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The Moral Economy of the Peasant: Rebellion and Subsistence in Southeast Asia 8.11.1977 Edition
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I do not know who you are who is reading this review. I am a student of political economy specializing in South Asia.... for my studies into the rise of Sinhalese nationalism in Ceylon, this book was invaluable. I'd read this book just for fun, too....
This book is a must read, though, for any student of south and east asian development, agricultural development, or developmental theory in general. Bon chance.
Scott complains that approaches to exploitation hitherto have been "too one-sidedly materialistic," (p.165). Accordingly, his goal is to shed light to the moral/psychological aspects of rebellions and thus fill an important gap in the analyses of exploitation and rebellions, for "the problem of rebellion is not just a problem of calories and income but is a question of peasant conceptions of social justice, of rights and obligations, of reciprocity," (p. vii).
The key elements in Scott's analysis are norms of reciprocity in a society and right to subsistence of the members of that society. Scott argues that traditional (pre-capitalist) societies differ substantially from modern (capitalist) societies with respect to these two elements. Traditional societies in general maintain a "subsistence ethic" that prefers safety and reliability to long-run profits (p. 13). This "safety-first" principle leads peasants to favor those institutions that "minimize the risks to subsistence", although they may claim much of the surplus (p. 55).Read more ›
Due to the existence of local security nets, predating the formation of the state, that they already pay into, peasants have already been "taxed" and rewarded with their primary goals-- a steady food supply and protection from criminals-- before the state ever reaches them. Furthermore, the bureaucratic Southeast Asian states seem to be utterly clueless or purposefully ignorant as to the dramatic variations on crop yield from year to year. Unlike the ancient patron-client system which expects annual variations, the state demands the same tax every year, or sometimes even increasing taxes to fund some special project, a system which can easily bankrupt peasants and force them to sell critical possessions such as food animals, plows, and their own clothing. States which see the peasantry as a bottomless, untapped source of wealth write the script for their own downfall due to peasant rebellion, or in the worst case, mass starvation. States that leave the peasants alone prosper. But in any form the state resembles nothing less than organized robbery; they give the peasants very little in exchange for the taxes.
Using his years of field research, Scott links the historical injustices of the Southeast Asian state to modern political problems as well.