Apart from its intrinsic interest, history can often shed light on current political controversies. Many political disputes revolve around questions of economics and of all the matters that fall under the purview of economic history there is one that has had, and still has, a profound impact on many aspects of everyone's daily life, and that is money.
The Potlatch, Gift Exchange and Barter.
Money is often, mistakenly, thought to have been invented simply because of the inconvenience of barter. In fact the development of money was due to many causes and even barter itself often had important social functions in addition to its purely economic purposes.
The potlatch ceremonies of Native Americans were a form of barter that had social and ceremonial functions that were at least as important as its economic functions. Consequently when the potlatch was outlawed in Canada (by an act that was later repealed) some of the most powerful work incentives were removed - to the detriment of the younger sections of the Indian communities.
This form of barter was not unique to North America. Glyn Davies points out that the most celebrated example of competitive gift exchange was the encounter, around 950 BC, of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. "Extravagant ostentation, the attempt to outdo each other in the splendour of the exchanges, and above all, the obligations of reciprocity, were just as typical in this celebrated encounter, though at a fittingly princely level, as with the more mundane types of barter in other parts of the world." (page 13).
Wampum - Monetary Uses by Native Americans and Settlers
Since the use of primitive forms of money in North America (as in the Third World) is more recent and better documented than in Europe, the American experience is discussed in the introductory...