In this post, I thought I’d just paraphrase Charles Eisenstein (rough and ready transcript) from the video above. He’s an engaging writer and speaker on the role of the gift economy today.
I’ve pulled out the part of the explanation which is particularly pertinent to a lot of the subjects I’ve raised on the blog. For example, how volunteering connects with the idea of the gift economy.
“A new story of self…
Money is an agreement. It doesn’t have value all by itself. It has value because people agree that it has value.
Scarcity is built into the system. On the most obvious level this is because of interest bearing debt. Any time a bank lends money into existence, there is a corresponding level of debt. And because there’s always interest payable on the money, the amount of debt is always greater than the money in existence. It essentially throws people into competition with one another -for never enough money.
Growth is another thing that is built into our money system. If you’re a bank, you are going to lend to those people who are going to create new goods and services, so that they can profit and pay you back.
You’re not going to lend to people who don’t create goods and services.
So money goes to those who will create even more of it.
Growth means you need to find something that was once nature and turn it into a good/commodity; or find a gift relationship and turn it into a service.
You have to find something that people once got for free, or that people did for one another for free. You take it away from them, and then you have to sell it back to them- somehow.
By turning things into commodities, you cut people off from nature, in the same way that we’re cut off from community (when gift relationships are transformed into relationships between service user and service provider).
(The money economy encourages us to) look at nature as just a bunch of stuff. This leaves us very lonely. And it leaves us with many human needs that go unmet.
(One way we) fulfill this hunger (is) through purchasing, through buying things.
We know life is a gift. Well, if we know we have received a gift, then our natural response is gratitude.
In a gift society, if you have more than you need, you share it. This is how you build up status. It’s also how you build up security too. If you build up gratitude, then people are going to look after you too.
No gifts, no community.
(For this reason) you can’t just have community as an add-on to a monetized life. You have to actually need each other.”
More here: Charles Eisenstein
It occurs to me that with the changes currently taking place with volunteering, that we could be going through this process for a second time.
We’ve already seen the money economy take things we did for one another as gifts, and turn them into paid-for commercialised services.
An example Eisenstein frequently cites is food preparation. Rather than cook for one another (in our families and communities) as was the case, it’s more typical now to eat food that we purchase and that’s been prepared outside our home by others.
In this way, Eisenstein suggests, the gift economy has been displaced by the expansion of paid-for services.
However, with the recent growth in volunteering, the gift economy has struck back.
Meals on Wheels are services typically driven by volunteers, who give their time to help distribute and offer meals to the vulnerable in our communities. It’s a gift economy solution to a gap, left by the trend that’s transformed food preparation from gift into a paid-for service.
Gradually, voluntary services that sprung up spontaneously as expressions of the gift economy spirit, are being encouraged to present themselves as services. This is the money economy reasserting itself.
For example, anecdotally there are many cases of volunteers being told that for the sake of financial cost and economic efficiency, they should cut down on the time spent having a chat and fostering a relationship with those they deliver to.
The influence of the money system is deep and profound. It has changed the way giving relationships make our society and economy what they are today.