In his critique of models of classical economics (and solutions to the current financial crisis proffered by economists from the left and right), David Brooks of the New York Times wrote:
In this new body of thought, you get a very different picture of human nature. Reason is not like a rider atop a horse. Instead, each person’s mind contains a panoply of instincts, strategies, intuitions, emotions, memories and habits, which vie for supremacy. An irregular, idiosyncratic and largely unconscious process determines which of these internal players gets to control behavior at any instant. Context — which stimulus triggers which response — matters a lot.
So what really is this “context” that Brooks points to as the key to understanding and fixing our economic problems? In a nutshell, a large part of what Brooks is pointing to is encapsulated by that anthropological “black-box” term that we call culture. Much of the “panoply” referred to by Brooks above comes precisely from the cultures that we are socialized into. Economic anthropologists in essence contribute to the wider study of economics by starting with this premise of how culture shapes economic behavior. Later, we will be watching an ethnographic film called “Ongka’s Big Moka.” Keep David Brooks’ comments in mind as you think through this film, and the issue of the rationale(s) behind “gift exchange.”
You can read the full article entitled “An Economy of Faith and Trust” here.