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5 - How Did Joseph and His Eleven Brothers Solve the Three Economic Problems?

Custom and Command in the Ancient World

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 August 2022

Johan Fourie
Affiliation:
University of Stellenbosch, South Africa
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Summary

Throughout human history, societies have had to solve three economic problems. The first is to ensure that enough goods are produced. The second is that enough of the right goods are produced. The third is that these things are distributed fairly to everyone. The first two are problems of production and the third is a problem of distribution.

How did societies in the distant past solve the problems of production and distribution? John Hicks, in A Theory of Economic History, proposes three ways humans have done so. The first is through custom (sometimes also known as tradition). Imagine a San hunter-gatherer or Nguni farmer: the decision about what to produce and how to distribute that production was almost entirely determined by beliefs or customs that had been handed down from generation to generation. Tasks and occupations, titles and hierarchies were inherited.

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Our Long Walk to Economic Freedom
Lessons from 100,000 Years of Human History
, pp. 29 - 33
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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