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Standards Of Living Essay

949 words - 4 pages

Standards of Living

In "Stone Age Economics" Marshall Sahlins contrasts the economic strategy of industrial societies to hunter-gatherer societies. In doing so he dispels former ideas that hunter-gatherer societies are poor, unhappy and hungry. He explains this by asserting a number of relevant points. First, in an industrial society, a person’s wants are extremely high, while his/her means are limited. Industrial products are created to close this gap between wants and means. In a hunter-gatherer society (the Zen road to affluence as Sahlins describes it), a person’s wants are low, while the technical means to satisfy these wants are adequate. In this case the standard of living is low compared to industrial societies but the people are satisfied when it comes to material objects. In their eyes they have plenty (Sahlins, 1972:2).

Prior to the 1970's many believed that hunter-gatherer societies were poor and unhappy. Westerners believed that these groups lived inadequately with scarce resources. However, Sahlins states that it is modern capitalist societies that are dealing with scarcity as they have placed such an emphasis on material goods. Consumption in this case has lead to inadequacy and eventually deprivation in industrial societies (Sahlins, 1972:4). In Sahlins’ example " every purchase of something is a foregoing of something else" (Sahlins, 1972:4). However, in a hunter-gatherer society, there is no such thing as material wealth, and therefore no deprivation, or unhappiness. "Hunters are in business for their health. . . bow and arrow are adequate to that end" (Sahlins, 1972:5).

In hunter-gatherer societies, material wealth has become a burden as it suppresses their highly mobile lifestyle. In this sense these groups are not at all poor, but instead, free from a possessive/materialistic life. In the same sense, individuals in hunter-gatherer societies do not have to focus on working too hard for food . Once enough food is procured for the individual and their immediate family, the work is done (Sahlins, 1972:17). They have placed their trust in the abundance of natural resources (Sahlins, 1972:29), and are able to obtain them directly (Sahlins, 1972:10). Food storage in these societies has become feasible, yet "economically undesirable, and socially unachievable" (Sahlins, 1972:32). This statement again emphasizes the mobile way of life and day to day lifestyle of the hunter-gatherer societies.

Sahlins concludes that hunting-gathering "requires movement to maintain production on advantageous terms" (Sahlins, 1972:33). Affluence has become possible in the sense that these societies have been able to satisfy all of their material wants (Sahlins, 1972:37). Finally, Sahlins states that poverty, contrary to the beliefs of many westerners in this case, is not just "a relation between means and ends; above all...

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