Primitive Economic Man: R.I.P.

Author(s): Bryan Hockett

Year: 2015


Primitive Economic Man (PEM) paradigms have been popularly applied in economics, nutrition science, sociology, psychology, and anthropology to explain human behavior for almost two centuries. PEM contains two general assumptions: (1) that most humans make cost-benefit decisions to further their own personal economic or political condition; and (2) Darwinian selection favors these cost-benefit trade-offs; in other words, the children of selfish, cost-benefit oriented individuals differentially survive in greater frequencies through time. Regarding subsistence practices, the application of PEM paradigms has led to the development of a host of models that suggest Darwinian selection has acted upon human behavioral choices to favor those that lead to the maximum caloric intake possible relative to work effort. These models remain popular in archaeology despite the fact that nutrition science falsified this assumption a century ago in 1915. This paper explores more specifically why PEM deserves a proper burial if we ever hope to fully understand and appreciate diachronic trends in human subsistence practices. At the same time, there are components to PEM paradigms that should become important pieces to broader, more holistically-based models of human dietary choices through time.

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Primitive Economic Man: R.I.P.. Bryan Hockett. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 394849)