Current Anthropology – Volume 51, Number 1, Feb 2010 – Intergenerational Wealth Transmission and Inequality in Premodern Societies Edition

The latest edition of Current Anthropology has just been published, and included within is a special section referred to in the headline above – I haven’t had time to read it yet, so for now here’s a table of contents and a snippet from the introduction by editor Mark Aldenderfer, commenting on the themed papers, which reads thus:

Deng Xiaopeng has been reported to have said, “To get rich is glorious.” He is also reported to have said, “Let some people get rich first.” The papers in this special issue of Current Anthropology can be said to focus on the consequences of Deng’s aphorism—how some people get rich and how they manage to transfer that wealth, variously defined, to subsequent generations.

As the papers in this issue argue, wealth comes in various forms, and there are different modalities by which these forms are transferred to offspring and kin. What I found particularly compelling, however, was the simplicity of the model Smith and his cast of characters developed: two parameters do the heavy lifting—shocks, which are windfalls or losses, and the degree to which those shocks are transferred to offspring.

As both the authors and the commentators note, these models do not explain all that we want to know about wealth transfer; nevertheless, they offer a firm empirical basis for exploring this topic in greater depth and breadth. One outstanding question I would like to see explored is how wealth disparities are eventually transformed into persistent political inequalities that are maintained over the generations. Smith and his coauthors have outlined some of the directions this research may take, and I look forward to seeing it, perhaps in the pages of CA.

This looks like a pretty interesting issue, as we can see from the listed papers:

Special Section: Intergenerational Wealth Transmission and Inequality in Premodern Societies

The Emergence and Persistence of Inequality in Premodern Societies: Introduction to the Special Section

Samuel Bowles, Eric Alden Smith, and Monique Borgerhoff Mulder
Wealth Transmission and Inequality among Hunter‐Gatherers

Eric Alden Smith, Kim Hill, Frank W. Marlowe, David Nolin, Polly Wiessner, Michael Gurven, Samuel Bowles, Monique Borgerhoff Mulder, Tom Hertz, and Adrian Bell
Pastoralism and Wealth Inequality: Revisiting an Old Question

Monique Borgerhoff Mulder, Ila Fazzio, William Irons, Richard L. McElreath, Samuel Bowles, Adrian Bell, Tom Hertz, and Leela Hazzah
Domestication Alone Does Not Lead to Inequality: Intergenerational Wealth Transmission among Horticulturalists

Michael Gurven, Monique Borgerhoff Mulder, Paul L. Hooper, Hillard Kaplan, Robert Quinlan, Rebecca Sear, Eric Schniter, Christopher von Rueden, Samuel Bowles, Tom Hertz, and Adrian Bell
Intergenerational Wealth Transmission among Agriculturalists: Foundations of Agrarian Inequality

Mary K. Shenk, Monique Borgerhoff Mulder, Jan Beise, Gregory Clark, William Irons, Donna Leonetti, Bobbi S. Low, Samuel Bowles, Tom Hertz, Adrian Bell, and Patrizio Piraino
Production Systems, Inheritance, and Inequality in Premodern Societies: Conclusions

Eric Alden Smith, Monique Borgerhoff Mulder, Samuel Bowles, Michael Gurven, Tom Hertz, and Mary K. Shenk
All of which is followed by a comments and reply section – to gain full access you’ll need a paid subscription, which for an individual requiring just the online version, runs to $38  for half a dozen issues over the course of a year, representing, in my opinion, outstanding value.

4 thoughts on “Current Anthropology – Volume 51, Number 1, Feb 2010 – Intergenerational Wealth Transmission and Inequality in Premodern Societies Edition

  1. Thanks Julien – I too noticed the paper, and thanks for giving us such a thorough review of it – I’ll post a brief note.

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