Of Mayas and Markets
By Arnold Kling
The findings, archaeologists say, are some of the first strong evidence that the ancient Maya civilization, at least in places and at certain times, had a market economy similar in some respects to societies today. The conventional view has been that food and other goods in Maya cities were distributed through taxation and tributes controlled by the ruling class.
I am pretty heavily invested in the conventional view. I just don’t believe that over a thousand years ago human beings had the trustworthiness, discipline, numeracy, and institutional base to engage in what we would today recognize as free trade. Adam Smith, of course, said that we are born with a propensity to “truck and barter.” But my guess would be that the “market” was a place where the rulers doled out plunder to loyal vassals, rather than a place where free men sent goods to trade in a cash economy.
Tyler is more of a Smithian.