Anthropology, Economics, and Choice
Publication Year: 2011
Published by: University of Texas Press
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During 2008–2009 the world’s economy was mired in a terrible recession. As nations struggled with rising unemployment, failing businesses, massive deficits, and plummeting stock prices, their angry residents wondered what had caused these problems and how they might be resolved. Economists were often in the news during...
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In 1976 I applied for a postdoctoral position in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. I proposed to use my time as a postdoc to write a book about some knotty problems in economic and ecological anthropology. These included the monetary value of subsistence production, decision making...
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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 to The Economic Approach to Human Behavior (1976), Becker succinctly states his views:...
1. How Important Is Decision Making?
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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...
2. Choices between Paid and Unpaid Work
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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...
3. Risk, Uncertainty, and Decision Making
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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...
4. Experimental Games andChoices about Cooperation
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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...
5. Who Makes Household Economic Decisions?
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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...
6. Is There a Tragedy of the Commons?
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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...
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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...
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Publication Year: 2011