Why is it not surprising if private property, not productivity, led to the Neolithic agricultural revolution?

(Reference: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-10/sfi-ppn101119.php)

This is just one among many theories, and not a particularly compelling one. The debate as to “why” the neolithic revolution happened will likely rage on for many more decades. The most widely entertained hypotheses include:

1. Cultures began to be interested in staying put, and less interested in following food around — i.e. moving where the seasons provided adequate flora and fauna for subsistence — so they began cultivating food where they wanted to live.

2. There was a co-evolution of humans and plants that resulted in agriculture — a sort of “intentional” symbiosis.

3. Changes in climate disrupted traditional hunting and gathering patterns and demanded cultivation as an adaptive response to maintain sufficient densities of food stock. In the same vein, a companion hypothesis frames agriculture as a “safety net” developed in response to periods of acute food crisis.

4. Experimentation by humans with various species of plant and animal to produce desirable traits may have led to larger scale cultivation efforts.

5. A desire for greater surpluses in production in order to trade.

6. As a consequence of population pressure on available resources — agriculture became a “necessary innovation,” first to augment hunting and gathering…and then ultimately supplant it.

7. Some combination of a few or all of the above.

(A decent overview of different theories be found here: Persistent controversies about the neolithic revolution)

Increased productivity is actually no longer considered a likely driver, as efficient agricultural production at scale, along with effective storing capacity, probably took centuries to perfect. Cultural adoption of private property seems akin to an older theory that offered lavish feasting as a status symbol and social capital generator that demanded increased agricultural production. I am skeptical of this line of thinking, if only because Occam’s razor suggests so many other, simpler and more plausible explanations that expect far fewer assumptions. In fact the “private property” hypothesis feels a bit like projection of a capitalist mindset onto pre-capitalist society.
My 2 cents.


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