What is a Traditional Economy? Example, Advantage, 10+ Facts

Producers of a certain commodity or service participate in an economic system that is distinguished by the free and open trade of such commodities and services.

To thrive in today’s world, you must select a vocation that does not need a large investment of money or time. Starting a firm in the traditional economy may be an excellent alternative for people who like to be their own boss.

What is a Traditional Economy?

The phrase “traditional economy” refers to a corporate model that honors tradition, precedent, and established conventions.

Custom governs economic activities such as production and distribution. Farming, fishing, hunting, and gathering, or a combination of these activities, underpin traditional economies. They barter instead of exchanging cash.

What is a Traditional Economy?

The majority of the world’s conventional economies are located in emerging markets and developing countries. Their natural habitats are on the African, Asian, and South American continents. Traditional economies continue to exist in enclaves throughout the developing world.

According to economists and anthropologists, all other economies originated as traditional economies.

As a result, they predict that the remaining traditional economies will eventually migrate to market, command, or hybrid forms of economic structure. In a market economy, the forces of supply and demand dictate the development of goods and services.

The government is in charge of all financial concerns in a command economy. The government or a group owns the land and the tools of production. A mixed economy combines the characteristics of the preceding three types of economies.

5 Characteristics of a Traditional Economy

Traditional economies have the following five characteristics:

  1. Centered on a group of connected individuals, whether family or a tribe
  2. They lived as nomadic hunters and gatherers.
  3. Making only what is necessary
  4. Making use of a barter system
  5. As it creates permanent communities and begins farming, it evolves.

The first point to make is that the family or tribe is the economic unit in traditional civilizations. Traditions gained from elders govern decisions concerning everyday life and economic problems.

Two, a traditional economy exists in a hunter-gatherer and nomadic civilization. These societies must travel long distances in quest of food. They travel with the seasons, alongside the herds of animals on whom they rely, to live.

These itinerant gatherers and farmers compete for decreasing resources of food and materials. Trading is unnecessary because everyone consumes and produces the same things.

Third, in most traditional economies, production is limited to satisfying immediate demand. Surpluses and leftovers are quite uncommon. That eliminates the need for bartering and currency creation.

Consider that, in the fourth place, barter is the fundamental mode of transaction in primitive societies.

This is only allowed amongst nonrival entities. Because one group may rely on fishing while the other hunts, the two groups may swap food. It’s considerably easier since they barter with flesh for fish instead of cash.

What is a Traditional Economy?

Finally, traditional economies begin to shift as people settle down and begin farming. A bumper harvest is one example of a surplus that they may employ in trade. When this happens, each party invents their own money. This facilitates long-distance commercial interactions.

Traditional Mixed Economies

When market or command economies interact with traditional ones, transformation happens. The importance of physical cash is increasing. Better instruments are now available to the traditional economy.

As a result, their revenue from farming, hunting, and fishing will rise. They then enter a regular mixed economy.

In traditional economies, capitalism, socialism, and communism may all coexist. The arrangement is important.

Capitalism is an essential component of agricultural cultures that respect private land ownership. Members of a nomadic group practice socialism when they split the rewards of their labor equally.

That is what would happen if a farmer handed the best chunk of meat to the best hunter or the best crops to the community leader. When a community prioritizes the needs of its youngest and oldest inhabitants, it is behaving more like a communist than a capitalist economy.

Traits of Traditional Economies

Traditional economies can be found in rural areas throughout Africa, Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East.

The traditional economy is built on family and tribal networks. The knowledge of the centuries informs economic decisions, as it does the rest of life.

Nomadic hunter-gatherer societies are the foundation of many traditional economies; these people may traverse long distances from season to season in search of the herd animals on which their existence is based. They seldom trade with other tribes because they are always competing for scarce natural resources.

When people in a traditional economy do business, they utilize commodities and services rather than money. Only non-competitive firms conduct business with one another. An agricultural group may swap part of its meat for vegetables from a hunting village.

A “complete economy,” according to economists, is one in which all goods and services are acquired. Traditional economies seldom produce a surplus of items because they only produce what is required to live, eliminating the need to trade or earn money.

Finally, it is the development of agriculture that propels traditional economies beyond the “hunter-gatherer” stage.

What is a Traditional Economy?

They are able to acquire a surplus of tradeable crops via farming. As a result, many communities feel driven to create their own money in order to trade conveniently over long distances.

To gain a better understanding of what we mean by “traditional economy,” consider how it relates to other, more recognizable economic models.


A free market economy is one in which the quantity and price of goods and services are determined purely by market forces of supply and demand. Private corporations or profit-driven individuals own the means of production.

Capitalist economies prosper when there is a high level of initiative and initiative-taking, as well as an abundance of capital, natural resources, and labor.


Everyone has equal access to the means of production in a socialist society, including employment, money, and materials. This sort of ownership is often granted and maintained by a democratically elected government, or through a citizen cooperative or public enterprise in which every member owns a portion.

The government seeks to disperse the economic reward widely in order to eliminate income inequality. This indicates that the socialist economic premise of “to each according to his contribution” is fundamental to socialist philosophy.


The communist economic paradigm entails the state owning enterprises and farmland. While the government does not officially own labor in communism, central economic planners hired by the government nonetheless order workers to do various activities depending on their perceived worth to the state.

The core notion of a communist economy was created by Karl Marx, a German philosopher: “from everyone according to his abilities, to everyone according to his needs.”

Depending on their manner of operation, traditional economies can display characteristics of capitalism, socialism, and communism.

Individual farm ownership is a form of capitalism in an agricultural economy. A socialist group is nomadic hunters who practice socialism by allowing their most efficient members to keep the most meat.

A communist society emphasizes feeding its most vulnerable people, such as children and the elderly, over nourishing its own citizens.

What is a Traditional Economy?

Advantages of a Traditional Economy

These advantages are connected with a traditional economic structure.

Keeps the Traditions and Customs Alive:

Traditional civilizations frequently pass on their knowledge of the arts and crafts among their extended families, communities, and clans.

No Wastage of Goods:

People just manufacture what they need for their own group, family, or neighborhood, therefore there is no overproduction.

Have Scope for Evolution:

In theory, this economic system might change and take on features of other economic systems. Every modern economic system evolved from an earlier one.

Environmentally Friendly:

Traditional economic activities produce less damage to the natural world and the environment since they employ less technology.

Skilled and Talented People:

To survive, the indigenous people rely on inherited and taught skills. These organizations have spent years honing their expertise in a single subject, making them strong competitors.

Role Clarity and Satisfaction:

Successors are those who take over a family company and carry on the legacy of the preceding generation. They are exposed to the industry from a young age. They are content with their employment and their earnings.

Safe from Global Problems:

Economies that can sustain themselves can avoid the spread of many dangerous diseases by keeping themselves isolated from the rest of the world.

Little or no friction between members:

Custom and tradition control the distribution of resources. As a result, disagreements among participants are kept to a minimum. Nobody questions their own involvement in the production process, whether as a farmer, hunter, or weaver.

Everyone understands their role and contribution:

Furthermore, participants are aware of what they would fairly expect. Even when they’re upset, they don’t put up much of a fight. They regard it as the glue that has held society together and allowed it to progress throughout time.

More sustainable than a technology-based economy:

Because of their modest scale, traditional economies are less detrimental to the environment than industrialized economies. They are unable to raise output to fulfill more demand. That is why they persist longer than a technology driven economy.

Disadvantagesof a Traditional Economy

The mainstream economic model has the following flaws:

What is a Traditional Economy?


People may get hungry if there isn’t enough food provided through farming, hunting, and fishing.

Risk of Exploitation:

Advanced countries regularly attack underdeveloped countries in order to pillage their land and resources.

Extinction of Natural Resources:

Natural resource-dependent economies are unable to diversify their supply chains for food, housing, and clothes. They risk diminishing the planet’s natural resources.

Limited Growth Opportunities:

Conserving cultural traditions takes precedence over researching fresh techniques to production and distribution in their economy. Economic development has come to a halt.

Poor Medical Amenities:

Traditional economies, which have less touch with the rest of the world, may not always have access to cutting-edge healthcare treatments. As a result, infant mortality is high and life expectancy is low.

No Global Interaction:

Traditional economies walled off from the rest of the world miss out on chances for business, cultural exchange, and technological growth.

Technologically Backward:

Countries with a long history of tradition rely heavily on time-honored manufacturing methods. They do not use cutting-edge approaches that might increase production, free time, and savings.

Exposed to changes in nature and weather patterns:

Weather, in particular, has the potential to have a big influence on conventional economies. This is why traditional economies aim to limit population growth. People may go hungry if there is a lousy crop or not enough game.

Vulnerable to market or command economies that use up their natural resources:

They are similarly vulnerable to market or centrally planned economies. These societies either engage in conflict or consume the natural resources that established economies rely on.

The Russian oil industry’s development into Siberia, for example, has impacted the region’s rivers and scenery. Traditional fishing and reindeer herding industries have suffered as a result.

Examples of a Traditional Economy

Before Europeans came, the Americas had developed economies based on long-established patterns. The nomadic lifestyle has advantages that indigenous and Native American economies did not overlook.

What is a Traditional Economy?

Because they lived in small communities, they were momentarily protected from the spread of smallpox and other ailments, but this protection was only temporary.

Diseases, more advanced weaponry, and greater resources were among the items brought by immigrants from other countries. Indigenous and Native American societies were unable to cope with infectious diseases.

Not only did these invaders bring colonization, but also genocide and cruelty against the indigenous people who lived there.

Prior to the Civil War, the southern states of the United States had a more traditional economy. Agriculture was critical to the economics of the republics, and many slaves were compelled to cultivate the land.

Following the conclusion of the war and the abolition of slavery, many farms had to alter their practices.

Before the Great Depression, the United States possessed many of the characteristics of a conventional economy. At the turn of the twentieth century, agriculture employed more than half of the American population.

Agriculture employed more than 41 percent of the labor force. However, in order to meet the increasing demand that followed World War I, they turned to inferior farming techniques.

Dry periods followed, eventually resulting in the Dust Bowl. Agriculture employed just 21.5 percent of the labor force in 1930. It contributed barely 7.7 percent to GDP.

For instance, consider Haiti. The Haitian economy is built on family farms. Similarly, it is primarily reliant on wood fuel for its operations. Many Haitians live in poverty, and the country’s reliance on wood has left it vulnerable to natural disasters such as the disastrous 2010 earthquake.

The indigenous peoples of the Arctic, North America, and eastern Russia have all lived off the land for generations. They subsist on the sea and the hunt. The Sami people of Scandinavia are in charge of reindeer herd management.

A tribe member’s economic position is established by their link to the maintenance of the herd. The legal status of the individual, cultural background, and the state’s policies toward them all have a role.

What is the main goal of a traditional economy?

The basic goal of a traditional economy is to ensure its own survival. This suggests that the community is self-sufficient and does not rely on inter-community trade to meet its needs.

The Jarawa people of the Andaman Islands are well-known for their utilization of traditional agricultural practices, whilst the Oribu people of Brazil are well-known for their farming skills.

What is a Traditional Economy?

Countries With Traditional Economies

Nations are defined by institutions such as the World Bank using more familiar language, such as communist or capitalist, making it unclear which countries still have traditional economies today.

Even if communist, capitalist, or socialist economic systems are the norm, many nations preserve remnants of their past commercial practices within their boundaries.

Brazil is one such country, with an economic structure that is a mix of government control and market forces. Indigenous villages do exist in Brazil, primarily in the Amazon rainforest, but they are not incorporated into the mainstream economy. Instead, they rely on a barter-based economy and the handiwork of its residents.

Consider Haiti, where 70% of the population lives in the rural and relies on subsistence agriculture. Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East, and many of its mountainous areas are home to tiny villages that rely on trading agricultural items rather than money trade.

Native populations in Alaska, Canada, and Greenland have long relied on subsistence activities such as hunting, gathering, and selling handicrafts to make ends meet.

They produce what their families require and frequently have enough to trade with neighbors from nearby communities. Traditional economic systems are still used by many cultures worldwide, except from Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and the Pacific Islands.

A mixed economy is one in which traditional and monetary systems coexist. A mixed economy could combine capitalism with traditional values, or socialism and free enterprise.

Currency is occasionally used as a means of exchange for commodities and services that are not directly controlled by the public in mixed traditional economies. In the area of consumer goods, however, individuals continue to place a premium on the influence of friends and family.

In cash-based economies, economists may begin to notice a move toward a greater dependence on barter as a way of trading goods and services. Rather than the extinction of money, a greater appreciation for things that money cannot buy will result.

Traditional Economy Compared With 3 Other Systems

To understand what is meant by the phrase “traditional economy,” consider how it relates to other major global economies throughout history.

1. Capitalist Economies

These civilizations have a long history of forming their economic systems by combining supply and demand, among other market elements, with a strong desire for profit.

2. Socialist Economies

Despite political partisans’ best efforts to recast socialism in their own image, the notion has remained mostly unchanged over the years.

Simply described, socialism is a political and economic system in which all members of a particular society possess the means of production equally. Elections that are free and fair frequently result in more equitable economic results.

3. Communist Economies

To put it simply, communism is a form of economic paradigm in which the government owns all property and uses it to control the economy.

Communism envisions a society without social stratification in which the government seizes the fruits of labor and redistributes them among the people based on their relative degrees of need.

4. Traditional Economy

What is made, how it is produced, and how it is distributed among the people are all decisions based on cultural norms in this economy.

History of Traditional Economies With Examples

Traditional economies have existed since, if not earlier, the period of Cro-Magnon man.

Once upon a time, it was thought appropriate to split up jobs like hunting, farming, gathering, and seeking shelter amongst the tribe in order to construct an economic model (i.e., managing the distribution of labor as a means of producing, distributing, and consuming goods and services for a community.)

What is a Traditional Economy?

The Maasai were an indigenous tribe who had for many centuries followed the same subsistence lifestyle as cattle, sheep, and goat herders. This is typical of traditional economies that have evolved over time and still exist today.

There are three key reasons why the Maasai should continue to rely on their traditional economy: The Maasai economy was based mostly on the selling of livestock, particularly cattle.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Which countries have a traditional economy?

Traditional economies are more widespread inside nations than national economies. Despite residing in the United States, several Alaskan Inuit settlements, for example, preserve traditional economies.

Rural nations may display traits of traditional economies, but they may also exhibit characteristics of other types of economies.

How are economic decisions made in a traditional economy?

Choices in a traditional economy are made at the individual or community level. Traditional economies do not create product surpluses on a regular basis, and their populations are smaller.

Municipal authorities can have an impact on community choices, but not to the same level as a developed country’s central bank.

What does the traditional economy produce?

In other words, it is productive enough to meet the needs of everyone in the area or tribe. Crop farming, animal husbandry, and artisanal and commercial fishing are all important components of traditional economies.


Commodities and services produced in a traditional economic system are based on societal values and standards. The majority of the nations that function in this manner are rural and agricultural in character.

A traditional economy is one that is centered on negotiating and trading, and it is also known as a subsistence economy. Surplus output is scarce, and what little there is generally goes to a governmental authority or landowner.

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