A gift economy is based on the principle of giving when you can give and receiving when you need. It's not bartering. It's not tit-for-tat. It's a flow of resources based on the trust that surplus and deficit continually level out and that social norms and customs will govern the exchange. In The Gift (1979), Lewis Hyde explores the history of gift economies, focusing mostly on indigenous cultures. This structure of exchange seems to best suit communities that place a strong emphasis on interpersonal relationships: families, friends and neighbors. This is rarer in a globalized, technical world where, despite the ease in communicating and sharing - as members in a global society, we feel more isolated and protective than ever. Lewis Hyde finds traces of the gift economy in the arts and sciences where ideas and work are offered without a guarantee of monetary compensation for the sake of a free flow of information.
Charles Eisenstein makes reference to Lewis Hyde's work. He refers to gift economies in his own ideas vis a vis money. He writes about the sacred and his impulses as a human being to protect what he considers sacred. He finds that these impulses constantly get curtailed by the flow of money in our society -- a flow that eventually promotes the very things he considers unsacred like the destruction of our biosphere and the gross inequities in the division of wealth.
In a fascinating conversation with Rob Hopkins, Eisenstein elaborates the major themes of his book, Sacred Economics. You can read the transcription here:
As I seek more information about the Transition Network, even attending a workshop here in Los Angeles, I step back and worry about the public's perception of the movement. I would hate for Transition to be dismissed as a hippy thing. This association would keep keep many from taking Transition seriously. I have no problems with hippies. I have hippy tendencies myself, but I don't identify as one. I find hippy culture homogenous and isolating. You have to identify as a hippy to belong. In actuality, I consider Transition as resolutely malleable and embracing. One of its great strengths is its promotion of heterogeneity.
A major reason why I would personally support a transition town rather than an intentional community is because I desire extreme examples of ingenuity. I mean, local businesses and local food production, yes! Social justice and community involvement, yes! But (not-so-great) hand-made crafts and (not-so-interesting) music played on acoustic guitars? Hmmmm.
I wondered how excellence factors into the Transition Town. As an artist I try to make something that is beyond expectation. Something that can only be made after enormous dedication and a modicum of skill. I rarely succeed in this, but it's what I look for, not just in art but in many aspects of my life. I look to Europe and Asia where certain towns or regions become synonomous with particular crafts or food products - where artisans are able to make things that seem beyond the capabilities of human hands.
Although the following discussion between Hopkins and Eisenstein didn't directly address my concern, I did find this bit interesting:
Rob Hopkins: I asked if people had any questions, and one of the questions I was asked to bring was “in the gift economy, how do I get a piano?”, i.e. something that needs to be made by skilled people, something that’s using resources, and something on which people can express so beautifully and creatively. Where do the pianos come from?
Charles Eisenstein: Sure, pianos, computers, all kinds of things. That’s just part of the misunderstanding, people think that I’m talking about a world without money. Maybe some day money will have evolved to a point where we don’t even recognise it as money. But basically I think that there has to be a way to co-ordinate human labour over vast social distances. Just like in a body how if a cell needs something it puts out a signalling molecule, and that molecule attracts the resources that it needs.
So I think in the social body, money is one of the signalling molecules that says – pianos are needed. And the signal is that people are willing to pay for pianos, so pianos are needed. So if I’m a craftsman, and I’m wondering whether to make a piano, or I’m an entrepreneur and I want to do something, I want to make something – shall I make pianos or shall I make pogo-sticks? Maybe there’s more money in the pianos. That’s maybe a signal from society that that’s maybe what we want. In a way money already works like that, that’s the theory of it.
The problem is that it’s become divorced from things that people actually want and need. I explained how that happened in the book with the way money’s created as debt, so it’s not about eliminating money, it’s about transforming its nature, for example, no longer creating it as debt
I was also interested in reading more about Eisenstein's views on the Sacred. This is what he says...
Charles Eisenstein: When I speak about it (the Sacred) I try to invoke it through pointing out some of the experiences that give me a sense of the sacred and that give other people a sense of the sacred. I think most people have experienced those moments. It could be a moment in nature or with a child, witnessing a birth or witnessing a death with a dying loved one, those special moments…or maybe even listening to a band play and there’s that moment of connection, where the band is really singing to you somehow, and not just putting on a performance. I think during these experiences when your real needs are being met, shopping is the farthest thing from your mind.
It seems absurd, and wouldn’t you like more of that? Or those moments of authentic intimate communication with somebody. So I’ll invoke that and say something in your heart knows that this is what life is supposed to be about.
Rock on Charles! Rock on Rob!