This section is from the "Elementary Principles of Economics" book, by Richard T. Ely and George Ray Wicker. Also available from Amazon: Elementary Principles Of Economics: Together With A Short Sketch Of Economic History
General Characterization. In the first stage of man's economic development, nature is the great factor in production. There is little labor and less capital. Man contents himself with what nature gives him, his labor taking the form of appropriating these gifts. He has not progressed far in subjecting animals to his will; still less does he attempt to improve useful animals by breeding. Transforming natural products by his handicraft is but an insignificant part of his activity. Not even does he store up goods in time of abundance against a future time of dearth. The American Indian, where he has not been elevated by contact with a higher civilization, is a good illustration of this stage of economic progress.
Economic activity in this stage is in a high degree isolated. Hence this stage, together with the two succeeding stages, is said to belong to the period of independent economy. In other words, the work of getting goods is not carried on, as with us, by great groups of men scattered in many countries, but is done mainly in the single family, each family producing most of the things which its members consume. For this reason, too, there is little exchange or transfer of goods, though there is no unwillingness to make exchanges if opportunity offers to secure by exchange something new and attractive.
There being little exchange of products or division of labor, it follows that there are no economic classes and no industrial conflicts. The greater part of property, including all land, is the common possession of the social group, private property being confined to arms of war, household goods, and the immediate rewards of labor.
Hunting Tribes. Although we have grouped the hunting and fishing tribes together as being upon the same plane of economic evolution, we can find certain clear differences between those who live primarily on the products of the chase and only secondarily upon fish, and those who reverse this order. Among hunting tribes we find the work and life leading to a high development of such qualities as cunning, endurance, and bodily strength, but not to a development of technical skill nor to a reflection upon the processes of nature. Their condition of life prevents the possibility of any but a sparse population. It has been estimated that in a population living solely upon the products of the chase each hunter requires for his support more than fifty thousand acres, or seventy-eight square milesan area which in the state of Rhode Island at present supports on an average nearly thirty-two thousand people. It follows from this need of large territories that war becomes an economic necessity whenever there is not an abundance of unoccupied land. This same condition of things gives us one of the causes of cannibalism. The pressure of increasing numbers bringing the people continually to the verge of starvation, they fall little by little into the custom of eating enemies taken in war.
Fishing Tribes. As might be expected, primitive tribes of fishing people are more peaceable than are the hunting tribes. Their population is denser, both because of their more peaceable disposition and because of the fact that a smaller area is sufficient for the support of a given number of people engaged as they are. Having less need of frequent migrations to seek new food resources, they naturally form larger accumulations of capital. They build dwellings of a more permanent character, and construct boats and fishing implements. On the whole, we may say that the power of man over nature is greater among fishing than among hunting tribes. Primitive fishing tribes can now be found only in the frigid zone.