Saturday, September 25, 2010

Personal Growth and Social Change (Part 6)

by Miki Kashtan

This mini-series started on Aug 8, and this is the 8th post so far. The previous post was on Sep 21. Each of the posts can be read separately.

Example: Gift Economy
Because I have such a deep longing for a gift economy, so deep that truly every day hurts in seeing how far we are from such a system, I continually look for examples of gift economies already operating so I can sustain and expand the solidity of my faith in this possibility.

I am less interested in hunter gatherer societies that still have gift economies than in examples within the existing modern capitalist economy. Here are a few. If you have examples that you know of, I invite you to comment on this blog. This can be food for all of us.

·        Inter-library loan: many academic libraries as well as public libraries use this system. If you look for a book that’s not available in the library you are at, the staff will look for the book elsewhere, in other libraries, sometimes outside the country, and the library that has the book will send it to your library for loaning to you. In the case of an article, quite often the library that has the article will make a photocopy and mail it to you. All this is done without any money changing hands, nor any accounting about which library does it more or less often.
·        International mail delivery: whenever anyone sends a letter to another country, they are assured that the other country will deliver the letter. Have you ever thought of the fact that while you pay for the stamp in your country the other country receives no money for delivering the letter? This, again, is a system that operates without accounting, and has been for centuries.
·        In the world of software many products and services exist that are completely public domain, without anyone giving anyone else money, while many people contribute to these products and services.
·        If you want to be inspired by one organization that has experimented with working on a gift basis despite everyone’s caution and advice, look up I recently had the very good fortune of participating in one of their events, and was deeply nourished by the overflow of joy and generosity that I experienced. Charity focus is an organization without staff – everything is done on a volunteer basis. Just in case you imagine something small and local, I was astonished to discover they have 300,000 members worldwide.

A gift economy differs from a barter economy. Although I love the idea of localizing economies and currencies, even a full barter system without currency is still based on exchange. The essence of a gift economy for me is that it’s based on giving freely. Giving freely means having no expectation of receiving anything in particular from anyone. In that sense it changes the nature of the relationship. Giving freely also means cultivating trust that enough giving will take place so that what I need for sustenance and well being will be provided, without knowing how. This requires a deep trust. Perhaps what most inspires me about Charity Focus is the degree of trust.

I am personally deeply drawn to operating on the basis of gifting. Even within the exchange economy, I keep stretching the limits to approach gifting as much as my imagination sustains. Since my experience with Charity Focus my enthusiasm is increasing. I anticipate doing something concrete about it in the coming months, so stay tuned.

Since I was five, I haven’t had anyone successfully answer my question to my mother: why is it that we need to give money to get our food? Why can’t everyone just take what they need? I am more and more convinced that there is no real answer as to why we couldn’t shift out of the money and exchange economy into a gift- and needs-based economy. When we learn to have structures and processes that support working from willingness, and when we learn to care about everyone’s needs, the technology and imagination are there to sustain free contribution, giving, and receiving on a global scale. This is what I dream about and what fuels my continued joyful willingness to do my work.

No, the mini-series is still not over… I still want to write about scaling up, and about what to do now, when this world is not in place. I now know that the next post is really the last, because I already wrote it…


  1. I find it interesting that you and I both had the same experiences of asking those questions to our mothers at the age of five, and both having had the same response that we carry on to this day. :-)

    I wanted to direct your attention to a few other examples of the gift economy in action within modern capitalist societies.

    There are the events that take place all over that are called the "Really Really Free Market" -

    There is the international movement/organization of the Catholic Worker that is ran on a gift economy basis -

    And there is the other international movement/organization of Vipassana Meditation that is *also* ran on a gift economy basis -

    I hope that this helps!

    - Ian

  2. I remember asking a similar question as a child myself.

    Dominic Barter's work with Restorative Circles is freely offered.

  3. I'd like to try to answer "Why is it that we need to give money to get our food? Why can’t everyone just take what they need?"

    I assume a context like a grocery store (as opposed to a personal garden, where it would be odd to give money to get your food).

    In the context of this article, my answer would be "Because the food in the grocery store isn't freely offered as a gift."

    And why is that? Because we live in a culture which emphasizes (almost to exclusion) exchange value, and given this, those running the grocery store do not trust that they could provide for their needs if they freely offered the food as a gift.

    This doesn't add much, but for me it clarifies why I would most often prefer other strategies than taking what one wants from a grocery store without paying.

  4. Heya David,

    Yes, I am aware of that. At the same time I would like to point out that here I am assuming that the concept of a "gift economy" two different roles here. One is that it is a kind of "transitional strategy" to help to bring about a whole new kind of society with a whole new kind of economic (and other realms) system.

    Secondly, the "gift economy" has meaning & value in and of itself. In other words, there is something inherently freeing, connecting, and good-feeling about it. But, like you point out here, this is all presupposing that there is sufficient trust and good-will on all sides to carry it out. However, that too, can be changes. Countless times people are surprised and deeply moved by receiving a gift from somebody with no strings attached.

    - Ian

  5. I believe that the entire village of Gaviotas in Colombia, established in 1971, runs and has always run entirely on a gift economy. See .