Subsistence economy

The subsistence economy is one in which each individual or family produces what they consume. If surpluses are generated, they are scarce and are sold or exchanged through barter , the latter being the most common.

The subsistence economy is based on hunting, gathering, agriculture, fishing and livestock, which allow people to obtain food and clothing. Other activities developed are handicrafts and forest extraction.

These economic systems, also known as self-consumption societies, have been disappearing due to industrial progress, in particular, over the past two centuries. However, they still prevail in certain isolated human groups, especially in less developed countries.

Characteristics of the subsistence economy

The main characteristics of the subsistence economy are the following:

  • It is typical of a pre-industrial society, that is, the one before the Industrial Revolution Iof the second half of the 18th century.
  • There is little division of labor, that is, low specialization. This means that there are few types of trade that develop, as a farmer or farmer, being very simple production processes.
  • Commercial exchanges are limited, due to inefficient transport systems (high cost and long duration).
  • It is an economy mainly based on agriculture, complemented by livestock. Primitive techniques are used in these activities on a small scale and that have low yields.
  • The rural area predominates and there are few cities.
  • The production has a high dependence on the climatic factor (rains, droughts, floods, among others) as well as the health of the workers. If they get sick, for example, the family’s provisions will be affected.

Types of subsistence economies

The types of subsistence economies are two:

  • System barter: It ‘s a simple scheme where established roles defined for the man working the field and in the military, and for women in household chores. Individuals produce for their own consumption and exchange some goods for others that they consider of equivalent value to meet basic needs.
  • Feudalism: This system is more complex than the previous one, there are several social classes. At the top of the pyramid, there is the nobility, the highest authority with economic privileges, followed by the clergy. Then, there are the feudal lords who are the owners of the land , the main means of production. Finally, at the base of this social structure, is the town. This group submits to the feudal lord and works for him, receiving military protection in return.

Subsistence crisis

The subsistence crisis is a circumstance that goes through an economy of self-consumption when there is a shortage of food. This can be the product, for example, of a bad harvest.

Consequently, as society does not make frequent commercial exchanges with other peoples, famine and even high levels of malnutrition are generated. This, in turn, can trigger diseases and increase mortality rates.

Subsistence crises, in the extreme, trigger social, and even military, conflicts due to widespread population discontent.

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