A commenter at Worthwhile Canadian Initiative writes:
“Barter economies do not exist. Never have, never will. Barter does exist, but has always been a rather insignificant side show. Coordination problems in non-monetary economies are solved, but not by trade. They are solved by division of labor and production based upon age, gender, caste, whatever (just like we still do, to a large extent, in a monetary economy). And upon ‘parties’. In many economies, weddings, funerals, ‘the Potlatch’ and the like are a non insignificant way to distribute goods (and prestige, and connections, well, the whole gift exchange thing). In present day South Africa, your funeral may very well be the largest expenditure of your entire life.”

Traditional cultures may “solve” these problems, but many modern institutions have trouble with such market-deprived markets. Enough so that you need to call Al Roth to solve them. “Economic imperialism” has been applied to non-market settings since Gary Becker, since the fundamental fact of scarcity is ever present, but the market mechanism of responding to scarcity is usually compared to first-come-first-serve queueing or equal allotment. I suppose the days of status-to-contract are far enough behind us that the former is hardly thought about.

It may be nearly a year now that I finished Karl Polanyi’s “The Great Transformation”. I’ll finish up my review one of these days.

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