【经济学人】狩猎采集经济学 | 2017.7.20 | 总第969期

摘要: 采集经济经过1000多万年的发展,到大约200万或300万年前(或认为400-500万年前),便难以为继



Hunter-gatherer economics


Living off the land


Jul 20th 2017

Affluence Without Abundance: The Disappearing World of the Bushmen. By James Suzman. Bloomsbury; 297 pages; $29.

《不盈余的富足:布须曼人正在消失的世界》。 詹姆斯·苏兹曼(James Suzman)著。Bloomsbury出版社;297 页;29美元。

IN JANUARY 1488, Bartolomeu Dias, a Portuguese explorer, rounded Africa’s southern cape and put to shore to take on food and water. There he found a group, smaller and lighter-skinned than the other Africans he had encountered, who, mystified by the odd men appearing out of the infinity of the sea, chased them back to their boat under a hail of arrows.


The exchange, notes James Suzman in his new book “Affluence Without Abundance”, was a meeting of two distant branches of the human family tree: Europeans descended from ancient tribes that migrated out of Africa, and people commonly known as the San, who had called southern Africa home for at least 150,000 years. Just as important, the meeting represented the collision of humanity’s most ancient and durable form of economic organisation with its most powerful. The latter, wielded by Europeans, has dominated the half millennium since that scrape on the beach. But modern capitalist societies may have something to learn from the ways of their ancient forebears.


Mr Suzman is an anthropologist who has spent years studying the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert: a San people related to those who greeted Dias on the beach, some of whom maintain the hunting and gathering lifestyle that sustained them for 150 millennia. But “Affluence Without Abundance” is not simply a description of Bushman life. Mr Suzman deftly weaves his experiences and observations with lessons on human evolution, the history of human migration and the fate of African communities since the arrival of Europeans. The overarching aim of the book is more ambitious still: to challenge the reader’s ideas about both hunter-gatherer life and human nature.


Life spent hunting and gathering, while occasionally trying, was not a tale of constant toil and privation. Food could run short during droughts or annual lean periods, but reliance on a broad range of food sources typically afforded such tribes a reliable, well-balanced diet.(读者试译) Even around the arid Kalahari food is plentiful (at least when the tribes are not forced to share the land with farmers and ranchers)—so much so that the typical adult need work less than 20 hours per week.


The contrast with farming societies, which dominated history after the domestication of plants and animals about 10,000 years ago, is stark. Farmed land is more productive, which allowed the more populous farmers to push hunter-gatherers off all but the most remote or inhospitable land. But farming societies depend heavily on a few staples, leaving them poorly nourished and vulnerable to crop failure. That high productivity also took endless, mind-numbing work: to prepare and tend the fields, keep up the homestead and defend the surpluses needed to feed everyone from one harvest to the next.


  • Domestication:n.驯养,教化

  • Stark:adj.显著的

  • Populous:adj.人口稠密的,人口多的

  • Hunter-gatherers:多指原始社会

  • Staple:n.主要产品

  • Mind-numbing:糟糕到令人脑袋麻木的

  • Homestead:家宅,宅地

Mr Suzman argues that the dramatic cultural shift resulting from the adoption of agriculture gave rise to impulses that people in modern rich countries, the heirs of farming societies, regard as naturally human—especially the insatiable desire to accumulate. Farming teaches people to accept inequality and to valorise work. But for the vast majority of human history there was little point in accumulating, since most of what was needed could easily be got from the surrounding environment. Nor was there anything heroic about work; spending time getting more food than one could eat was a foolish waste.


  • Impulses:n.凭冲动行事

  • Insatiable:adj.贪得无厌的,无法满足的

  • Heroic:adj.有英雄气概的

Modern San struggle to cope in a market economy, thanks to this heritage (and to anti-San bigotry). Employers struggle to keep them on the job: offered higher wages they work fewer hours rather than more. Yet Mr Suzman also reckons, after years of studying the Bushmen, that a world in which people work and worry less is possible. Humanity spent many more thousands of years living that way than working its fingers to the bone, after all.


  • Cope:v.处理,对付

  • Bigotry:n.偏执,顽固

  • Reckon:v.估计,预算

It is a nice idea. But Mr Suzman’s recounting of recent history makes clear that modern life is like riding a bicycle, in which stopping means toppling over. Having created countless problems by turning to agriculture, rich societies have little choice but to press on: working, striving and inventing, even as this progress creates more problems in need of solving.


  • Topple over:颠覆

翻译 ▍下罗小柜员,迟暮,Bibobibo,陌上

审核 ▍白夜叉

图文编辑 ▍澜意

责任编辑 ▍毛毛

Try to translate 

Life spent hunting and gathering, while occasionally trying, was not a tale of constant toil and privation. Food could run short during droughts or annual lean periods, but reliance on a broad range of food sources typically afforded such tribes a reliable, well-balanced diet.

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