The Dynamics of Trade and Technology in Long Run Inuit Economic Development

Lead Author Brooks, Kaiser
Institution Contact Department of Environmental and Business Economics University of Southern Denmark Niels Bohrs Vej 9-10
Co-Authors Alexej Parchomenenko, University of Southern Denmark, Denmark
Theme Theme 2: Vulnerability of Arctic Societies
Session Name 2.1 The role of law and institutions in Arctic transformation process
Presentation Type Poster
Abstract text We use a model of socio-ecological systems to investigate how early trade between Inuit and non-Inuit communities affected long run opportunities for Inuit. The effects of trade include both direct changes, e.g. in the population and in the resource base, and indirect changes through institutional gaps and shifts in the returns to Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and new, introduced technologies.
A change in the terms of trade within the existing socio-ecological systems accompanied new, desirable goods like tea and tobacco. What held value came to change over time with its ability to be monetized or traded for non-Inuit goods. Examples include Arctic fox and Bowhead whales. Early trading seemed relatively innocuous -- unlikely to affect Inuit communities’ ability to thrive within their limited but balanced socio-ecological system exchanges. Both Inuit and outside traders saw trades as mutually beneficial. Further, trade introduced new technologies (e.g. guns) that increased resource pressures, and diseases that reduced human populations, sometimes rapidly. These introduced technologies and diseases and the changes in the relative value of marketable goods shifted communities away from a set of equilibrium conditions under which Inuit communities had been generally capable of sustained operations at or near carrying capacity for the environment and technology available. These transformations changed the potential role of the top layer of the socio-ecological system. In the dynamic system, the shift in values lowered the returns to many components of TEK and depreciation of this human capital accelerated as the relative investment costs increased. We examine the dynamics of our model in the context of variations in historical technological transformations through trade (e.g. whale hunts differing by species), and how the rate of change can lead to institutional gaps, such as common property governance mechanisms that limit overharvesting.