The Gift Economy - Receiving stimulates giving
One of the alternatives to our current economic system, which is based on money created by banks as a debt and heavily laden with a cost called interest, is what has been termed the gift economy. Few would disagree that life could be much better if everything - or at least a good part of what we need for our daily survival - were freely available just for the taking.
Silver 20-SIMEC coins issued by Italian law professor Giacinto Auriti in a monetary experiment
But alas - the current economic reality is just the opposite - scarcity rules. Everything has a price, and the more scarce something is, the higher the price. To obtain anything we need to pay that price - in other words exchange something of ours for what we wish to receive.
At times - actually I would argue more often than not - scarcity is brought about artificially to manipulate the price and therefore the "exchange value" of goods. Making a profit and paying the piper requires it.
Oil probably is sa good an example as any. Far from there being a physical shortage of oil, the price for this black gold has been successfully manipulated to raise from 10 dollars a barrel only years ago to over a hundred dollars now. The corporations that exploit our dependence on oil for energy are doing the manipulating.
But we were talking about giving.
Nature gives to us abundantly, and we have no problem accepting what is offered. We do have some problems with stewardship, with giving of ourselves to Nature. Traditional cultures included taking care of the land and other creatures. They also practiced giving as a routine economic activity. How is it that we have turned away from giving as a delightful and satisfying pastime? Genevieve Vaughan, author of For-Giving: A Feminist Criticism of Exchange analyzes the reasons from a feminist and largely psychosocial perspective in her article Introduction to the Gift Economy.
She sees giving as a distinctly feminine activity, and she may be right that women are culturally more apt to give, to nurture, than men. Our culture of male domination over the female, which creates a view of the sexes as opposed to and even in conflict with each other, seems to be at the bottom of this. This patriarchal bent of society, very much stressed in the Jewish and Christian tradition, seems to have made us men less inclined to consider nurturing or giving.
So what can we do to bring more balance, short of revolutionizing society and turning to matriarchy, which seems to have its own problems? Can we, in an economy that relies on scarcity and exchange as fundamental to its functioning, make a difference at all? Can we nudge the world towards more economic justice by what we ourselves are able to do?
I believe we can...
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Receiving promotes giving
What inspired me to write this little piece today was giving away a large bag of lemons from a tree in my garden and reflecting on where they might eventually end up.
But let's back up a bit.
I believe that the gift economy can be jump-started by example. Giving is a self-propagating virus that will spread into society, if only enough people practice it. In my case, the giving of lemons today was prompted by receiving a dish of tomatoes filled with rice from a lady across the street.
Rome, although it is a fairly large city, still preserves some of the flavor of a village, because it is divided up into "quarters", small areas where you know - more or less - who the other people are that live here. At times, people sit around and talk to each other, especially in the summer, when the evenings are cool and inviting to sit around on the stairs that form our street.
One of the ladies in our neighborhood is always in financial trouble. She comes to ask for help, and at times does get a loan to help pay the odd bill. But she also cooks and insists on giving some of her stuffed tomatos, lasagne or eggplant parmesan away. In turn, but not necessarily in exchange, I give some of the fruits that grow abundantly in our garden. At this time of the year it's lemons. She, in turn, passes on the lemons to her childrens' families, living outside of Rome, and to others living in her "palazzo" (it's not really a palace as the word implies - I guess you'd call it an apartment building in other places) who aren't necessarily part of the family.
Through that lady, my fruits to have ended up in places I never knew and probably won't ever know. And it is likely that those receiving them will in their turn be more inclined to give something they have. Yes, we will never know whether that is really the case, but that is the nature of the virus. It works and multiplies in hidden places. It isn't important to know either.
When you give, you do promote a change in culture. Think about it.
Whether we know it or not, the actions of just our own little selves can cause changes in chains of action hidden from our view. That seems to me a good way of changing things. Through a simple action, the gift economy can spread and perhaps, eventually bring a better life for many.
Why not just start doing it?
Start in your own neighborhood. Find someone who is good at giving things away, and give something of yours to that person. Pretty soon, a little trend may start... and who knows, you may find yourself on the receiving end once in a while - or not.
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Book: Women and the Gift Economy
"a radically different world view is possible"
Book: The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World (by Lewis Hyde) (Paperback)
The Gift Economy
by Gifford Pinchot
"Lest we think that the principles of a gift economy will only work for simple, primitive or small enterprises, Hyde points out that the community of scientists follows the rules of a gift economy. The scientists with highest status are not those who possesses the most knowledge; they are the ones who have contributed the most to their fields. A scientist of great knowledge, but only minor contributions is almost pitied - his or her career is seen as a waste of talent."
A Gift Tensegrity
"If we are to move beyond adversity and conflict -- if we are to move beyond neutrality and
anonymity, then we must get to know each other. The secret of creating synergic
relationship is WE-ness. Synergic relationship is close and personal. It requires trust,
caring and committment. It requires honesty and openness."
Market logics vs. Community Logics
Could the market and free giving be mutually exclusive propositions? From this article, it would seem that this might be the case...
There is, in fact, a massive amount of research that supports the idea that when you pay people to do something for you, they stop enjoying it, and distrust their own motivations. The mysterious something that goes away, and that "Factor X" even has a name: intrinsic motivation.
Intrinsic motivation is a person's sense that they are doing something because they want to do it, because the doing brings joy, it is rewarding by itself, on its own as an activity. Extrinsic rewards suggest that there is actually an instrumental relationship at work, that you do the activity in order to get something else, and that something else (like a monthly check) is actually the reward for doing it. We don't need to be paid to play, because it in itself is fun and enjoyable. If you pay me for it, it must be work.
Money: A New Beginning
An irremediable structural flaw lies at the base of our civilization. I call it Separation, and it has generated all the converging crises -- economic, health, ecological, and political -- of our day. It manifests as separation from each other in the dissolution of community, separation from nature in the destruction of the environment, separation within our selves in the deterioration of health. Science is its deep ideology, technology is its accomplice, and money is its agent.
Money as we know it today is intimately related to our identity as discrete and separate selves, as well as to the destruction that our separation has wrought. A saying goes, "Money is the root of all evil." But why should it be? After all, the purpose of money is, at its most basic, simply to facilitate exchange; in other words, to connect human gifts with human needs. What power, what monstrous perversion, has turned money into the opposite: an agent of scarcity?
The pay-it-forward Seva Cafe in Ahmedabad
At the Seva Cafe, you are gifted a free meal, and you in turn gift a meal to others.
Pay it forward: Elevation leads to altruistic behavior
Seeing someone perform a virtuous deed (especially if they are helping another person), makes us feel good, often eliciting a warm, fuzzy feeling in our chest. This positive, uplifting emotion, known as "elevation," might make us feel great, but is it enough to get us to go out and perform good acts ourselves? According to new findings reported in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, the answer may be yes.