Journal of Bioeconomics

, Volume 6, Issue 2, pp 109–135 | Cite as

What Makes Humans Economically Distinctive? A Three-Species Evolutionary Comparison and Historical Analysis

  • Christopher Boehm


The fundamental problem, of what makes humans economically distinctive, is addressed here by using a highly focused cross-species analysis to examine the evolution of property relations. Chimpanzees and bonobos are compared with mobile human foragers, and it is argued that our egalitarian political practices, in conjunction with variance-reduction practices we applied prehistorically to large-game meat consumption, led to a critical evolutionary transformation. The transition began with private property at the ancestral level, but ended with humans having not only private property, but communal property.

bonobos chimpanzees communal property egalitarianism hunter–gatherers private property social control social evolution variance reduction 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References cited

  1. Alexander, Richard D.1987. The biology of moral systems. Aldine de Gruyter, New York.Google Scholar
  2. Badrian, Alison & Noel Badrian. 1984. Social organization of Pan Paniscus in the Lomako Forest, Zaire. Pp. 325–346 in R.L. Susman (ed.) Pygmy Chimpanzees. Plenum Press, New York.Google Scholar
  3. Balikci, Asen.1970.The Netsilik Eskimo. Doubleday, New York.Google Scholar
  4. Banks, Samantha. 2002. Phylogenetic analysis of hominoid behavioral evolution. Unpublished Master 's Thesis. University of London.Google Scholar
  5. Binford, Lewis.1978. Nunamiut ethnoarchaeology. Academic Press, New York.Google Scholar
  6. Binford, Lewis. 2001. Constructing frames of reference: an analytical method for archeological theory building using hunter -gatherer and environmental data sets. University of California Press, Berkeley.Google Scholar
  7. Blurton-Jones, Nicholas.1991. Tolerated theft:suggestions about the ecology and evolution of sharing, hoarding, and scrounging. Pp.170–187 in G. Schubert & R.D. Masters (ed.) Primate Politics. South-ern Illinois University Press, Carbondale.Google Scholar
  8. Boehm, Christopher.1983. Montenegrin social organization and values. AMS Press, New York.Google Scholar
  9. Boehm, Christopher. 1986. Blood revenge: the enactment and management of conflict in Montenegro and other tribal societies. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia.Google Scholar
  10. Boehm, Christopher. 1993. Egalitarian society and reverse dominance hierarchy. Current Anthropology 34:227–254.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Boehm, Christopher. 1997. Impact of the human egalitarian syndrome on Darwinian selection mechan-ics. American Naturalist 150:100–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Boehm, Christopher. 1999. Hierarchy in the forest:the evolution of egalitarian behavior. Harvard University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  13. Boehm, Christopher. 2000. Conflict and the evolution of social control. Journal of Consciousness Stud-ies 7:79–183.Google Scholar
  14. Boehm, Christopher. 2002.Variance reduction and the evolution of social control. Paper presented at Santa Fe Institute, 5th Annual Workshop on the Co-Evolution of Behaviors and Institutions, Santa Fe. (Posted at Santa Fe Institute Web site).Google Scholar
  15. Boesch, Christoph. 1994a. Hunting strategies of Gombe and Tai chimpanzees. Pp.77–91 in R. Wrangham, W.C. McGrew, F. de Waal & P. Heltne (ed.) Chimpanzee Cultures. Harvard Univer-sity Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  16. Boesch, Christoph. 1994b. Cooperative hunting in wild chimpanzees. Animal Behavior 48:653–667.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Boesch, Christoph & Hedwige Boesch. 2000. The chimpanzees of Tai Forest. Oxford University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  18. Bowles, Samuel & Herbert Gintis. 1998. The evolution of strong reciprocity. Santa Fe Institute Work-ing Paper SFI 98–08–073E.Google Scholar
  19. Bowles, Samuel, Jung-Kyoo Choi & Astrid Hopfensitz. 2003. The co-evolution of individual behaviors and social institutions. Journal of Theoretical Biology 223:135–147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Boyd, Robert & Peter J. Richerson. 1992. Punishment allows the evolution of cooperation (or anything else) in sizable groups. Ethology and Sociobiology 13:171–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Campbell, Donald T.1975. On the conflicts between biological and social evolution and between psy-chology and moral tradition. American Psychologist 30:1103–1126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Campbell, Donald T. 1983. The two distinct routes beyond kin selection to ultrasociality: implications for the humanities and social sciences. Pp.11–41 in D. Bridgeman (ed.) The Nature of Prosocial Development: Interdisciplinary Theories and Strategies. Academic Press, New York.Google Scholar
  23. Cashdan, Elizabeth A. 1980. Egalitarianism among hunters and gatherers. American Anthropologist 82:116–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Creel, Scott & Nancy M. Creel. 2002. The African Wild Dog: Behavior,ecology and conservation. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.Google Scholar
  25. Darwin, Charles. 1865. The expression of the emotions in man and animals. University of Chicago Press, Chicago (1972 Edition).Google Scholar
  26. Diamond, Jared. 1992. The third chimpanzee: The evolution and future of the human animal. Harper Perennial, New York.Google Scholar
  27. Di Fiore, A.& D. Rendall. 1994. Evolution of social organization: A reappraisal for primates by using phylogenetic methods. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 91:9941–9945.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Dirks, Robert. 1980. Social responses during severe food shortages and famine. Current Anthropology 21:21–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Dunbar, Robin. 1996. Grooming,gossip and the evolution of language. Faber and Faber, London.Google Scholar
  30. Erdal, David & Andrew Whiten. 1994. On human egalitarianism: An evolutionary product of Machia-vellian status escalation? Current Anthropology 35:175–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Flack, Jessica C.& Frans B. M. de Waal. 2000. 'Any animal whatever ':Darwinian building blocks of morality in monkeys and apes. Journal of Consciousness Studies 7:1–29.Google Scholar
  32. Fossey, Dian. 1983. Gorillas in the mist. Houghton-Miffin, Boston.Google Scholar
  33. Fried, Morton H. 1967. The evolution of political society: An essay in political anthropology. Random House, New York.Google Scholar
  34. Gardner, Peter. 1991. Foragers'pursuit of individual autonomy. Current Anthropology 32:543–558.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Goodall, Jane. 1986. The chimpanzees of gombe: Patterns of behavior. Belknap Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  36. Hawkes, Kristin. 1991. Showing off: tests of an hypothesis about men 's foraging goals. Ethology and Sociobiology 12:29–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Hayden, Brian.1981. Subsistence and ecological adaptations of modern hunter -gatherers. Pp.344–421 in R.S.O. Harding & G. Teleki (ed.) Omnivorous Primates. Columbia University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  38. Kano, Takayoshi. 1992. The last ape: Pygmy chimpanzee behavior and ecology. Stanford University Press, Stanford.Google Scholar
  39. Kaplan, Hilliard. 1985. Hunting ability and reproductive success among male Aché foragers. Current Anthropology 32:543–558.Google Scholar
  40. Kaplan, Hilliard & Kim Hill. 1985. Food sharing among Aché foragers: Tests of explanatory hypothe-ses. Current Anthropology 26:223–246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Kelly, Robert L. 1995. The foraging spectrum: Diversity in hunter -gatherer lifeways. Smithsonian Insti-tution Press, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  42. Klein, Richard G.2002. The dawn of human culture. Wiley, New York.Google Scholar
  43. Kuroda, Suehisa. 1984. Interaction over food among pygmy chimpanzees. Primates 21(2):181–197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Landa, Janet T. 1999. The law and bioeconomics of ethnic cooperation and conflict in plural societies of Southeast Asia: A theory of Chinese merchant success. Journal of Bioeconomics 1:269–284.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Landa, Janet T. & Xiao Tian Wang. 2001. Bounded rationality of economic man: Decision-making under ecological, social and institutional constraints. Journal of Bioeconomics 3:217–235.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Laughlin, Charles D. & Ivan A. Brady (ed.)1978. Extinction and survival in human populations. Columbia University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  47. Lee, Richard B. 1979. The !Kung San: Men,women and work in a foraging society. Cambridge Uni-versity press, New York.Google Scholar
  48. Lewontin, Richard C. 1970. The units of selection.Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 1:1–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Maryanski, Alexandra & Jonathan Turner. 1992. The social cage: Human nature and the evolution of society. Stanford University Press, Palo Alto.Google Scholar
  50. McGrew, W.C.1992. Chimpanzee material culture. Cambridge University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  51. Ortiz, Sutti. 1967. The structure of decisionmaking among Indians in Columbia. Pp. 191–218 in R. Firth (ed.) Themes in Economic Anthropology. Tavistock, London.Google Scholar
  52. Peterson, Nicholas. 1993. Demand sharing: Reciprocity and pressure for generosity among foragers. American Anthropologist 95:860–874.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Potts, Rick. 1996. Humanity's descent: The consequences of ecological instability. Aldine de Gruyter, New York.Google Scholar
  54. Pryor, Frederick L. 2003. What does it mean to be human? A comparison of primate economies. Jour-nal of Bioeconomics 5:97–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Ruvolo, Maryellen, T.R. Disotell, M.W. Allard, W.M. Brown & R.L. Honeycutt. 1991. Resolution of the African hominid trichotomy by use of mitochondrial gene sequence. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 88:1570–1574.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Schaller, George B. & George R. Lowther 1969. The relevance of social carnivore behavior to the study of early hominids. Southwest Journal of Anthropology 25:307–341.Google Scholar
  57. Sherman, Paul W., Richard D. Alexander & Jennifer U. Jarvis. 1991. The biology of the naked mole rat. Princeton University Press, Princeton.Google Scholar
  58. Simon, Herbert. A. 1956.Rational choice and the structure of the environment. Psychological Review 63:129–138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Smith, Eric Alden. 1981. The application of optimal foraging theory to the analysis of hunter -gatherer group size. Pp. 36–65 in B. Winterhalder & E.A. Smith (ed.) Hunter -Gatherer Foraging Strategies: Ethnographic and Archaeological analysis. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.Google Scholar
  60. Smith, Eric Alden. 1988. Risk and uncertainty in the 'original affluent society': evolutionary ecology of resource sharing and land tenure. Pp. 221–251 in T. Ingold, D. Riches, J. Woodburn (ed.) Hunters and Gatherers History, Evolution, and Social Change, Vol. I. Berg, Oxford.Google Scholar
  61. Smith, Eric Alden & Robert Boyd. 1990. Risk and reciprocity: hunter -gatherer socioecology and the problem of collective action. Pp. 167–192 in E.A. Cashdan (ed.) Risk and Uncertainty in Tribal and Peasant Economies. Westview Press, Boulder.Google Scholar
  62. Sober, Elliot & David S. Wilson. 1998. Unto others: The evolution and psychology of unselfish behavior. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
  63. Soltis, Joseph, Robert Boyd & Peter J. Richerson. 1995. Can group-functional behaviors evolve by cul-tural group selection?An empirical test. Current Anthropology 36:473–494.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Stanford, Craig B.1998. The social behavior of chimpanzees and bonobos: Empirical evidence and shifting assumptions. Current Anthropology 14:399–420.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Stanford, Craig B. 1999. The hunting apes:meat eating and the origins of human behavior. Princeton University Press, Princeton.Google Scholar
  66. Stanford, Craig B & Henry T. Bunn (ed.) 2001. Meat-eating and human evolution. Oxford University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  67. Testart, Alain. 1987. Game sharing systems and kinship systems among hunter -gatherers. Man (NS) 22:287–304.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Tooby, John & Irven DeVore. 1987. The reconstruction of hominid behavioral evolution through stra-tegic modeling. Pp. 183–238 in Warren G. Kinzey (ed.) The Evolution of Human Behavior: Primate Models. SUNY Press, Albany.Google Scholar
  69. Trivers, Robert L.1971. The evolution of reciprocal altruism. Quarterly Review of Biology 46:35–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Turnbull, Colin M.1961. The forest people. Natural History Press, Garden City, New York.Google Scholar
  71. Turnbull, Colin M.1972. The mountain people. Simon and Schuster, New York.Google Scholar
  72. Whallon, Robert. 1989. Elements of cultural change in the Later Paleolithic. Pp. 433–454 in P. Mellars & C. Stringer (ed.) The Human Revolution: Behavioral and Biological Perspectives on the Origins of Modern Humans.Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh.Google Scholar
  73. Whiten, Andrew, Jane Goodall, William C. McGrew, Toshisada Nishida, Vernon Reynolds, Y. Sugiyama, Caroline Tutin, Richard Wrangham & Christoph Boesch. 1999. Cultures in chimpan-zees. Nature 399:682–685.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Wiessner, Polly. 1977. Hxaro: A regional system of reciprocity for reducing risk among the !Kung San. Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of Michigan.Google Scholar
  75. Wiessner, Polly. 1982. Risk, reciprocity and social influences on !Kung San economics. Pp. 61–84 in E. Leacock & R.B. Lee (ed.) Politics and History in Band Societies. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  76. Wiessner, Polly. 1996. Leveling the hunter:constraints on the status quest in foraging societies.In P. Wiessner & W. Schiefenhövel (ed.) The Food Status Quest. Berghan Books, Oxford.Google Scholar
  77. Wiessner, Polly. 2002. Taking the risk out of risky transactions:a forager's dilemma. Pp. 21–43 in F.K. Salter (ed.) Risky Transactions: Trust, Kinship, and Ethnicity. Berghan Books, Oxford.Google Scholar
  78. Wilson, David S. & Eliott Sober. 1994. Reintroducing group selection to the human behavioral sci-ences. Behavior and Brain Sciences 17:585–654.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Wilson, Edward O. 1975. Sociobiology: The new synthesis. Harvard University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  80. Winterhalder, Bruce. 1986. Diet choice, risk, and food sharing in a stochastic environment. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 5:369–392.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Winterhalder, Bruce. 2001. Intragroup resource transfers: comparative evidence, models, and implica-tions for human evolution. Pp. 279–301 in C.B. Stanford & H.T. Bunn (ed.) Meat-Eating and Human Evolution. Oxford University Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  82. Woodburn, James. 1982. Egalitarian societies. Man 17:431–451.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Wrangham, Richard. 1987. African apes:the signi cance of African apes for reconstructing social evo-lution. Pp. 51–71 in W.G. Kinzey (ed.) The Evolution of Human Behavior: Primate Models. SUNY Press, Albany.Google Scholar
  84. Wrangham, Richard &Dale Peterson. 1996. Demonic males: Apes and the origins of human violence. Houghton-Miffin, Boston.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christopher Boehm
    • 1
  1. 1.Departments of Anthropology and Biological Sciences, Jane Goodall Research CenterUniversity of Southern CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA

Personalised recommendations