The American Journal of Sociology. July 1943, Vol. XLIX No.1, p81.
A Primitive Mexican Economy. By GEORGE M. FOSTER. ("Monographs of the American
Ethnological Society," Vol. V, ed. A. IRVING HALLOWELL.) New York: J. J. Augustin,
1942. Pp. 'IS.
This is an attempt to describe the economy of a simple, nonliterate society in the terms economists use in describing our modern society. Frank Knight (Jour. Pol. Econ., XLIX, 260) declared that economists should know the facts of economies other than our own. He also wrote that the chief requisite for better understanding between anthropologists and economists is that the former have some grasp of the difference between economics as an exposition of principles and economics as a descriptive exposition of facts. Whether the author of this short monograph had sufficient grasp of economics to enable him to report this simple economy so the report may be understood and the results made comparable with facts from our own economy is probably critical in evaluating the book. One not an economist can assert only that the analysis seems to him successful and that it suggested to this-reviewer lines of comparison between societies which he had not perceived before.
The society described-a cluster of small villages of Popoluca Indians in the state of Vera Cruz-is not wholly primitive. It is primitive in that the technology is simple and only human power is employed. Production is by individual enterprisers only - there is little division of labor within the community;and all consumption, "ex- about two or three per cent," is final consumption. On the other hand, its members are familiar with money, produce commodities for a wide market, and consume the products of distant modem factories. A brisk trade with the use of money and the long-established export of money-crops distinguish this society from such moneyless societies as have been described, with respect to their economies, by Raymond Firth. No one has yet published any considerable account of a Mexican Indian economy comparable with this. Charles Wagley's paper deals chiefly with technology.
"The Popoluca are particularly interesting," writes the author, "because to us their solution is rationalistic to a degree not always found in primitive groups." The account departs from the headings used in describing a modem economy chiefly in the inclusion of sections on death rites, marriage, and magic under "Consumption" because of "the importance of [these areas of activity] to the people concerned." The reader might then ask if inclusion of similar sections in accounts of our economy might make those accounts even better than they are.
Several points are of interest because of the failure of the Indian to act with economic rationality (narrowly understood). Collective labor in housebuilding is uneconomic; additional workers are added, although their production is worthless than their remuneration; diminishing productivity fails to have the effect that might be expected. Interest is recognized in capital goods, such as horses; but, although money is accepted for the use of a horse, the Indian lends, his money without taking interest. Land-the chief tangible good in Popoluca society-is without any money value; it is never bought or sold. Despite evident opportunity to profit, the Indian leaves to outsiders the hauling. of corn to market and fails to speculate in corn, althoughthe record of marked fluctuation in the money, value of corn is well known. In spite of the gen- pecuniary economy, certain transactions are always by barter. A producer of lime is sure that he may at any time exchange i arroba. of lime for i arroba of beans and regularly does convert much of his lime directly into beans, although beans vary in- money value from i to 21 pesos, while lime is always worth 1 1/4 pesos. Cash means uncertainty as to where the beans will come from and at how much. This is a book of modest pretensions and one to be commended. The absence of an index is regrettable.
Foster Home | Biographical Information | Bibliography
Emeritus Home | Anthropology Department | The George & Mary Foster Anthropology Library | Department of Anthropology Publications
Copyright © 2007 The Regents of the University of California.
All rights reserved.
Document maintained on server: http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/ by the Anthropology Library.
If you have questions about this page, mail email@example.com
Last update 08/24/2007. Server manager: contact