"Economics 101, no matter what course you take, anywhere, they’re going to tell you the two fundamental economic truths are scarcity of resources and individual, insatiable appetites"

I found the following audio via its airing on the Native Voices program. It’s from the Smithsonian, National Museum of the American Indian Radio Broadcasts, the “Living Voices” series, “produced in collaboration with NMAI’s Film and Video office”, featuring audio profiles of Native individuals from across the Americas.

I would just put in a link to the program but the problem with that is search engines can’t search audio files for important ideas. Important facts. Which is why I transcribed the following.

Rebecca Adamson is of Cherokee and Swedish descent and founded the First Nations Development Institute to support Native enterprises based on community needs and traditional values.

You can find and listen to the broadcast here. I don’t know anything about the First Nations Development Institute but what Adamson says about the difference between indigenous economies and neocolonial free market economy is important, and choices between those differences will mark out future survival or failure for humankind in general.

Because, quite simply, neocolonial western free market economy doesn’t work but for a very few, and because it doesn’t work but for a very few it ultimately works out for no one.

Sovereignty isn’t a federal program, sovereignty is our own self-expression, it’s who we are as a people, and we need to have economic independence to be free to do that. First Nations is an American Indian development institute. We really wanted to look at the fact that our culture is our strength and that we could develop successfully if we were developing our culture, so we really specialize in culturally-appropriate development.

I think people that go and work on reservations many times are very deaf to the creativity and innovation of the entrepreneurs. They’re looking for something that is much more of a western model of economic development or education or health care. We’ve had a completely different economic system.

I teach a course in Indigenous Economics which really looks at a comparative analysis between an indigenous economy, which would be more like your subsistence economy, and what is your neocolonial western free market economy, and the values are fundamentally different.

Economics 101, no matter what course you take, anywhere, they’re going to tell you the two fundamental economic truths are scarcity of resources and individual, insatiable appetites, which drives the whole economic myth, and that you’ve got to get yours before the next guy gets theirs, so it’s the basis of accumulation and competition.

When you look at an indigenous economy it’s been built on the fundamental belief of prosperity of creation and kinship based enoughness, so they’re looking at reciprocity and sharing and they pay much more attention in that economic system to the redistribution and the circulation of wealth. Extremely sophisticated redistribution of wealth vehicles exist in indigenous economies.

The world views are so fundamentally different that the very goal within the western economy of profit for the sake of profit is not a goal that drives most native american people in their communities. In a practical sense they come into a small business training program or a small loan fund with a statement that, “My community needs a laundromat”, or “A lot of people get a flat tire between here and Kadoka, we need to have a gas pump with air pump there”. They come in with a real need for that community. Whereas in the other economic development programs they’ll come in and say, “I want to make a lot of money, and I want to grow, grow, grow.” You just see two fundamental, different value systems at play there.

What’s fascinating is I have not seen a traditional teaching yet that doesn’t emphasize vibrant initiative or personal responsibility or sort of a can-do-it-ness, it’s in all of our traditional teachings to think for ourselves and do for others. And so when you’re looking at culturally appropriate development you’re really building on a foundation of values of people that can do things.

I think there’s a real trap to being a victim and we buy into this victimization and all of it is true, what happened to us in the past has been horrible. But it’s equally true that we’re the only ones that can change it. It’s that simple.

6 Replies to “"Economics 101, no matter what course you take, anywhere, they’re going to tell you the two fundamental economic truths are scarcity of resources and individual, insatiable appetites"”

  1. It is astounding that American Indian economics are so misunderstood that they are almost invisible. For Euro-Americans, it’s like swimming in the ocean without realizing it’s made of water.

  2. I’m not sure that they’re so misunderstood or it’s a concerted refusal to accept them as not only valid but essential. The U.S. govt, indeed, did understand their econonic policies. Thus the allotments, created in order to destroy them. They explicitly stated in congress that their interest was in community and that this must be destroyed in favor of capitalism.

  3. You are, of course, correct. I only meant there is a vast ignorance among ordinary Americans which allows them to believe that everyone else is as self-centered as they are.

  4. Over the 30 years I spent in across the full breadth of Canada ,a fair amount of that time was spent in the company of Canada’s indigious people who I must credit for helping to remove the scales from my eyes about the premises and values on which my white culture upbringing were based. Overtime I came to recognize the essential truths your post speaks to. I also came to realize that native cultures were far more sophisticated socially and economically than my culture of origin. Thanks for posting such an affirmation to what I have come to realize.

  5. Good post. But I’d expand on the idea that the market economy works out (only) for a very few. I think we (westerners, Americans, Europeans) are actually more damaged by this system, in a way, than indigenous people because we are further from a truly human community–as a result of 150-200 years of the market economy. Blake’s dark satanic mill was simply the vision of a man who was not yet assimilated into it and saw the market system for what it really is. The average middle-aged Americans working for Walmart and holding down a second job may not have Blake’s clarity of vision as to what it is they are being screwed by, but I think most of them know pretty well that they _are_ being screwed.
    What is also clear to me is that the people who believe themselves the winners within the system are also diminished. I mean, look at the people in the Bush administration. They are wealthy and powerful, but they are not whole, well people, by any means.
    The market system, more or less by definition, diminishes the human. Nobody raises a family according to the strictures of the marketplace. Or at least I hope not.

  6. Jim, I would hazard that most people do raise their children to look upon success and failure in life according to accumulation of goods and money and that the parents use this scale in esteeming whether their children are successes or failures and goad them with it.

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