This single page contains words and links related to the gift economy that have been posted here at Future Positive and at CommUnity of Minds. Also see: GIFTegrity, Read the Scientific Basis for the GIFTegrity, and the Specifications for a GIFTegrity.
The Hacker Milieu as Gift Culture
by Eric Steven Raymond
To understand the role of reputation in the open-source culture, it is helpful to move from history further into anthropology and economics, and examine the difference between exchange cultures and gift cultures.
Human beings have an innate drive to compete for social status; it’s wired in by our evolutionary history. For the 90% of that history that ran before the invention of agriculture, our ancestors lived in small nomadic hunting-gathering bands. High-status individuals (those most effective at informing coalitions and persuading others to cooperate with them) got the healthiest mates and access to the best food. This drive for status expresses itself in different ways, depending largely on the degree of scarcity of survival goods.
Most ways humans have of organizing are adaptations to scarcity and want. Each way carries with it different ways of gaining social status.
The simplest way is the command hierarchy. In command hierarchies, allocation of scarce goods is done by one central authority and backed up by force. Command hierarchies scale very poorly; they become increasingly brutal and inefficient as they get larger. For this reason, command hierarchies above the size of an extended family are almost always parasites on a larger economy of a different type. In command hierarchies, social status is primarily determined by access to coercive power.
Our society is predominantly an exchange economy. This is a sophisticated adaptation to scarcity that, unlike the command model, scales quite well. Allocation of scarce goods is done in a decentralized way through trade and voluntary cooperation (and in fact, the dominating effect of competitive desire is to produce cooperative behavior). In an exchange economy, social status is primarily determined by having control of things (not necessarily material things) to use or trade.
Most people have implicit mental models for both of the above, and how they interact with each other. Government, the military, and organized crime (for example) are command hierarchies parasitic on the broader exchange economy we call `the free market’. There’s a third model, however, that is radically different from either and not generally recognized except by anthropologists; the gift culture.
Gift cultures are adaptations not to scarcity but to abundance. They arise in populations that do not have significant material-scarcity problems with survival goods. We can observe gift cultures in action among aboriginal cultures living in ecozones with mild climates and abundant food. We can also observe them in certain strata of our own society, especially in show business and among the very wealthy.
Abundance makes command relationships difficult to sustain and exchange relationships an almost pointless game. In gift cultures, social status is determined not by what you control but by what you give away.
Thus the Kwakiutl chieftain’s potlach party. Thus the multi-millionaire’s elaborate and usually public acts of philanthropy. And thus the hacker’s long hours of effort to produce high-quality open-source code.
For examined in this way, it is quite clear that the society of open-source hackers is in fact a gift culture. Within it, there is no serious shortage of the `survival necessities’ — disk space, network bandwidth, computing power. Software is freely shared. This abundance creates a situation in which the only available measure of competitive success is reputation among one’s peers.
This observation is not in itself entirely sufficient to explain the observed features of hacker culture, however. The crackers and warez d00dz have a gift culture that thrives in the same (electronic) media as that of the hackers, but their behavior is very different. The group mentality in their culture is much stronger and more exclusive than among hackers. They hoard secrets rather than sharing them; one is much more likely to find cracker groups distributing sourceless executables that crack software than tips that give away how they did it.
What this shows, in case it wasn’t obvious, is that there is more than one way to run a gift culture. History and values matter. I have summarized the history of the hacker culture in A Brief History of Hackerdom ; the ways in which it shaped present behavior are not mysterious. Hackers have defined their culture by a set of choices about the form which their competition will take. It is that form which we will examine in the remainder of this paper.
The Joy of Hacking
In making this `reputation game’ analysis, by the way, I do not mean to devalue or ignore the pure artistic satisfaction of designing beautiful software and making it work. We all experience this kind of satisfaction and thrive on it. People for whom it is not a significant motivation never become hackers in the first place, just as people who don’t love music never become composers.
So perhaps we should consider another model of hacker behavior in which the pure joy of craftsmanship is the primary motivation. This `craftsmanship’ model would have to explain hacker custom as a way of maximizing both the opportunities for craftsmanship and the quality of the results. Does this conflict with or suggest different results than the `reputation game’ model?
Not really. In examining the `craftsmanship’ model, we come back to the same problems that constrain hackerdom to operate like a gift culture. How can one maximize quality if there is no metric for quality? If scarcity economics doesn’t operate, what metrics are available besides peer evaluation? It appears that any craftsmanship culture ultimately must structure itself through a reputation game — and, in fact, we can observe exactly this dynamic in many historical craftsmanship cultures from the medieval guilds onwards.
In one important respect, the `craftsmanship’ model is weaker than the `gift culture’ model; by itself, it doesn’t help explain the contradiction we began this paper with.
Finally, the `craftsmanship’ motivation itself may not be psychologically as far removed from the reputation game as we might like to assume. Imagine your beautiful program locked up in a drawer and never used again. Now imagine it being used effectively and with pleasure by many people. Which dream gives you satisfaction?
Nevertheless, we’ll keep an eye on the craftsmanship model. It is intuitively appealing to many hackers, and explains some aspects of individual behavior well enough.
After I published the first version of this paper on the Internet, an anonymous respondent commented: “You may not work to get reputation, but the reputation is a real payment with consequences if you do the job well.” This is a subtle and important point. The reputation incentives continue to operate whether or not a craftsman is aware of them; thus, ultimately, whether or not a hacker understands his own behavior as part of the reputation game, his behavior will be shaped by that game.
Other respondents related peer-esteem rewards and the joy of hacking to the levels above subsistence needs in Abraham Maslow’s well-known `hierarchy of values’ model of human motivation. On this view, the joy of hacking is a self-actualization or transcendence need which will not be consistently expressed until lower-level needs (including those for physical security and for `belongingness’ or peer esteem) have been at least minimally satisfied. Thus, the reputation game may be critical in providing a social context within which the joy of hacking can in fact become the individual’s primary motive.
The Many Faces of Reputation
There are reasons general to every gift culture why peer repute (prestige) is worth playing for:
First and most obviously, good reputation among one’s peers is a primary reward. We’re wired to experience it that way for evolutionary reasons touched on earlier. (Many people learn to redirect their drive for prestige into various sublimations that have no obvious connection to a visible peer group, such as “honor”, “ethical integrity”, “piety” etc.; this does not change the underlying mechanism.)
Secondly, prestige is a good way (and in a pure gift economy, the only way) to attract attention and cooperation from others. If one is well known for generosity, intelligence, fair dealing, leadership ability, or other good qualities, it becomes much easier to persuade other people that they will gain by association with you.
Thirdly, if your gift economy is in contact with or intertwined with an exchange economy or a command hierarchy, your reputation may spill over and earn you higher status there.
Beyond these general reasons, the peculiar conditions of the hacker culture make prestige even more valuable than it would be in a `real world’ gift culture.
The main `peculiar condition’ is that the artifacts one gives away (or, interpreted another way, are the visible sign of one’s gift of energy and time) are very complex. Their value is nowhere near as obvious as that of material gifts or exchange-economy money. It is much harder to objectively distinguish a fine gift from a poor one. Accordingly, the success of a giver’s bid for status is delicately dependent on the critical judgement of peers.
Another peculiarity is the relative purity of the open-source culture. Most gift cultures are compromised — either by exchange-economy relationships such as trade in luxury goods, or by command-economy relationships such as family or clan groupings. No significant analogues of these exist in the open-source culture; thus, ways of gaining status other than by peer repute are virtually
The above essay is taken from:
I highly recommend carefully looking at Eric Steven Raymond’s other writings. His most relevant papers are collected here:
This paper is now available as a book, it is one of the best explanations of open source software development:
Towards a Gifting Culture
Timothy Wilken, MD
Yesterday, I posted Eric Steven Raymond’s article The Hacker Milieu as Gift Culture as a preface to a series of articles on Gifting, Gifting Networks, Gifting Exchanges, Gifting Economys, etc..
As children we all taught that it is better to give than to receive. Certainly, that seems like an excellent philosophy for making close relationships and living in the social world.
“It is Better To Give Than To Receive”
Early Christians lived in a world far different from ours. Lots of people, in and out of the church, suffered on a daily basis without any “safety nets” between them and poverty. But Christians were especially susceptible to deprivation since discipleship took away any last vestiges of help due to the alienation from family and nation. One of the worst financial decisions to be made by anyone could be that of becoming a Christian. Yet it is from this crucible of suffering that Luke draws one of the greatest themes of the Book of Acts: benevolence. New Testament Christianity forever becomes our model of a people who took care of its own, who breathed life into the teaching of Jesus that
“To whom much is given, much is also required.” (Luke 12:48)
“But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality.” (Golden Text: 2 Corinthians 8:14)
“Our Lord Jesus Christ started this Faith and this Work, i.e. the establishment of one common purse. Therefore, wherever the children of God are found, there should also be established one common purse, the proceeds of which should be distributed to all, that there may be equality. That is the Kingdom of God; and it is what I have brought to the world.”
This very old idea, all but abandoned in our modern capitalistic world, is beginning to again draw the attention of those working for the Synergic Evolution.
Synergic scientists are telling us that life forms have needs and that to meet those needs they must take action. For an interdependent form of life, this requires givers and receivers. Without receivers there can be no givers.
Humans are an INTERdependent class of life.
Interdependence is the human condition. All humans need help unless they wish to live at the level of animal subsistence. Interdependence means some times I depend on others and sometimes others depend on me. Once we acknowledge our interdependence and accept our dependence on others, then there are only three ways that we can get help.
1) Adversary Help – We can make others help us.
This is help obtained with coercion – force or fraud. Those providing the help are losing. When you force others to help you, they do the least they possibly can. Because the helper is hurt, adversary help is low quality help.
2) Neutral Help – We can purchase help through the fair market place.
This is help purchased from others. This is the way most of us living in the free world get help today. We hire it or we buy it in the market place. When I go to McDonald’s, I pay them five dollars to feed me. The focus in the neutral market place is on a fair price. Because the helper is ignored, neutral help is average quality help. … Or,
3) Synergic Help – We can attract help by helping others.
This is help attracted by helping others. When other individuals understand that by helping you, they will in turn be helped, they will automatically help you. When others understand that when you win, they will win, they will support and celebrate your success. This is the power of the win-win relationship. Show those who can help you, how they will win by doing so. Show them how they will be helped by helping you. Because the helper is helped, synergic help is high quality help.
** If we are FORCED to help, this is ADVERSARY – (1+1)<2
I was forced to help him. Slavery, indentured service, tenant farming, and child labor are examples of adversary help. The criminal makes you help him, when he steals your money. The government makes you help it, when it forces you to pay taxes. You are forced to help others anytime you are given an ultimatum. An ultimatum is a choice between losing a little or losing a lot. Which do you want a broken arm or a broken leg, you are free to choose.
Adversary relationships are hurting and negative experiences. The helper experiences a loss. He is less after helping you than before. When you force others to help you, they do the least they possibly can.
Adversary relationships are hurtful. The parties in these relationships experience loss. They struggle to avoid the loss – conflict. In an adversary relationship, one individual plus another individual are less after the relationship. In other words (1+1)<2, and often much less than two. Adversary relationships are marked by high conflict, low effectiveness and poor productivity.
When you can make others help you, coercing them with force or fraud, the helper loses and will typically give you only the lowest quality help.
** If we are PAID to help, this is NEUTRAL – (1+1)=2
I was paid to help him. Macy’s, Sears, Mervyn’s, Penny’s, Costco, K- Mart, Circuit City, etc., etc. – malls, stores, markets, shops, and restaurants – are all examples of neutral help. The yellow pages in the telephone book are lists of places where you can purchase help. Capitalism’s fair market is where you purchase neutral help. You buy help in the open market place at a fair market exchange price. This is the modern free world where help is sold as products and services.
In the fair market, the helper experiences a draw and will typically produce average quality help.
Neutral relationships are ignoring. The parties in these relationships experience no change. They barter to insure that the exchange is fair––to insure that the price is not too high or too low – to insure that neither party loses. The open market of free enterprise generates a zone of neutrality which markedly reduces adversary relations. Neutral systems gain a marked production advantage over adversary systems. They are significantly more productive. However, this is primarily because they are not adversary. In a neutral relationship one individual plus another individual are the same after the relationship: (1+1)=2. Neutral relationships are marked by indifference with fair effectiveness and only average productivity.
Neutrality is that place where I work just hard enough to avoid getting fired, and, my employer pays me just enough to keep me from quitting.
How average is my help going to be?
Neutral relationships are ignoring and static experiences. The helper experiences a draw. They are the same after helping as before. When you ignore those who help you, you will get only fair help.
** If we are HELPED for help, this is SYNERGIC – (1+1)>>2
I was helped for helping him. Examples of synergic help in today’s world are much less common. We do flnd them in family businesses and within some partnerships and small business groups. Synergic relationships more often exist in start up businesses, where the originators work together sharing in the risks and the rewards equally.
If you wish to attact synergic help you must insure that when individuals invest their help with yours, they are also helped. Then they will automatically reinvest with you. When others understand that when you win, they win, they will support and celebrate your success. Synergic relationships are helping, positive experiences. The helper experiences a win. They are more after helping you than before. When you help those who help you, you get the most help. When you help those who help you, you get excellent help.
Synergic relationships are helpful. The parties in the relationship experience a gain. They operate together to insure that both parties win. They negotiate to insure that both parties are helped. In synergic relationships one individual plus another individual is more after their relationship than before: (1+1)>>2. Synergic relationships are marked by low conflict with high effectiveness and enormous productivity.
We humans have the option to use synergic organization which is unavailable to the plants and animals. We can attract help by insuring that those who help us are also helped, then they will provide the highest quality help. They will further seek to invest their action with ours, for a share of the cooperators’ revenues. They will understand that when you win, they win, and will support and celebrate your every success.
In a synergic future, relationships will be helping, positive experiences. The helper will experience a win. They will be more after helping you than before. You will attract others help by insuring that those who help you are also helped. You will do this by working together.
When we begin to conceptualize a synergic future, we have to begin by thinking outside the box. We are moving into a new paradigm. This means that many of our assumptions are wrong. But the real difficulty is not so much with these wrong assumptions, at least we are aware of them. The bigger problem is those assumptions that are unknown or unspoken.
Humans are INTERdependent. They must exchange food, things, and “knowing” in order to effectively meet their needs. What is changing is not the need for EXCHANGE. It is whether the exchange is adversary, neutral, or synergic.
Our goal then, is to develop a prototype for a synergic exchange. In a truely synergic exchange where all members are humans committed to win-win relationships, there is no need for accounting. You give to the GiftingNetwork based on your talents and skills, donating whatever action, “knowing”, things, or food you can create. You take from the GiftingNetwork whatever you need. Because all members are committed to having only win-win relationships, the system will work and there will be excess and abundance for all.
However, today we live in a world in transition. MOST HUMANS ARE NOT SYNERGIC. Many humans are not even neutral.
The committed ADVERSARY will simply take from the GiftingNetwork, by force or by fraud. They are not welcome members.
The committed NEUTRALIST will view the GiftingNetwork as just another market.
Towards a Gift Economy
Ways to strengthen local, community, state, national or regional economies
by Win Wenger, Ph.D.
Reportedly, several major cities in the northeastern United States, among them Ithaca, New York, have used such computer-coordinated bartering systems to restore prosperity where poverty was dominant—and apparently with less concept to guide the process than you find in this one brief. Here is how the system they’ve been using reportedly works:
One puts into the system whatever one wants to, for whatever others in the system are willing to pay for it, and draws from the system whatever products and services one desires within the systematized price of the values one has put in. In the deepest inner cities, I’ve been advised that at times and in some neighborhoods the U.S. dollar currency has in many instances become only a secondary basis of economic activity, people having managed to build enough value from what they’ve put into the system to trade wherever they please to advantage.
All this simply means that, based on the competence of the software and the prevalence of networked computers, and the competence and integrity of the people supervising the largely automatic system, a kind of electronic currency under whatever name has grown up to provide a more even playing field to the participants than they had been finding from accumulated disadvantage in the national and world economy.
Most of the existing companies engaging in barter appear to have “global” in their names but not in their operations. (Nor am I in a position to evaluate adequately the relative merits of the existing companies currently pursuing some sort of barter system.) You may need to pull people together locally to comprise your own system in order to appropriately address local needs and resources, whether or not you link up with one of the existing companies to give your exchange capabilities greater clout. This is a system which, like conventional currencies and national economies, can be abused and can damage people. This first of the “five-fold paths” seems simple in principle and actually is, but also may require the utmost attention in terms of how well you select the people who will supervise it initially, and who and what will comprise it.
Even if most of the information on this one path, as compared to the other paths, has yet to be developed, one thing is clear: this bartering approach allows even the most poverty-stricken or recession-stricken region to focus, not on what it doesn’t have but on what it does have, and so can immediately start building from there. Again: what’s crucial in a down economy is not what people don’t have but what people aren’t doing. Get people doing, get them producing things, and the economy heads upward.
A computer-coordinated barter system allows people a potentially far wider range of options wherein to pursue their most productive value and to exchange some of that for other things they desire.
|A computer-coordinated barter system allows people a potentially far wider range of options wherein to pursue their most productive value and to exchange some of that for other things they desire.|
There are certainly problems to overcome, the main one that of safeguarding the system and the values it will contain. But it allows people to no longer have to depend upon the systems and institutions which have left them at cumulative disadvantage. As wealth is created, they can re-enter the main system but from strength instead of from dependent weakness.
You can get away from what you don’t control, by refocussing from what you don’t have, to what you do have and thus do control. What you do control, you can do things with immediately. When you don’t control, it can take you a long, long time to achieve desired things.
Your local economy doesn’t have to have “money.” You do have to have people producing—producing what they can do well, and exchanging for what they need. In a marketplace, money and barter are two alternative methods. Throughout the world, there are some regions where money is effective and appropriate … and there are all those places in the world where it is not. But there is no need for poverty to prevail there. In all those places where money is inadequate, a good barter exchange system is another way to steer people and resources to productive and more productive uses.
by Tom Roberts
Beggars are an uncommon sight in America. Though it is true that we have problems with the homeless, unemployed and poor in our nation, there are the safety nets of food stamps, shelters, welfare support and multitudes of charitable and religious organizations that operate twenty-four hours a day and three hundred sixty-five days of the year. Many countries of the world today have a different attitude and less concern for the poor, permitting beggars to roam the streets and scavenge a living as best they can. Some religions, such as Hinduism, even incorporate “karma” into their justification for a lack of charity, advocating that one’s position in life is the just payment for evil deeds in a past life. Thus, one who is poor and needy is getting “justice” for past sins and society should not interfere. These poor are simply ignored and left to their destiny. I suppose it is better to be needy in America than in a Hindu state, if one must be needy at all.
Not all beggars are welfare cheats and deadbeats. There are times when world events trigger calamities such as wars, refugees and famine. Nature on the rampage has been known to destroy homes, crops and the necessary amenities so that disease and pestilence spring up and affect millions. Dramatic social changes (revolutions, programs, etc.) often force many into destitution. Many of us have been so protected by insurance, retirement plans, savings, governmental programs such as disaster relief or by civic orders such as the Red Cross that we can scarce imagine the total devastation others have experienced. However, take away these benefits and we might learn first hand what many in the world today know about being in need. Imagine, if you can, that you have no job, no food in the house for today’s meal, no bank account, no retirement funds, no government help, no welfare protection, your home is taken from you and your family has absolutely nothing between them and starvation. I know that such thinking is foreign to our affluent way of life, but try to put yourself in that disparate situation and then ask, “What do I do now?” We might learn what it means to be in need beyond our control.
We might even learn what it meant to be a Christian in the first century.
“It is Better To Give Than To Receive”
Early Christians lived in a world far different from ours. Lots of people, in and out of the church, suffered on a daily basis without any “safety nets” between them and poverty. But Christians were especially susceptible to deprivation since discipleship took away any last vestiges of help due to the alienation from family and nation. One of the worst financial decisions to be made by anyone could be that of becoming a Christian. Yet it is from this crucible of suffering that Luke draws one of the greatest themes of the Book of Acts: benevolence. New Testament Christianity forever becomes our model of a people who took care of its own, who breathed life into the teaching of Jesus that “it is better to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
The High-Tech Gift Economy
During the Sixties, the New Left created a new form of radical politics: anarcho-communism. Above all, the Situationists and similar groups believed that the tribal gift economy proved that individuals could successfully live together without needing either the state or the market. From May 1968 to the late Nineties, this utopian vision of anarcho-communism has inspired community media and DIY culture activists. Within the universities, the gift economy already was the primary method of socialising labour. From its earliest days, the technical structure and social mores of the Net has ignored intellectual property. Although the system has expanded far beyond the university, the self-interest of Net users perpetuates this hi-tech gift economy. As an everyday activity, users circulate free information as e-mail, on listservs, in newsgroups, within on-line conferences and through Web sites. As shown by the Apache and Linux programs, the hi-tech gift economy is even at the forefront of software development. Contrary to the purist vision of the New Left, anarcho-communism on the Net can only exist in a compromised form. Money-commodity and gift relations are not just in conflict with each other, but also co-exist in symbiosis. The ‘New Economy’ of cyberspace is an advanced form of social democracy.
Cookies, Gift-Giving and the Internet
Hilliary Brays and Miranda Mowbray
This paper arose from a question: why are there so many connections between cookies and the Internet? We describe some of these connections. Cookies appear in contexts that have to do with giving and sharing. We explore the larger social context of cookies as food, as a gift for children, and as a symbol of sharing, and also the relationship between women and giving. There turns out to be a connection between the Internet gift economy, the U.S. tradition of giving cookies as a present, and the future of the Internet. We describe this connection and its implication for Internet strategies.
a decentralized architecture for gift economies
In contemporary society, we are accustomed to islands of abundance within deserts of scarcity, islands which must be defended against a constant pressure. Western ideas about economics are founded on this assumption, that there is not enough to go around. Something is considered to be valuable in the degree to which it is scarce, therefore an unlimited resource has very limited value. But this directly contradicts the basic nature of digital products – any sequence of bits can be copied any number of times. And so we are witnessing an enormous effort to prevent computers and networks from doing what they’re particularly good at: copying and distributing information. This contradiction can only be resolved by abandoning the idea that scarcity is the only measure of value.
A potlatch is a gift festival, a practice of native societies of the northwest coast of North America, and the foundation of the social and economic systems of these tribes. This institution evolved under conditions in which the basic necessities of life were available in great abundance (eg. salmon, cedar bark, etc.) The public display of generosity, rather than private accumulation, was the measure of social standing. These displays were often competitive in nature, challenges dependant upon the reciprocal nature of the potlatch: to maintain status, each gift must eventually be repaid.
By showing us a working economy based on abundance, gift, and reputation, the potlatch provides us with a valuable reference point as we try to imagine a society in which we don’t need to artificially restrict the infinite supply of digital goods in order to ensure that the creators and providers of those goods are properly rewarded.
The Gift Economy
The first step toward a sustainable sense of success is taking pride in the value of our contributions to others rather than taking pride in the value of our possessions. By extension this means striving for quality in the use of whatever power we have rather than working to get more power over others as an end in itself. In this view, profit and wealth may help us to contribute, but they do not themselves constitute business success.
If we went to the grave with riches gained by gutting the pension fund, or selling pesticides we know cause more harm than the insects they control, would we count our business lives successful? On the other hand, what if we stewarded a small company that repeatedly introduced more ecological ways of doing things? Maybe other larger players who quickly copied the ecological innovations gained much of the material reward. If we barely made ends meet, but clearly made the world a better place, is that a success?
Defining success by what one gives rather than what one has is neither a new practice nor an overly idealistic view. It is rooted deep in history and human nature, and is more basic than wealth or money.
In the potlatches of the Chinook, Nootka, and other Pacific Northwest peoples, chiefs vied to give the most blankets and other valuables. More generally, in hunter-gatherer societies the hunter’s status was not determined by how much of the kill he ate, but rather by what he brought back for others.
In his brilliant book The Gift: The Erotic Life of Property, Lewis Hyde points to two types of economies. In a commodity (or exchange) economy, status is accorded to those who have the most. In a gift economy, status is accorded to those who give the most to others.
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.
At a symposium a scientist gives a paper. Selfish scientists do not hope others give better papers so they can come away with more knowledge than they had to offer in exchange. Quite the reverse. Each scientist hopes his or her paper will provide a large and lasting value. By the rules of an exchange economy, the scientist hopes to come away a “loser,” because that is precisely how one wins in science.
Antelope meat called for a gift economy because it was perishable and there was too much for any one person to eat. Information also loses value over time and has the capacity to satisfy more than one. In many cases information gains rather than loses value through sharing. While the exchange economy may have been appropriate for the industrial age, the gift economy is coming back as we enter the information age.
Scott McCloud is a cartoonist who is writing/drawing about micropayments as an alternative to our present market exchange economy. You can read/view his first cartoon article here. He followed that with a second installment. Since then he has written/drawn more and it is stirring up quite a reaction. As reported at Potlatch.
“Seems like Scott McCloud walked into a bit of a hornet’s nest over his latest micropayment manifesto, exemplified by this wickedly sarcastic parody. The complaint? Apparently, he is rhapsodizing something that doesn’t actually exist (yet) – and we wouldn’t want our creative types advancing crazy theories and getting our hopes up now would we. Scott’s rebuttal to the pitchfork-wielding villagers is here.”
Thanks to Potlatch
Nature offers her abundance free to satisfy the needs that nature and culture have created. Humans have altered this process by depleting the abundance, cornering what remains, and using it to manipulate other humans, keeping them on the edge of survival. This process derives from exchange, which is giving-in-order-to-receive, and is ego oriented, while the need satisfying process, when practiced by humans, is other oriented. Capitalism is based on exchange and socializes us into its ego oriented values of competition and domination which also often coincide with the values involved in the male gender identity. Communism places a different emphasis on the collective but has so far institutionalized patriarchal hierarchies, often promoting individual and collective tyranny.
In contrast to patriarchal economic systems, the free satisfaction of needs is still visible in the relation between mothers and children, because children cannot “give back” anything in exchange for the nurturing they receive and they have to receive free goods and services from their caregivers.
The free gifts of nature depend upon the capacity to receive of those who have the needs. The receivers’ capacities can be enhanced or diminished by the presence of absence of gifts during socialization. Indigenous peoples often allowed everyone free access to the abundance of their environment, and considered themselves stewards of nature’s gifts. They also often had societies in which women were respected.
37 Ways to Join the Gift Economy, Now!
You don’t have to participate in a local currency or service exchange to be part of the cooperative gift economy. Any time you do a favor for a family member, neighbor, colleague, or stranger you’re part of it. Here are some ways you can spend time in the gift economy, where you’ll find fun, freedom, and connection.
STEWART BRAND an interview
“Generosity means on the net the nature of how it’s grown over 25 years is, is basically a gift economy. It hasn’t been an economy with money changing hands up til now. But it’s a thriving world of 30 million people. What are they doing, they’re giving each other information so that’s the nature of transaction on the net now. For a company or business to get into the net, they need to join that way of doing things and so typically it means giving away software as the people that are now in netscape did by originally giving away mosaic. It means often giving away content. Many authors now reporting full chapters or even all of their book on the web and this is treated as advertising so then what actually do you get paid for? You get paid for other things that emerge later. Personal relationships, authentication, follow up support, some kind of thing that happens outside of the net that is a transaction. So if I put part of a portrait I’m writing on the net and people are intrigued by that, they may go to a book store and buy the actual finished book.”
The Internet and the Future of Money
The Internet might be more than a new kind of marketplace and a new medium for exchanging money as we know it. If Bernard Lietaer and others are right, the Internet might lead to a radical change in the nature of money. Lietaer, fellow at the Center for Sustainable Resources at the University of California at Berkeley, was a central banker and currency manager in Belgium, with twenty-five years of working with governments and banks. He believes that money as we know it is due for a radical change; right now he’s working on a book, ‘The Future of Money: Beyond Greed and Scarcity.” He is one of a number of people around the world who have been working on the idea of ‘alternative currencies’ or ‘local money’ that keep resources recycling within communities, instead of draining money out of communities. These efforts predate the Internet, but Lietaer sees the Net as a vehicle for accelerating the changes that he and others have been foreseeing for years.
Money, according to Lietaer, can be defined in several ways: ‘Money is information about the way we exchange energy,’ he says. ‘Money is an agreement within a community to use something as a medium of exchange. The agreement can be conscious or unconscious, coerced or free. Most of us don’t consciously choose our money. We have an opportunity to change that. The Internet is a space where that is possible to do. I expect a flourishing of money systems in the coming years. 95% of these experiments will fail. But the 5% that succeed will change the world.’
Internet Currencies for Virtual Communities
A recent survey on values and priorities in the US has revealed that an astounding 83% feel that our top priority should be to “develop and heal our communities”. While most people appear to recognize the importance of healing communities, few seem to understand exactly where the rifts dividing us came from – or what to do about them. Even some of the people who created virtual communities have not always been aware that the secret of their success relates to the fact that they had created a ‘gift economy’ on the Net. “I’ll help you today, and someone else will help me if needed some other day” has been the common pattern in the spaces wherever successful virtual communities have sprung up.
As the Net becomes home to the growing number of commercial enterprises, those who value the Net as community space may want to take some precautions lest virtual communities meet the same fate as almost all the gift economies that preceded them. The time to become aware of this connection has come because all signs point to an imminent change in the way the Net will operate. For instance, Business Week’s ‘Special Report about Internet Communities’ (1). points out that “Today’s push is to turn the age-old appeal of community into cash”. And there seems to be little awareness either in business or on the Net that unless some precautions are taken in the way this is done, we may kill the proverbial goose that lays the golden eggs, and virtual communities will simply disappear as have most traditional “primitive” communities operating on the basis of “gift economies”.
Giving Is Receiving
I learned about giving in the slow human way. Because my mother was a skilled seamstress, I was a well dressed child. It may have been guilt or it may have had something to do with “the joy of giving” that prompted me to deliver several of my most stylish dresses to a less fortunate little girl, who lived with disabled parents.
After thanking me gratefully, the little girl offered me the only party dress in her closet. Puzzled, I tried to refuse, but my mother guided me. She complimented the girl and told her how happy I would be to wear the dress. I came away knowing a little bit more about human pride and who gives what to whom. My greatest gift to the girl was acceptance of the gift she offered me.
A Religious View of Giving and Receiving
World Scripture Anthrology
When we give to one another, freely and without conditions, sharing our blessings with others and bearing each other’s burdens, the giving multiplies and we receive far more than what was given. Even when there is no immediate prospect of return, Heaven keeps accounts of giving, and in the end blessing will return to the giver, multiplied manyfold. We must give first; to expect to receive without having given is to violate the universal law.
A book review by Bill Ellis
“THE FABLE OF L’HOMO ECONOMICUS is destroyed by Dominique Temple and Mireille Chabal in: La RÈciprocitÈ et La Naissance des Valeurs Humaines (…ditions L’Harmattan, 5-7 rue de L’Ècole Polytechnique, F-75005 Paris FRANCE, 1995, in French).
Modern Economics and the EuroAmerican culture are based on the assumed reality of homo economicus. That is, that the only motivation of humans is material self-interest. This book examines all cultures throughout history, including our own modern culture, and demonstrates that human motivations and human values have been distorted only in the last couple of hundred years, and more vehemently in the last few decades, to become based on values which are destroying the humanity and life on Earth. Reciprocity is more fundamental and more friendly to both humans and nature.
Reciprocity is the antithesis of exchange or selling. Reciprocity, or “gifting,” has taken on many forms in different cultures. In some it is imbedded in religion. People produce and distribute goods and services in celebration of their spiritual beliefs. Their work is a gift to the gods, to the Earth, and to humanity, without thought of material return. In other cultures production is for the common good. That is, people see themselves imbedded in their families and communities. They exist only because of their relationships to other people and their bioregion. And these relationships depend on the productive role they play — how much they can support and give to society. In still others, material welfare is paramount; but one gains insurance of her or his material well-being by giving to others. “To him who gives shall be given.” Each person gains prestige in society by how much s/he gives. That prestige demands reciprocity to the giver and to the family of the giver. The more one impoverishes himself in betterment of the community the more the community is beholden to the giver.
This reciprocity on which almost all cultures are based is uniquely vilified by neoliberal economic theory which refuses to recognize that production and distribution can be based on anything but greed and exchange — giving up something only to gain something else. This distorted economic theory of exchange goes well beyond just “the market.” Economic reasoning has invaded sociology, education, politics, ethics and the law. Homo Economicus is believed to base all values and judgments on economic exchange values, what one can gain materially. It is only in this distorted Western society that reciprocity has been subjugated to the concept of exchange.
Bronislaw Malinowski, Claude Levi-Straus, Marcel Mauss, Marshall Sahlins and other anthropologists have shown the deep roots of reciprocity; Aristotle, Homer, Hobbes, and other political philosophers trace reciprocity from the Greeks as the base of our Western society; and Hegel, Adam Smith, Durkheim and Polanyi and other economists, describe reciprocity’s relevance to the age we are in. But it’s the future which really concerns Temple and Chabal. Money, exchange, and globalism have replaced the human values inherent in reciprocity with motivations which are leading to social, ecological, economic and political destruction. Reciprocity exists deep in ourselves, our families, and our communities; but it is suppressed by our belief system and its resulting social institutions. We see reciprocity in President Bush’s “thousand points of light”, in the burgeoning NGOs around the world, in volunteerism, in our familles, in our communities, and in many grassroots social innovations. Our future can be assured only if we release this constructive force of reciprocity.
Or as the authors end this book, “Si l’esclave veut etre libre, il ne lui faut pas seulement diffÈrer la mort, mais dominer sa propre vie par le souce de celle d’autrui, maitriser la vie avant qu’elle ne le condamne a mort.”
Downsizing, another word for out of work!
Most individuals entangled in the horror of corporate downsizing and restructuring respond with moral outrage. There is a general consensus among the victims and potential victims that mechanisms should be employed to minimize the personal impact of such processes. Usually, the general perception is that the corporation instigating the action or the government should take action to assist the newly unemployed. The impulse behind this perception is based upon beliefs concerning power relations and perceived wealth combined with the belief that the stronger, by ethical reasoning, should help the weaker.
While the rational anarchist can agree that it would be ethically positive for the stronger to help the weaker, the rational anarchist cannot endorse the belief that the stronger must help the weaker. The forced assistance of the weaker by the stronger would reduce the stronger to a means to the ends of the weaker. This arrangement is classical exploitation. Whenever one set of individuals is reduced to a mere means to the ends of another set of individuals exploitation is attained.
Victims of downsizing and restructuring should reject the notion that the ethical onus to help in times of need falls only upon the shoulders of the stronger. Instead, such victims should place this onus upon their own shoulders.
Individuals who wait for the grace of others to relieve their disenfranchisement foolishly surrender their freedom and agency to those with a demonstrable disregard for the interests of the former. The only noble and dignified response to disenfranchisement is self organization. The victims and potential victims of downsizing and restructuring, collectively, have it within their potential to become their own means to mutual support. Political philosophies that place the disenfranchised into the role of noble beggar fail to acknowledge the potential for mutual support within the ranks of the disenfranchised themselves. The implementation of a gift economy is the logical first step in the elimination of dependency. Through the elimination of dependency, the disenfranchised can create their own structures of mutual support.
The Internet is still a Gift Economy
by Gift Economy, where the philanthropic gestures of large institutions compete for attention with a blizzard of more idiosyncratic and independent movements. Those more idiosyncratic and independent movements, fueled by obsession, frustration, or love, are where life on the nets resides.
You wouldn’t know anything was happening unless you were hooked in, unless you were participating, offering something yourself. It would be overwhelming or meaningless if you weren’t oriented by informal networks, links, and email. As far as most are concerned, there is a blizzard, a white-out, of information on the nets. All but the most intrepid are numbed by this blizzard of information. You won’t even go out into the blizzard unless you fancy yourself some kind of Admiral Perry or unless you have cohorts or maps, unless you are a native.
Professionalism hasn’t come to the nets just yet, much to the chagrin of the institutions and the entrepreneurs. The New Philanthropists, the would-be commercial presences, are the missionaries of the nets. The incorrigible natives are now accepting well-crafted hand-outs from the missionaries. The missionaries are hoping that the natives will learn the value of their brands, hoping that the natives will begin to participate in a money economy of sorts. Professionalism will follow charity.
These natives of the nets are particularly incorrigible because they “tribalized” the nets in an attempt to escape the emptiness of their own advanced money economies. We know the story only too well, never mind the catchwords we use to describe “the context of no context.” Instead of replaying the over familiar story of plebeianized, rationalized, and now completely tautologous, advanced money economies and their media, I just want to touch on the possibility that thoughtful writing on the nets is a gift economy. A difference.
June 2, 1997
The Gift Must Always Move
Barbara J. Pescan
Trobriand Islanders of the South Pacific have an elaborate ritual way of passing gifts of necklaces and arm bands made of shells. The shells themselves are nicely wrought into the items that become the gifts. But, it isn’t the intrinsic value of the item that gives the gift its importance. It is the ceremony attached to how the gifts move from island to island, and from person to person.
It is important how the next receiver is chosen to receive the gift. It should be someone who has not had the necklace or arm band for some time. Arm bands get passed one way around the islands, and necklaces move in a circle in the opposite direction. These objects are carried from island to island by canoe. And the journeys take much preparation and take several days and cover hundreds of miles.
The current owner carefully plans when and how he will give the object to someone else. The one who is to receive the object waits and wonders when it will come. The whole thing goes on with great decorum and with particular valences attached to how long one person keeps one of these necklaces before passing it on. People’s reputations are made by how they participate in the giving and receiving ritual. It may take two to ten years for the object to make the rounds of the islands.
The important thing with the Trobriand people is that to possess is to give—“someone who owns a thing is expected to share it, to distribute it, to be its trustee and dispenser.”
In the world of the gift, you not only can have your cake and eat it, too; you can’t have your cake unless you eat it, that is, unless you distribute it, consume it, use it up by giving it to someone else.
The Gift – Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property
A book review by Eric Nehrlich
After reading Trickster Makes This World, I went back and picked up this earlier book by Lewis Hyde. Again, his mastery of mythology amazes me. I used to read myths and think they were pretty stupid stories. Hyde makes them come alive, expressing the philosophies and beliefs of their tellers.
In this case, he follows the culture of the gift, which will have its value disappear if not passed on. However, if given away freely, it will come back to reward the giver many times over. He brings in many myths to support this, such as the several where a poor peasant gives away their last bit of bread to someone in need, only to have it turn out that the recipient was a god or a king in disguise, who then rewards the peasant for their generosity.
Hyde studies this culture from the viewpoint of an artist trying to find his niche in the modern world, where everything has a price. In a ultra-capitalist economy, how does one value art? By exploring the gift economy, Hyde demonstrates that there are areas where the market economy does not apply, where the gift economy must take precedence. Again, he supports his viewpoint with several myths where the greedy merchant tries to buy something that must be given away, and ends up with rocks instead of gold.
The Gift of Generalized Exchange
In times of hyper-capitalism, where everything is naturally seen as for sale, the idea that anybody does anything without expectation of financial compensation is considered absurd. Where examples exist, they are first explained away, then, if possible, brought into the market economy. To the extent that exchange happens outside the money economy, it detracts from economic efficiency (and the carefully calculated numbers of economists). The Internet is an example of this problem. Many writers, graphic artists, designers, programmers and others create things that are shared without money changing hands. What motivates them to do this?
Ego, say traditional economists: they can show off their intellectual abilities, or, perhaps, that they are good people who know how to share. Not so, say others: the Internet is an example of a gift economy. Howard Rheingold, in Virtual Communities, was one of the first writers to make the connection between digital communications and gift exchange; since then, it has been repeated in the popular press so often, the connection is taken for granted. We freely circulate information on the Internet in the expectation that we will benefit from the information freely circulated by others.
There’s only one problem: gift economies don’t work this way. In traditional anthropological studies, gifts are given on ceremonial occasions to members of one’s tribe, or the tribe of somebody else to which one wants to affiliate. At weddings, to take one example, there can be a complex arrangement of gift giving between various members of the two families involved. Although somewhat altered, gift giving at occasions such as weddings and birthdays remains a common practice.
Speculative Microeconomics for Tomorrow’s Economy
J.Bradford DeLong & A. Michael Froomkin
Governments and societies that bet on the market system become more materially prosperous and technologically powerful. The lesson usually drawn from this economic success story is that in the overwhelming majority of cases the best thing the government can do for the economy is to set the background rules – define property rights, set up honest courts, perhaps rearrange the distribution of income, impose minor taxes and subsidies to compensate for well-defined and narrowly-specified “market failures” – but otherwise the government should leave the market system alone.
The main argument for the market system is the dual role played by prices. On the one hand, prices serve to ration demand: anyone unwilling to pay the market price does not get the good. On the other hand, price serves to elicit production: any organization that can make a good, or provide a service, for less than its market price has a powerful financial incentive to do so. What is produced goes to those who value it the most. What is produced is made by the organizations that can make it the cheapest. And what is produced is whatever the ultimate users value the most.
The data processing and data communications revolutions shake the foundations of the standard case for the market. In a world in which a large chunk of the goods valued by users are information goods that can be cheaply replicated, it is not socially optimal to charge a price to ration demand. In a world in which cheap replication produces enormous economies of scale, the producers that survive and profit are not those that can produce at the least cost or produce the goods that users value the most; instead, the producers that flourish are those that established their positions first. In a world in which the value chain is only tangentially related to ultimate value to users – in which producers earn money by selling eyeballs to advertisers, say – there is no certainty that what is produced will be what users value the most.
The market system may well prove to be tougher than its traditional defenders have thought, and to have more subtle and powerful advantages than those that defenders of the invisible hand have usually listed. At the very least, however, defenders will need new arguments. And at the most, we will need to develop a new economics to discern new answers to the old problem of economic organization.
A Bill Ellis’ Review
Reciprocity is the Basis of our Future Culture suggests Dominique Temple in issue No.31 of Golias: Le Journal Catho Tendre et GrinÁant (Golias, BP4034, F-69615 Villeubanne FRANCE, (in French)).
Reciprocity is a form of economics practiced by most indigenous people in many parts of the world. Unlke “exchange”, “trade” or “barter”, reciprocity is based on prestige gained by gifting. Ownership, accumulation, competition and materialism, are not recognized in reciprocity societies instead the are rooted in giving, cooperation, human relationships, and ecology. “Self-interest is replaced by “public interest”; the individual’s well being is dependent on the well being of the community, so the individual’s whole life and purpose is devoted to community well being.
Dominique bases the main article in this publication on an examination of the Native American economy since Columbus. Columbus’s logs for the first three years are filled with wonderment at the Native’s proclivity for giving, and their lack of interest in exchange. In a few passages Columbus seems to almost understand the radical different basis of the cultures he’d discovered. But he succumbs to his search for gold, and his cultural roots in exploitation and domination.
But through the ages the Native Americans have maintained their roots in a culture of reciprocity. In spite of the repressive efforts of the early colonists and the later neo colonialists to press them into the EuroAmerican economic system, they have held on to their own means of distributing goods and maintain relationships, except when dealing with outsiders. Their tenacity has been read by the U.S. government and others as a turn toward Marxism, and led to further repressions during the Cold War. But, Temple points out, that unlike Marxism, the indigenous system is not based on class struggle or government ownership. For the Native American had no interest in “property”, “ownership” or “accumulation” which is as necessary for Communism as it is for Capitalism. The native Americans “wealth”, or assured well being, was dependent in his “poverty”, or the amount of goods s/he had contributed to others in the community.
With the end of the Cold War there is a growing leniency toward the Native Americans, and toward other cultures. New studies have shown that almost all cultures, except the EuroAmerican, based their roots in human relationships, reverence for the Earth, and reciprocity. These are the same qualities gaining precedence among a growing number of progressive thinkers and Gaian philosophers. Temple sees this as a hopeful sign, and believes that we will learn that a different culture and a different economic system is not only possible but in the making.
Doing Business as a Gift to Society
The next step in the move toward sustainable business is to make the business itself a gift to society.
Companies that use sulfuric acid end up with a hazardous waste. DuPont, instead of distancing itself from the hazardous waste generated by its customers, saw this problem as an opportunity to differentiate its offering in one of the most basic of commodities. The company took back the spent sulfuric acid, purified it, and resold it. This was good business because once DuPont got good at it, recycling turned out to be cheaper than creating from scratch. It also gained the company market share and margins in what had become to others a low-profit, uninteresting commodity. In this case, DuPont does well by doing good, thus winning both the exchange and gift paradigms.
The sign of excellence in a new world of the larger self is not vast profit or possessions, but sufficient material success to allow large and thoughtful contributions to society. For some strategies of societal service, huge profits may be needed, for example to build up the capital to purchase forestry land and convert it to sustainable forestry, or to extend a chain of tutoring schools that serve those who otherwise might not read, including the poor. Other strategies for making a contribution might require only a modest income that could be used for marshalling forces for change by example or through volunteers. In a world dominated by a larger sense of self these two strategies could do equal good and would be considered equally successful.
One feature of our society works directly against implementing a larger vision of success: institutional ownership of companies. In an earlier era of owner-operated businesses, an owner who thought solely of profit without regard for the effect of decisions on employees or the welfare of the community was thought to be a monster, and rightly so.
In contrast, the law today forbids pension fund managers from full humanity; they are precluded by law from allowing concerns for the environment or the good of employees to interfere with maximizing return. Institutional investment laws need to be changed.
A Spiritual Basis for the Gift Tensegrity
Timothy Wilken, MD
As children we all taught that it is better to give than to receive. Certainly, that seems likean excellent philosophy for making close relationships and living in the social world. Jesus of Nazareth is credited with saying:
“It is Better To Give Than To Receive.“
Whether you believe Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ foretold in biblical scripture or just another human who lived far ahead of his time, we can all agree he said some remarkable and wise things. His followers were called Christians because most of them believed he was the Christ foretold in the scripture.
“Early Christians lived in a world far different from ours. Lots of people, in and out of the church, suffered on a daily basis without any “safety nets” between them and poverty. But Christians were especially susceptible to deprivation since discipleship took away any last vestiges of help due to the alienation from family and nation. One of the worst financial decisions to be made by anyone could be that of becoming a Christian. Yet it is from this crucible of suffering that Luke draws one of the greatest themes of the Book of Acts: benevolence. New Testament Christianity forever becomes our model of a people who took care of its own, who breathed life into the teaching of Jesus that “it is better to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).”
Jesus of Nazareth may have been one of the first humans to embrace synergy. His words seem to capture the very essence of synergic morality. Synergic morality is more than not hurting other, it requires helping other. Jesus was one of the first humans to state the fundamental law of synergic relationship. It is known as the Golden Rule:
“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law.”
What would you have others doto you? The best one word answer I can find for this question is help. “Help others as you would have them help you.”
Confucius 579-471BCis credited as the author of the negative formof the Golden Rule:
“Do not do unto others what you would not want others to do unto you!”
“This negative form of the “golden rule” is next found in the Jewish Book of Tobit 4:15 from the Old Testament Bible (3rd Century BC): “And what you hate, do not do to anyone.” It is also found in the writings of the Jewish scholars Hillel (1st century BC) and Philo of Alexandria (1st centuries BCand AD), It occurs in the 2nd-century documents Didache and the Apology of Aristides. It also appears in the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Isocrates, and Seneca.”
We can restate this a little more clearly as:
“Do not doto others what you would have them not doto you.”
What would you have others not doto you?
Here the best one word answer is hurt. “Donothurt others as you would have them not hurt you.”
The negative form of the Golden Rule is true and correct as far as it goes. In fact, it is the underlying premise for the Neutral Moralityfound in the western world today. But, Synergic Morality requires more of us than simply not hurting. It requires more of us than simply ignoring others. It requires us to helpothers—to helpeach other. Jesus of Nazarethunderstood this on the deepest of levels. He called for more than a prohibition against hurting others. He ask all humans to helpeach other.
Synergic Morality rests then on the premise—that when you help others, you will find yourself helped in return— “As ye sow, so shall ye reap.” Synergic Morality is morethan the absence of hurting. It is the presenceof helping.
Also see: GIFTegrity, Read the Scientific Basis for the GIFTegrity, and the Specifications for a GIFTegrity.