Chapter 19: Social provisioning
In simple terms, a provisioning approach to economic analysis begins with a perspective on economic activity as the process of combining human labor power with nature to produce use values, a process that is, in the words of Karl Marx, ‘the everlasting Nature-imposed condition of human existence’ (Marx, 1867 , p. 184). Since humans must combine their efforts in order to survive, these use values are sometimes utilized by the producer and sometimes offered in exchange for other necessary use values, creating the basis for economic institutions and what we would identify as an economy. Cultural values and related institutions, as well as historical events and geographic assets and limitations, combine to produce and reproduce human economic institutions in specific times and places. As Karl Polanyi pointed out, economic activity has always been culturally mediated; indeed, until the advent of capitalism as a dominant economic system, markets were not viewed as separate from the cultural life of communities (Polanyi, 1944 , p. 43). The process of exchange of use values has been orchestrated over human history more by cultural norms than by markets or motives of gain – and even in societies dominated by market institutions, cultural values still intervene in judgments about ‘fair’ or ‘proper’ prices or wages, sometimes in demands for a living wage, but also at times to the detriment of groups who are assumed to need or deserve a lower value for their labor (Figart et al., 2002).
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