Lecture_05_Economics_Optimal0-1 - Lecture 5: Economics The...

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Lecture 5: Economics The most basic form of human economic activity is working to hunt, gather, or grow food. SUBSISTENCE PATTERNS AND DIET CHOICE Natural selection acts to favor the most efficient variants in a population that is competing for limited resources. Since organisms need energy (nutrients) to survive and reproduce, natural selection should favor variants that acquire food most efficiently. Optimal Foraging Theory (OFT) . OFT is similar to economic modeling based on profit maximization in complex societies. This suggests that humans may have a universal evolved tendency to choose economic alternatives that give greatest gain with the least effort . This mini-max principle is believed by many anthropologists to characterize only modern Capitalist societies, however empirical evidence suggests that members of all cultures seek to obtain maximum gain from their effort. One example of OFT in action has been studied among the Ache, hunter-gatherers who live in the forests of Paraguay in South America. Each day members of an Ache camp wake up, eat breakfast, and then begin searching for food. During the day they pass many edible items and yet stop to acquire only a few of these. Indeed biological inventories show that the Ache forests contain over 100 species of mammals, over 300 species of birds, about 100 species of fish, and several dozen edible amphibians and reptiles. The environment also contains over 30 species of edible insects, over 30 species of edible fruit, and a variety of other edible resources such as palm hearts, roots, and nuts. Nevertheless about 80% of the food in the Ache diet comes from only 8 species of vertebrate prey.
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The remainder of the diet is composed to a large extent from only 3 species of insects or their honey, one type of palm, and a few minor fruits. The Ache often pass by and ignore edible resources during their food quest. Is this just cultural preference or is there another explanation? One model from Optimal Foraging Theory, (called the fine-grained prey choice model), suggests an answer to why the Ache select the resources that they do. The model is based on the same logic as modern economic theory, that people generally attempt to maximize their resource gain rate whenever acquire resources (whether food or dollars). ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF OPTIMAL FORAGING THEORY – BUT APPLIED TO WAGE-LABOR: Suppose you had to work in the summer by moving through neighborhoods and going from house to house offering to do different jobs. You might be willing to mow lawns, wash cars, take out garbage, or wash windows. Each of these activities might produce
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This note was uploaded on 03/24/2010 for the course ANTHRO 101 taught by Professor Osbjorn during the Fall '09 term at New Mexico.

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Lecture_05_Economics_Optimal0-1 - Lecture 5: Economics The...

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