The present forms of economic and social activities employed by
societies across the planet are dominated and defined by forms of
economic enterprise and political organisation which though they are
very varied in the details of their implementation they have in common
several key socio-economic principals. This set of principals might be
considered to be one of, possibly, several
These ’archaeo-institutions’ are the foundational principles
which comprise those sets of human behaviour that have developed in
response to the requirements of learning to live in community with one
another in mutually beneficial ways. During the course of time and in
the face of ever changing demands, difficulties and opportunities each
society has also uniquely developed further structures, laws and
It is these ’supra-institutions’ which characterise, together
with their particular contextual endowments and scarcities, a particular
socio-economic system. How each society has done this, and the
historical path that this has lead them over, is what gives rise within
each society to its own distinctive culture.
Although highly diverse and displaying often seemingly very different
approaches to life, those societies which have grown beyond a certain
quite small size [cf. Jared Diamond.. ’Germs, Warfare and
Steel’] and which have ’settled’ habitations have very clearly
organised their developing economic endeavours according to just one
’archaeo-institution’. These quite few principles are what we
have called the ’archaeo-economic’ paradigm.
It would appear to the author that this ’archaeo-economic’
paradigm includes these nine foundational socio-economic principals
which universally define our economic behaviours:
The exclusive ownership by individuals of identifiable discreet
The circumstances for determining the relative values of items and
The representation of value through quanta of equally valued symbolic
A convention ascribing fixed numbers of units to specifically designed
A trusted arrangement exclusively controlling the production of value
The use of trusted value icons as intermediary ’vectors’ or ’stores of
value’ in the asymmetric exchange of items of value between
The valuation and payment of labour performed by one individual for
another, of various quantity and quality, in appropriate quanta of
The products of paid labour become owned by the owner(s) of the other
Specialisation by individuals in their skills and object of their
labour enables a number of individuals, after exchanges, to each have
more of each good than would be the case if each produced all the same
range of goods themselves.
This list is not meant to be exhaustive. It may be cogently argued there
are some items which should be excluded or rephrased. I look forward to
its collaborative refinement.
It is worth re-emphasising that all of the implementations of the many
societal institutions and socio-economic systems that are based upon the
’archeo-economic’ paradigm have developed differently in detail.
Yet, overall, they all still display a set of common characteristics
which, as we shall see, are key to a common pattern of economic
stratification in every society which has developed around them.
In each of these societies one can easily identify a quite small strata
of people whose needs for their own well-being are provided for in
relative abundance. For them there is little or no immediate pressure to
be actively and directly occupied on an ’every day basis’ in the
productive economic processes which provide for those needs. Not for
those needs which are basic, nor for any of those ’needs’ which are
essentially whimsical ’wants’.
In the other 90% to 99% of each society are found those strata of
people for whom the basic daily requirements are provided either barely,
incompletely, precariously or not at all. For them there is constant,
unremitting pressure to be actively and directly occupied in almost any
economic process potentially capable of contributing to the provision of
their most basic needs. Even for those few amongst them whose basic
physical needs are generally assured by stable economic activity, like
those in the less secure of these strata, they have little or no
expectation of ever achieving any enduring state of well-being at any
stage during their lifetimes. Neither do their children.
When each society is looked at and their details are compared there is
no large group of them that can be labelled as being comprised of
’typical’ societies. However, at the large scale, when looking at each
society in its entirety and comparing those attributes we can then see
the data which supports the broad claims and statements which have been
made in the previous paragraphs.
These commonly seen outcomes are stereotypical of societies which have
over thousands and over hundreds of years been creating, re-creating,
changing and developing themselves. None of these societies have
noticeably made any sustained move away from the position of having
accepted as a ’given’ the principles comprising the
’archaeo-economic’ paradigm. None of these countries does not
display the systemic inequality that has been described.
Throughout history and even through much of the ’pre-historical’ period,
if archaeological inferences have been accurate, the reality of systemic
inequality within societies has been recognised. This inequality has
always been strongly supported and robustly defended by the
“well-provided-for” minorities. The degree to which other
social strata has been equally enthusiastic has been less marked and
markedly less consistent.
History is littered with the records and evidence of the dissatisfaction
and resentment amongst those ”less-well-provided-for” social
strata which is directed at the perceived injustice of this perpetually
enduring status quo. Even more striking has been the consistent
evidence that this inequality can invariably be seen to have been
sustained within the changing ’institutional landscape’ of each
and every society, even as each developed and changed. Even through
periods of break-up into smaller groups and even through mergers and
assimilations as they grew again in size.
It would appear that In every case the unconscious acceptance of the
consequences of the ’archaeo-economic’ paradigm can be seen to
have shaped the social stratification of access to sustained well-being
and that this has suggested and facilitated the evolution of
’institutional landscapes’ in which are sustained the
stratification of privilege through the institutions of economic power,
of military power and of political and religious power. The control of
these creations has inevitably been subsumed into the domain of
individuals drawn from the same strata of privilege as created them.
These arrangements persist over very, very long periods of time. Van Zyl
Slabbert and David Walsh in examining the root causes of
apartheid speak of ’a self-perpetuating elite’ (cf. South
Africa’s Options : Strategies for Sharing ) .
It would also appear that in every case the individuals and families
comprising the less privileged social strata have been in turns
resentful, vocally dissident and in violent revolt. Their ire is
ultimately directed towards the continuation of the injustices that are
directed towards them through the immutable authority of social
institutions that are systemic parts of the ’institutional
landscape’ they are subject to. This ’inter-strata’ and
’intra-societal ’ tension is systemic at its root. Consequently, the
’privileged strata’ has had to pay constant attention to matters of
governance, social control and institutional tinkering in every age and
in every society. These efforts are motivated with the aim of
maintaining social order and a peacefulness within which they might
continue to enjoy their privileged level of relative well-being.