I like the principal of gift economy and I like what it does to how we value things. Mainstream economy in the northern hemisphere, white colonial economy is based on exploitation. You pay less for the work than it is really worth, and then you sell for more than the product is really worth and between these two, profit is achieved, often for people who did none of the work. Value, in this system, is what can be squeezed out of people. The more something is needed, the more scope there is to put the price up. Cost is artificially raised by making things more scarce than they need to be.
Gift economy has a completely different logic. If you have more than you need, you give stuff away so others may benefit. Status is achieved not through ownership, but through gifting. Looking after people becomes a marker of social standing, not a perceived weakness.
In many ways the internet lends itself to gift economy in that it is so easy to give things away here. It’s something I enjoy and am glad to be part of. It’s interesting to ask what can be given away – time, care, attention, money, creativity, ideas, experience, support… it’s good to be able to do that and to help other people. I wish more people saw social media as an opportunity to help and uplift others, not a place to feel important by arguing. We could do each other a lot of good if we took to empowering ourselves and others. It’s a happier way to live than point scoring.
Giving away isn’t just about money, and there’s more to a gift economy than the economic side of it. There’s a principle of sharing and taking care and of not wanting to have a great deal when others have little or nothing. It’s underpinned by the idea that we are of equal worth as people and not measured by our economic value. The value in work and in objects come from their being needed, and getting them to the people who need them – it’s a very different logic from exploitation. If value is about how we improve things as widely as possible, the whole logic of our culture changes and a better way of life becomes possible.