How did reciprocal economies become modern economies, dominated so thoroughly by the market? Hans van Wees (Reciprocity in Ancient Greece, 48) says we don’t really know, and adds that “the introduction of money . . . turns out not to make as much difference as one might have thought.”
He explains that money can be folded into a reciprocal economy, including competitive reciprocity: Money’s “exactly defined values make money rather unsuitable for giving where gifts are supposed to be roughly equal in value, yet sufficiently different so as not to cancel out one another; but there are ways even round this. The Maring give banknotes an identity ‘by writing an owners name or cryptic signs on them’ so that they can at least avoid using the same notes when reciprocating a gift. In competitive reciprocity, on the other hand, money is an eminently suitable medium of exchange since one’s generosity is easily measure against that of one’s rivals.”
The key, perhaps, is for money to function as money. But that just moves the question: How is it that money gets reabsorbed into reciprocal economics in some cultures and not in others?
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Thursday, August 2, 2012 at 6:36 pm
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