Share |

The Gift Economy

The Road to Resilience

Long before the money economy developed, Many societies had gift economies that  served to strengthen bonds between family and tribal members, to consolidate pacts between neighboring groups, and, practically speaking, to insure that goods were well distributed so as to flow to the areas of greatest need.  It is natural for goods to flow from places of abundance to places of scarcity just as a grain of salt will suffuse a glass of water until it is evenly distributed throughout.  

At the core of a gift economy is the idea of abundance; there is enough to go around.  The key there is that we all take enough of what we need and no more. Scarcity drives the fear that some will take more than they need leaving not enough for us.  A product of the gift economy is a community in which everyone feels a responsibility to give where needed and a right to receive when needed.  The giving and receiving of gifts creates the bonds that make a resilient and productive community.

The money economy requires a scarcity of goods and services so that prices can be set that make it worthwhile for somebody to be in the business of selling them to you. The money economy makes us feel like we are all alone in the world.  Money allows us to get all that we need from anonymous sources.  We need build no bonds or relations with our neighbors, and may therefore have only a bare semblance of a real community.  As  individuals, we wield very little power, and you can be sure that somebody is taking up the slack.

Money as a universal exchange medium is really useful, but it also has its drawbacks.  We all have to get money from somewhere.  Ultimately, where does it come from?  As far as you and I are concerned, we have to find someone who is willing to exchange money for our goods or services.  Starting a business of our own is not easy.  We may be competing with a much larger operation that can provide our good or service for a lot less.  What most of us do is to get a job.  But that isn’t completely within our power to do either.  

Suppose that there is an unemployed plumber who needs to get his computer fixed.  There is an unemployed computer technician who needs his car fixed.  And there is an unemployed auto mechanic who needs to get his plumbing repaired.  Since they all need money to pay each other, they all remain idle and nobody gets what they need.   We have the potential to supply goods and services to each other but can’t do so because of factors outside of our control. If we are not wielding power over our lives, who is?  You can be sure that somebody is and that they are making a killing at it.

We can’t and shouldn’t throw out the money economy, but we need to supplement it with a vibrant gift economy.  At this time of year, we remember the value of gifting, but much of it bears very little resemblance to the practical gifting that builds community.  We too often are not giving from a position of abundance, but of scarcity.  The anxiety we feel often drives us into debt that may cause more harm than the good that comes from the gifts it buys.  The kind of gifting that we need to be doing will not be good for the money economy.

The Vashon Timebank is a wonderful way to institutionalize the gift economy in our community.  It really involves nothing more than what good neighbors do for each other, but has the potential of being far more useful.  The 3 unemployed service people in the example above would be able to serve each other nicely as Timebank members.  The Timebank will show you that you have a lot more neighbors than you ever imagined.  Join the Timebank!  Next orientation Jan 26th, 4pm. at the Senior Center.

Another example of gifting coming to our community is the Rocket Stove Workshop.  It will be held Thurs. –Sat., Jan 9-11, 9-5pm, at Farmstad,  just west of Bethel Park.  In the spirit of a collaborative gift economy, the tuition is free.  Participants can bring food, or materials to be used in stove construction if they so choose; the workshop will be what you make it.  The presenter is Eddie Goldstein, an inventive fellow from upper New York State, who will help you build stoves from metal, ceramics, even dirt (Cob)!  If you feel that you want to offset Eddie’s travel costs or support Farmstad, feel free, but you are under no obligation to do so.  Reciprocation is natural and occurs in its own time and way.  If this works well, we hope to have many more gifted workshops teaching other skills.  Check out the flyers that are up around town.  The workshop is to be limited to 12 participants, so sign up now at  Contact; Diane Emerson, 234 4813