Annals of the Fondazione Luigi Einaudi

An Interdisciplinary Journal of Economics, History and Political Science

The Annals is a forum for the free exchange of ideas
among scholars working in the field of social sciences
Volume LV 1 - 2021

On the Spirit of the Gift that Is ‘Stone Age Economics’

Chris Gregory,
pp. 11-34
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Graeber, in his forward to the 2017 Routledge Classic edition of Stone Age Economics (SAE), argues that the discipline of economics needs to be totally re-imagined if we are to survive as a species, and that there is no single work better suited to this task than SAE. How are we to make sense of this paradoxical argument? How can a book about the ‘stone age’ help us reimagine an economics of the future? Why has SAE had a profound effect on almost every discipline except economics? Such are the questions I will address here by contrasting Sahlins’s anthropological conception of value with the non-anthropological conception that informs both mainstream economics and that of its neo-Ricardian critics. Sahlins’s anthropological economics, when viewed from the perspective of Graeber’s development of it, is a form of ‘primitive economics’ in the sense of ‘first principles of economics’ or ‘elementary economics.’ Anthropological economics discovers these elementary principles using the methods of intensive fieldwork, deep historical analysis, and comparative cultural geography. Such an approach can reveal the Eurocentric preconceptions that imprison the value concepts of non-anthropological economics in a European economy of yesterday. It can also suggest reconceptualization, and indicate a way forward through modification in the light of new historical and ethnographic evidence.