SF Bay Area Gift Economy

public - created 01/02/05
A gift economy is an economy based on gifting rather than exchange. (Gifting is when you give without expecting anything back- just for the joy of giving. And exchange is when you give something, in order to receive something back.)

SF Gift Economy is our local place for subverting the exchange economy, and creating and perpetuating a gift economy in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Free Skools, free boxes, freecycle, skill shares, potlucks, open source software, art, literature, hobo jungles, free carpentry, and even language are all examples of the gift economy. The internet is a perfect example of a large and successful Gift Economy.

The gift economy puts people first and things second.

Here's another example: Vipassana Meditation practice operates on a gifting basis. Anyone may take the course for free, it is a gift. After that (and only after that) you may make a donation - not to pay for what you have received, but so that it can be gifted to others. Labor (including that of the teachers, cooks, etc.) is donated.

Taken broadly, gifting can include all those co-operation and co-ordination activities that happen in everyday life which are not governed by commerce. It includes tons of information sharing with friends, colleagues and people on the street. It includes signaling of intentions, turn-taking, spontaneous help, charity, contributions to free / amateur projects, participation in festivals and traditional events, and support within the family.

Gift Economy is very much rooted in a philosophy shared among people who participate in Burning Man, but goes well beyond that. It is part of anarchist theory. It is part of the philosophy and practice of the natives of the American northwest, the idea of the potlatch. For a hundred thousand years, before agriculture, people lived this way, recognizing that they were part of a tribe in a world with limited resources that had to be shared.

The current dominant global exchange economy, capitalism, leaves us feeling empty, rootless, and meaningless. Faster and faster it is stripping our planet of its resources and subjugating a vast majority of its people.

In an exchange economy, which also includes barter, informal loans and explicit favors that expect to be repaid, things need to be accounted for. Commercializing something kills it. Explicit value needs to be ascribed to every action and object. The market makes people isolated and less communicative. Less helpful. The rich ecosystem of communication and mutual support starts to die. Market solutions are shoddy substitutes. Condominiums and security cameras are no substitute for neighborhoods. Therapy and foot-massage don't compensate for the lack of being part of a community that really cares for you. Prostitutes are not lovers.

We can replace the exchange economy, the hollow idea of markets and money, of commodities and exchange values, with the older idea of a the gift economy. I don't want to overstate this, but I will anyway: The gift economy will change the world.

This is the gift-paradigm. To understand markets and wealth as part of (and maybe a relatively small, utterly dependent part of) the much larger ecosystem of relations between people that includes gifting and loosely accounted, reciprocated support.

(thanks to various wikis for great definitions of the gift economy concept)

This idea is a work in progress, and this tribe has been formed to help nurture the possibilities. We are here to promote participatory generosity in our local communities and beyond. RSS Feed what is XML?

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