Monday, March 24, 2008

Anthropology in Everything: Space Economics

This article by ABC News: 'What You Don't Know About Living in Space' is pretty fascinating in-and-of-itself, but what makes it stand out, at least for Marginal Revolution, where I found it (and I'm surprised this wasn't tagged as 'Markets in Everything'), is the trading in space section(second page):

Money has no value in space. When seven astronauts are living together in a cramped atmosphere the psychology of small isolated groups kicks in. Whoever has squirreled away the most M&Ms, tortillas or coffee has the most bargaining power. Those are items that are most prized at the end of a mission if someone runs short in their own stash. Astronauts' meals are color coded on shuttle missions -- and reliable sources tell ABC News some astronauts aren't above switching the colored dots on their dehydrated meals if they have run out of say, lasagna, on day six and have way too much creamed spinach left.

The question that makes this anthropologically interesting is: why create a barter system; why not share everything equally? Is it simply due to acculturation (these seem to be American astronauts, so they've grown up in a capitalist market economy), or does this provide some deeper insight in to the human mind?

Tyler and his readers ask some good questions as well, although I can only hope that Peter was kidding about the creamed spinach.

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