Until today many text books are satisfied with the approach to economics via a scientific breakdown of the processes of production, distribution, and consumption of wealth in human society. However, this is too simple a definition to explain what is actually entailed in economics. It is impossible to project absolute scientific models or axioms of value correlated material. "Those who construct universal models,… propose that within ethnographic data there exists an objective reality which may be captured and explained by an observer’s formal model." (Gudeman 28) An example of this study is that of Marx’s capitalist theories and focus on the materialistic approach to an egalitarian universal society. Studies of this kind are prone to overlook a multitude of social aspects that are divergent from one group to the next; leaving nothing but a few pivotal ideas that are in need of alteration and expansion in order to fit the time and place for which they will be applied. Othe!
rwise it would denote that all societies were designed and have evolved around some form of rudimentary economics, which needless to say is not the case in any social group.
Placing mankind, in the center of economic studies, as the formalists have done, seems more appropriate seeing how it is he who has created, defined, and given value to his institution. "The person is a decision-making, economizing, hedonistic person." (Gudeman 31) Unfortunately, even such a fundamental view is an ethnocentric view posing the same recurring problem, that being, one can not generalize and say that all men economize and maximize with the goal of best interest in mind, because there are hundreds of aspects in everyday life that affect the perception of economizing and maximizing; a more holistic approach that bears cultural relativism is still in demand at this point. Thus one must look with a wider scope at the cultural aspects which have come to define specific pertinent models of economies. This approach best fits under cultural economics.
With this in mind, focusing more closely on the Marxist model of the ‘ideal’ form of economy it is clear, as stated above, that ‘ideal’ is constrained to a specific time and setting, and not applicable to the full spectrum of cultures. According to Marx the commodity is the final result that is in demand for which people must strive to create, yet even the definition of a commodity is bound to vary from one culture to the next. For example an object that one person may define as a commodity, may seem like nothing but worthless matter to another, or divine a priceless object to a third, so how does one account for such differences in tastes or preconceived ideas. The direct critique of Marx’s model is provided by Gudeman, a cultural anthropologist, in his work, "Models and modes of livelihood." Gudeman expresses the lack of universality in Marx’s model or any one other single model that claims to apply to all man kind as he stresses the importance of individual pertinent mode!
Marx stands out in his studies by having pinpointed the production process as a creator in the society; meaning it is here that one exerts efforts and uses raw material to create objects of value to those surrounding, or output is greater than input. Unarguably, this is a momentous basis for the creation of a nation of dominant economic power assuming that man is a ‘material maker’. Marx goes on to describe the differences from one culture to the next as pivotally being related to the form of labour by which it abides and the means of extraction of ‘surplus labour.’ (Gudeman 33) Here Marx was already supressing the realistic possibility of having cultures who’s number one priorities and forces were not aimed at that form of materialistic splendor. Taking this a step further and looking at the implications in Marx’s view of labour-essence societies, he has obviously placed that Western barrier of modernity and leadership into the more economically inclined.
Marx saw the country with the most effective form of production as the more advanced and civilized because it would dominate over the neighboring, less productive societies. This outlook on society as the most excelling piggy-bank of commodities leaves many societies unrecognized and devoid of much of what they stand for.