The Company of Strangers: A Natural History of Economic Life
Human beings are the only species in nature to have developed an elaborate division of labor between strangers. Even something as simple as buying a shirt depends on an astonishing web of interaction and organization that spans the world. But unlike that other uniquely human attribute, language, our ability to cooperate with strangers did not evolve gradually through our prehistory. Only 10,000 years ago--a blink of an eye in evolutionary time--humans hunted in bands, were intensely suspicious of strangers, and fought those whom they could not flee. Yet since the dawn of agriculture we have refined the division of labor to the point where, today, we live and work amid strangers and depend upon millions more. Every time we travel by rail or air we entrust our lives to individuals we do not know. What institutions have made this possible?
In The Company of Strangers, Paul Seabright provides an original evolutionary and sociological account of the emergence of those economic institutions that manage not only markets but also the world's myriad other affairs.
Drawing on insights from biology, anthropology, history, psychology, and literature, Seabright explores how our evolved ability of abstract reasoning has allowed institutions like money, markets, and cities to provide the foundation of social trust. But how long can the networks of modern life survive when we are exposed as never before to risks originating in distant parts of the globe? This lively narrative shows us the remarkable strangeness, and fragility, of our everyday lives.
What people are saying - Write a review
LibraryThing ReviewUser Review - jaygheiser - LibraryThing
Very interesting book about trust, how unnatural it is for human beings, and how modern society is made possible through trust. Read full review
Whos In Charge?
Prologue to Part II
From Murderous Apes to Honorary Friends How Is Human Cooperation Possible?
Man and the Risks of Nature
Murder Reciprocity and Trust
Money and Human Relationships
Honor among Thieves Hoarding and Stealing
Professionalism and Fulfilment in Work and War
Families and Firms
Knowledge and Symbolism
Exclusion Unemployment Poverty and Illness
Epilogue to Part III
Prologue to Part IV
Collective Action From Belligerent States to a Marketplace of Nations
States and Empires
Globalization and Political Action
Epilogue to Parts I and II
Prologue to Part III
Unintended Consequences From Family Bands to Industrial Cities
The City from Ancient Athens to Modern Manhattan
Water Commodity or Social Institution?
Prices for Everything?