The Native American economy and how it parallels our's today
Despite being largely non-existent today, Native Americans used to inhabit virtually all of what is currently known as present-day North America. Composed of hundreds of tribal communities, North America had an overabundance of Native-Americans which also meant that, because of the many different established communities, there were many different cultures and traditions that were being practiced at the time.
While many people don’t tend to think of historic Native American tribes as advanced or 'cultured,' even going as so far as to calling them uncivilized, during their time the Native Americans did adopt many practices that we would probably consider to be contemporary. For example, when it came to the economy, Native Americans had a relatively simple, but useful way to arbitrate the prices for goods.
Similar to the way that companies in the United States and the ‘Western’ world adjust prices for produced goods, the Native Americans often times would peg the prices higher or lower depending on the need or demand for such products. One prime example that is commonly cited is the fur trade that occurred between the European settlers and the Indians. Because the European settlers valued fur, due to it being in heavy demand in the production of clothing, they worked out a deal with the Native Americans that exchanged their knowledge of technologies and valuable commodities, like iron, in return for access to Indian fur and trade routes. In other words, the Europeans traded goods that the Indians lacked, while the Indians traded their fur for these goods in exchange.
This effectively created a supply and demand economy where items that were high in demand, but low in production were usually more expensive, while goods that were less in demand and highly produced were usually cheaper. What made goods in demand and not in demand? Linked with the production and manufacturing of products, goods that were produced in mass quantity usually lost their value because of the concept of scarcity.
This brings up another issue in relation to the fur trade because as the years began to carry on and the amount of beavers, wolves, and other animals that grew fur dwindled in numbers, the prices of fur goods began to increase. So while this was actually beneficial to the Indians, for example, because it gave them greater economic power and bartering leverage, it slowly began to degrade their future economic potential. Even to this day, the dearth of animal furs has created a situation where the price of fur clothing is inflated. Not just because of the lack of animals, but also because of the aesthetic value placed on them for the past few centuries.
Similar to the concept of diamonds, which weren’t actually that common until the early 1900s, people, or corporations for that matter, placed an artificial value on them which has followed us to this very day. In addition, access to such goods is restricted to only a limited number of individuals, just like the early fur trade, thus allowing these people the ability to dictate the price. As negative as it sounds, this is precisely how retailers operate. Whenever a good is in high demand based off of whatever popular trend is in style, they increase the prices of these products because they understood that the consumer is willing is spend their money on acquiring the product. Then when this product is saturated in the market, the price will continue to decrease as the supply reaches a critical point where a 'glut' occurs.
Many of the economic concepts that were adopted by the Native Americans and other historical civilizations, like the ancient kingdom of Ghana, are still being used to this day. It typically isn’t something that we think about, though, especially given the fact that many of these civilizations existed far beyond our time. However, as history teaches us, there are always surprises waiting to be uncovered. As we begin to dig deeper into the history of mankind and civilization, we start to see uncanny similarities and parallels to what is happening today, leading us to the realization that no matter how far we progress, we always take a bit of history with us on the way forward.