My Interpretation of the Gift Economy
I first heard of the Gift Economy about 5 years ago. I was searching alternative ways of running my website business and I stumbled onto a post from a web dev who worked entirely in the Gift Economy. I was intrigued. I dove deep into other service providers using this model, as well as research by anthropologists documenting this economic modality, both historically and in modern contexts.
I love the concept. Removing the constraints and negative connotations of monetary transactions intrigues me. In a capitalistic scenario, the goal is to maximize profit. That means I need to charge a premium and provide the minimum that's acceptable to make a solid profit. I simply can never do that. I gave my clients so much of myself that I often felt imbalanced.
Yet, how would the client know? I just love to teach and spew knowledge no matter what I've been hired to do. I'm wired to teach. I'm not wired to be the Wolf of Wall Street. My mentality towards my work has always given me pause and I've had a perpetual unease as a business woman for many years.
Once I discovered the Gift Economy, I realized I wasn't alone. Many others have felt and expressed the same uneasy feeling in placing monetary dollar amounts on their work before ever providing value to the receiver.
I simply never had the right scenario to implement such a risky model before. Now I do. So I am. I like the concept of removing the monetary conversations attached to work we’re passionate about and would produce regardless of the money in our bank afterwards.
Here’s a quick summary of the elements of the Gift Economy that resonate with me, starting with an excerpt from the Moneyless Manifesto by Mark Boyle.
A gift economy, in my definition, is simply a society within which people share their skills, time, knowledge, information or material goods with each other without any formal, explicit, or precise exchange.
But there are a few constants. No money changes hands, no bartering takes place (despite what ill-informed economists would have you believe), and no credits or IOUs are accurately noted in little books, ready to be cashed in like a £20 note. In the type of gift economy I advocate, giving and receiving is done on a largely unconditional basis, which stands in stark contrast to the rather ironically named ‘free-market’ economy, which has very successfully managed to turn every aspect of our beautiful little planet, whose bounty was once indeed free to all, into an inherently meaningless set of financial valuations.
Gifts may be given in return at some point down the line (and in most historic gift-based economies, almost always were), and they can strengthen such a society if they are. The key to this is that they are not a condition on the original gift, that they are not immediately returned, and that they are never exact. Otherwise, as we saw earlier, you are effectively saying “my relationship with you can now be ended”. Gifts create bonds, and it is these bonds which create real community, not the superficial type we try to recreate today in a desperate response to our tangible lack of any authentic sense of community.
In my interpretation of the Gift Economy, there is no conversation about monetary compensation— before or after. I give you my talents and insight freely and without strings. I’m following the model put forth by other digital nomads using the Gift Economy and I’ll see how it goes. I do still have a portion of my work in the traditional economy, mostly high-level blockchain communications work, complex web production and my crystal business. Eventually, if my little experiment works, I’ll remove myself from the web of patriarchal capitalism. Hopefully.
Join me in this little economic experiment. Maybe we can begin to shift ourselves away from the destructive web of capitalism and find a more sustainable, suitable and conscious means of interacting and sharing our gifts with the world. Free from scarcity, greed and competition. A system grounded in giving, abundance and balance. Sounds juicy. You ready?