In the 21st century, most societies use a form of monetary system with paper money that is regulated by a central bank, used to purchase goods and services. When you go into a store or a market place, goods will be labeled with a set price, that you will be expected to pay if you want to purchase an item. Yet in other societies, such as the one in Papua New Guinea, shell money is used as a medium of exchange, and can even be converted into Papua New Guineas paper money currency. What’s different about the shell money is that while it can be used to purchase goods in their society, a shell money bank wouldn’t be considered legal, based on what is technically considered a bank, as seen in the documentary, “Pig Tusks and Paper Money”.
There are also multiple types of exchange systems which are involved in egalitarian societies. One example of this is reciprocal exchange which involved an exchange between two sides of equal status. Then there is a barter system, which is a direct exchange of objects which does not create a relationship between those involved in the exchange, and is mostly used when cash or another regulated currency is not available. When looking at a timeline of exchanges, the barter system gave way to a market system, which is what we are most used to in industrialized, urban societies. With a market system, exchange is more focused on the thought of profit, and a societies economic worth is based mainly on its market system. Then there is redistribution, where certain goods are collected by a central figure, and these goods are then distributed throughout a society based off some defined legal principle.
But an economic system is not purely based off of distribution, as production plays a major role as well. Production for the most part, has occurred in the order of; hunters/gatherers, horticulturalists, agriculturalists, pastoralists, and then industrialists. Hunters/gatherers were mainly egalitarian communities that focused on labor differentiation. Horticulturalists had little differentiation, and was sometimes supplemented by hunters/gatherers. Agriculturalists and pastoralists had an increase in labor differentiation, while industrialists had a high degree of economic specialization, and has a market system as the main system of exchange.
In the documentary “To the Light: Chinese Miners”, the people shown had to make a choice of whether they work in the coal mines, or continue into college/vocational education. If they decide to work in the mines, they would be earning less than those who are able to find a job related to a degree from college. In the 20th century, in East Harlem, NY, many people lost their jobs in the factories, and instead of finding service jobs that didn’t pay well, they turned to selling drugs solely for the reason that it made more money than a legal job (Bourgois, Phillipe). Both of these examples in China and NY show how a person’s labor has impacted how their society handles exchange. This is because without labor in these societies, their economy and their forms of exchange would most likely have to change.