In Stone Age Economics, Marshall Sahlins offered cross-cultural interpretations of various economic practices. The most powerful argument in the opus concerned the economic behaviour of hunter-gatherers. It was a general anthropological assumption that hunter-gatherers were pre-occupied only with the quest for food and lived on the edge of starvation. However, in his book, Sahlins used anthropological field studies which revealed that contemporary hunter-gatherer societies not only have an adequate diet, but enjoy much more leisure time than supposedly more advanced agricultural peoples. Sahlins concluded that prehistoric hunter-gatherer communities were the “original affluent society.” The term did not go unnoticed amongst the scholars.
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The title of the article is highly suggestive. Kaplan aims at assessing the limitations of the affluence thesis by referring to empirical studies made by investigators raging from anthropologists to physicists. He suggests that “when various ethnographic observations and critical remarks scattered through literature are brought together in a more comprehensive picture, then both on empirical as well as conceptual grounds, the affluent society thesis does not fare” (Kaplan 2000:305). To do so, he posits 3 issues which according to him could actually reveal a “darker side” to the original affluent society. These issues are firstly, how hard do the hunter-gatherers work; secondly, how well fed are the hunter-gatherers; and thirdly, what is the meaning of the terms “work”, “leisure” and “affluence” in the context of the hunter-gatherers.
Nevertheless, points of commonality reside between the two above-mentioned authors. Both agree that Sahlins have not made good usage of the notion of “labour time” to assess the level of “material plenty” (Sahlins 1972) in foraging societies. Also, the “two time allocation studies” (Kaplan 2000:305) on which the “original formulation of hunter-gatherers affluence leaned heavily” (Kaplan 2000:305) did not have an adequate demographic composition to support such a thesis. Thus, one could never use such studies as being universally representative of all the foraging societies. Kaplan pushes it on a