by Keith Cotterill

Since the beginning of time, our ancestors were driven by basic the needs of food, shelter, heating, and clothing.  However, when our Neanderthal forebears first emerged on the grassy plains of what is now central Africa, they did not automatically begin trading goods on a commodity exchange – far from it!

When mankind was in its infancy, their primary concern was survival, their most basic physical needs.  As nomads they would have moved from area to area hunting and gathering when needs dictated.  Obviously these first humans had no choice but to be self-sufficient and use the immediate environment to satisfy their most basic requirements.  Wood would be gathered for fires, animals hunted for food and for clothing.  If a natural shelter was not available then wood, earth, and stones would be utilized.

Little remains of the primitive hunter gatherer system of living today.  However, anthropologists have been lucky enough to find the modern day equivalents of the hunter-gatherers, such as the Mbuti tribe of West Africa.  Today, as it was tens of thousands of years ago, life is focused on providing for their immediate needs.  Food is hunted and gathered from the environment when necessary.  Being nomadic, these societies move from area to area depending on the availability of basic commodities.  Foodstuffs are not stored.  It was, and in the case of the Mbuti, still is, a simple system.  It was also an idyllic time, with men and women spending just a few hours a day working, with the remaining time devoted to playing, telling stories and generally whiling away the hours.

Most importantly, for our look at the history of commodity trading, is that the hunter-gatherer societies were strictly limited in population – perhaps no more than 50 people in any one group.  This was a purely logistical limitation.  The group needed to be mobile, flexible and sustainable.  Although they were able to develop complex social relationships, they were to all intents and purposes at the mercy of their environment.

At some time in the distant past, the way of life for the hunter-gatherers changed dramatically and forever.  They stopped searching for food and became farmers.  In farming’s early form, crops would have been sown and harvested.  Animals would have been trapped and then domesticated.  It was then no longer necessary to move where the food was.  They now had the basis of a static society.  And with this, the limitation of numbers was removed.  Tools were fashioned and more time was spent building permanent shelters, and because travel was no longer necessary, the members of this society could concentrate on developing their farming skills.

With an increase in relative sustainability of needs, populations naturally began to increase, splinter and interact.  As the production of food and other necessities became systemized, the societies could provide sufficient basics to support their growing numbers.  If things had stayed this way then perhaps we would never have grown to create technology and the modern culture that we know today.  And we certainly wouldn’t have Futures contracts!

As societies grew and increased in complexity, some individuals began to divide their roles.  Obviously then, men and women were no longer purely self-sufficient.  More and more they began to rely upon farmers, builders, merchants and a whole host of other services to provide them with those same necessities they once supplied themselves.  So commercial activity had begun and with it a whole new set of considerations.

The Birth of the Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurs, the engineers of commerce, create and manage activities which ultimately result in one thing – the generation of wealth.  Whether it be farmers, shopkeepers or traders, the basis of any commercial activity is to enter into lucrative transactions – buying and selling for PROFIT.  The earliest entrepreneurs were merchants of necessities; those staple goods which provided the population with their means of survival.

With an ever-growing population and increasing urbanization, trade had become further regulated and structured simply to keep up with demand and with the introduction of currencies for exchange and market places.  It’s difficult to appreciate just how much of a leap this was from the old days of hunter-gathering and the earliest merchants who had to take their cows to the local markets and barter in direct exchange for goods.  Since the introduction of recognized currency thousands of years ago in China, cash has become the primary means of exchange in return for services and goods.