Sociology Index

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SURPLUS

Surplus is the excess of production over the human and material resources used up in the process of production. In simple societies there was often little if any surplus since the production from hunting and gathering was entirely used up in subsistence.

With the development of animal herding and settled agriculture, production exceeds immediate subsistence needs and social inequality and class division becomes possible when particular individuals or groups are able to take control of this surplus. Economic surplus, also known as total welfare or Marshallian surplus, after Alfred Marshall, refers to two related quantities.

Consumers' surplus is the monetary gain obtained by consumers because they are able to purchase a product for a price that is less than the highest price that they would be willing to pay. Producers' surplus is the amount that producers benefit by selling at a market price that is higher than the least that they would be willing to sell for, which equal to profit.

Revolution: Material Surplus and the Proto-Religious Ethic - Jill E. Fuller, University of North Carolina at Greensboro - Burke D. Grandjean, University of Wyoming. Does economic change stimulate religious transformation, or do new religious ideas inspire economic innovation? Since Marx and Weber, social theorists have considered this question, most often in regard to modern societies. Here, the authors examine archaeological evidence from 40 ancient sites in the Near East, where horticulture and herding first arose. Results suggest that economic surplus preceded two types of religious artifacts. In the authors' data, utilitarian grave gifts never appeared without surplus, in herds or especially in grain.

The Concept of the Surplus in Economic Development 
Victor D. Lippit, Department of Economics, Univ. of California, Riverside, CA.

The concept of the surplus was developed by Paul Baran in The Political Economy of Growth as a distinct category of economic analysis. Paul Baran argued that by examining which classes received the surplus and the manner in which they disposed of it, the forces creating and perpetuating underdevelopment could be understood. His insights on the critical role of class structure and surplus use in underdeveloped countries have never been properly followed up, however, in part because of confusion and inconsistencies in his own presentation.

This essay attempts to clarify the concept of the surplus and to show how it can be used, in conjunction with the analysis of class structure, in theoretical and empirical analyses of economic development.