine relationships between property rights and resource use. Although these...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 164-172)

    Social scientists examining choice vary in their positions along what might be roughly labeled a science-humanities continuum. Economists and experimental psychologists are at the science end of this continuum. Their attempts to construct theories about choice involve models that specify how a few key variables are related to one another. Although economists usually stress the testability of the models they create, in practice their work often concentrates on exploring the mathematical implications of different assumptions about relationships among variables. Experimental psychologists are less concerned about the mathematical complexities of their models; their focus is on learning how people make choices...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 173-176)
  14. References
    (pp. 177-196)
  15. Index
    (pp. 197-206)