Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Catallactic Trade vs. Reciprocity

Vernon Smith observes that social exchange is a trait humans share with chimpanzees. Does this mean that I was wrong when I claimed technology preceded trade?

If we understand that social exchange for chimpanzees is in fact reciprocity that much more resembles human philanthropy and familial interchange, then no. Human trade is not among family members, but among nonfamily, including strangers. This is an expansion of troupe/tribal social exchange, but it's not trade in the same sense as catallactic trade.

Even from this perspective, it seems that concrete philanthropy/reciprocity precedes catallactic trade. And technology in the form of tools can certainly be found among chimpanzees -- and not just among chimpanzees. As with any of our distinctively human actions, the foundations of catallactic trade can be found in chimpanzees, even if the actual action in the sense in which humans engage in the action cannot.

I would argue that without some degree of specialization, no real catallactic trade will take place. And that kind of specialization is human. Vernon Smith certainly shows us the foundations for catallactic trade in chimpanzees, much like in my dissertation I demonstrated that chimpanzees have all the foundational attributes for the emergence of language -- but in the end, chimpanzees simply do not have language any more than they have catallactic trade.

HT on the Smith piece: Sarah Skwire
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