What Can We Learn from Gift Economies?

When I sat down to research this post, I thought I would write a post about barter, since it seemed like if our current financial system failed, barter would be one possible form of back-up. But when I started to research barter, the first thing I came across was this statement:

Contrary to popular conception, there is no evidence of a society or economy that relied primarily on barter. Instead, non-monetary societies operated largely along the principles of gift economics. When barter did in fact occur, it was usually between either complete strangers or would-be enemies.

So I decided to step back a bit, and look into gift economies.

It seemed to me that if our current system fails us, we should have at least some idea regarding what options might be available that could perhaps be pieced together into a new system that works. As I looked at gift economies a bit, I realized our current system has a substantial element of gift economics in it. Perhaps if our already functioning gift economy can be expanded, it may play a role in transitioning to a more suitable long-term economy.

What is a Gift Economy?

Gifford Pinchot writes in Business on a Small Planet:

In the potlatches of the Chinook, Nootka, and other Pacific Northwest peoples, chiefs vied to give the most blankets and other valuables. More generally, in hunter-gatherer societies the hunter's status was not determined by how much of the kill he ate, but rather by what he brought back for others.

In his brilliant book The Gift: The Erotic Life of Property, Lewis Hyde points to two types of economies. In a commodity (or exchange) economy, status is accorded to those who have the most. In a gift economy, status is accorded to those who give the most to others.

According to Wikipedia, a gift economy is

. . .a society where valuable goods and services are regularly given without any explicit agreement for immediate or future rewards (i.e. no formal quid pro quo exists). Ideally, simultaneous or recurring giving serves to circulate and redistribute valuables within the community.

John Elemans states that an important difference between a gift economy and an exchange economy is that in a gift economy, a bond develops between the gift giver and the recipient, while in an exchange economy, the parties often don't care if they ever see each other again. Elemans goes on to explain that when a person takes a job in Japan, many of the exchanges are similar to those in a gift economy. The employer is closely involved in the life of the employee and may even help find a spouse for an employee. In return, an employee shows much more loyalty to the employer (in terms of not changing jobs) and is very concerned about the quality of his work.

Wikipedia gives a number of examples of historical gift economies. Within "modern" society, there are many places where the gift economy is operative today, even as the exchange economy (capitalism) goes on as well.

One of the big areas where the gift economy operates is within the home. A mother generally takes care of her children, without any particular reward in return. Often a mother does quite a bit of the housework as well. Before the expansion of capitalism in recent years, women did even more than they did today--staying home to care for children, rather than sending them to day care, and often taking care of grandparents as well.

Another place where we see the gift economy is sharing of information over the Internet, including sites like The Oil Drum (which is a volunteer organization) and Wikipedia, which is mostly volunteer. Peer to peer file sharing and free software are other examples of the gift economy. The giving of professional papers at conferences might also be considered part of the gift economy. Another form of gift giving is the huge remittances sent to home countries by those working in the US and Europe.

Matriarchal societies are gift economies according to the Gift Economy Conference, most likely because with motherhood and household chores, women tend to think in terms of a gift economy. In comparison, Capitalism is sometimes thought of as patriarchal.

Gift Societies Promote the Unselfish Contribution Needed for Sustainability

Gifford Pinchot explains that if we are to have a sustainable society, we need to have something closer to a gift economy, because people will then value their contribution to society, rather than only considering what they get out in return. According to Pinchot:

The first step toward a sustainable sense of success is taking pride in the value of our contributions to others rather than taking pride in the value of our possessions. By extension this means striving for quality in the use of whatever power we have rather than working to get more power over others as an end in itself. In this view, profit and wealth may help us to contribute, but they do not themselves constitute business success.

If we went to the grave with riches gained by gutting the pension fund, or selling pesticides we know cause more harm than the insects they control, would we count our business lives successful? On the other hand, what if we stewarded a small company that repeatedly introduced more ecological ways of doing things? Maybe other larger players who quickly copied the ecological innovations gained much of the material reward. If we barely made ends meet, but clearly made the world a better place, is that a success?

Capitalism is (in one view) Acting to Steal from Gift Societies

Genevieve Vaughan in The Gift Economy indicates that many of the gains of the Capitalism have taken place at the expense of what previously would have been exchanges in the gift economy:

Globalization is one more development of Patriarchal Capitalism by which more gift labor and cheap resources (resources of which a large part is free to the buyer) can be transferred from the South to the North. The market economy makes it appear that the gifts are going the other direction, that the Capitalists are giving jobs to the people of the South. Having caused enough scarcity through exploitation and debt creation, the North has diminished the level of life in the South so that the price of labor is cheap for the Northern investors - that is it brings a large percentage of gift value. By privileging a few workers by monetizing their labor, Northern corporations create a funnel or bridge by which gifts from the South can be brought to the North, with the appearance that the Corporation is providing the only source of a decent livelihood.

A structure of laws is made to uphold the flow of gifts from the South to the North, from the poor to the rich, from women to men. These laws are based on the values of the exchange system, on defending property over the satisfaction of needs, on 'paying' for crime, and maintaining the hierarchical structures of dominance. What is needed is not justice, which is based on the system of exchange, but a commitment to finding the problems which cause crime and solving them. That solution may include the protection of the gift givers rather than of the Patriarchal Capitalists, a re visioning of society, putting the gift paradigm first and showing the actual dependency of the market upon gift giving. In fact the market, the whole exchange economy is actually a parasite on the gift economy - and the gift economy allows this. It nurtures the parasite.

There seem to be a fair amount of writing along this line at this site. This a link to a group of podcasts that seem to be along the same line.

Religions and Gift Economies

If one looks at religious writings associated with Jewish, Christian, and Moslem religions, one can see statements that seem to encourage gift economies. (Obviously, even at the times these writings were written, an exchange economy went on as well, so this was not the only economy).

Psalms 37:21 The wicked borroweth, and payeth not again: but the righteous sheweth mercy, and giveth.
22 For such as be blessed of him shall inherit the earth; and they that be cursed of him shall be cut off.

Acts 30:35 [Paul] In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"

Leviticus 35 ' If one of your brethren becomes poor, and falls into poverty among you, then you shall help him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you.
36 'Take no usury or interest from him; but fear your God, that your brother may live with you.
37 'You shall not lend him your money for usury, nor lend him your food at a profit.

Religious groups often act as gift economies, with donations made by members. They may provide services to individual members, for example, an Amish barn raising, to help a group member.

If a person lends money at interest, the result is a whole different type of transaction than giving to the poor. In a declining economy, making loans with the intent of getting paid back with interest is going to work less and less well. Perhaps an approach from the gift economy (shared labor to reduce the amount borrowed?) can be used to supplement current approaches.

Some Benefits of Gift Economy Actions

Some families seem to function more as gift economies than others. I know I grew up in a family that very much functioned as a gift economy, and my own family has tended to function fairly much that way as well. If there was ever an "argument", it was always in terms of, "You are doing too much. Let me do the work," or "Let me pay for it." If it is possible to get a family--or larger group--to function in this manner, it very much cuts down on arguments.

My father (who is no longer alive) tells of delivering babies, and in exchange getting a couple of dressed raccoons from the parents, probably about 1950. This really wasn't barter--even back then, it would have cost more than two raccoons to deliver a baby--it was more of sharing what one had, no matter how little it might be. Physicians weren't nearly as rich back then, and welfare played a much smaller role.

It is hard to imagine a gift economy functioning very broadly, but if it did, perhaps there would be less strife in the world and less need for social programs.


1. In what ways can we adopt more of a gift economy, if our current system deteriorates? A couple of examples I can think of include families taking in elderly relatives and a laid off-worker moving in with friends.

2. It seems like for a gift economy to function well, there would need to be a fairly small number of participants in the economy, and the group would need to be tightly knit. Dunbar's Number represents a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. This is commonly cited to be about 150 people. Do readers have experience with whether gift economies can be made to work well with larger groups?

3. It seems like a gift economy would be a whole lot easier to operate than a barter economy. Would that advantage be the reason gift economies, rather than barter economies, were so widely adopted historically?

4. Can anyone see ways that a gift economy could be adopted outside very small local groups? Would it make sense to try to do so?

5. I understand that in Cuba, a law was passed that if you had extra room in your vehicle, you were required to pick up people needing rides, if they were standing in designated ride-sharing locations. Do you think the USA could get to this point of sharing?

6. What ideas do you have for making a gift economy work, if only on a small scale?

"The best place to store your extra food is in your neighbor's belly." --African proverb

This much like a favorite quote of mine: "The best defense against hard times is a well-fed neighbor."

Now I’m pretty paranoid regarding overpopulation and depletion…, but isn’t returning to the barter system a little over the top??? Next there will be a story about a return to a hunter gathering societies. I do believe there is a pretty good chance this country, and many others, will collapse, but I just don’t see the return of the barter system or the gift system. Did Russia resort to the barter system when the FSU collapsed???

no russia did return to a barter or gift system. they turned to a bastardized capitalism system which favored the well connected. alot like the usa havs done in the past year or so. But basic day to day activities included lots of the gift and barter economy activity. remember, this sort of thing is not measured by traditional economic indicators. Believe it or not there is a large measure of humanity in our world and its effectiveness now as throughout history has frequently made all the difference for distressed populations. Yes we are greatly into overshoot and the prognosis is not good, but you will never develop programs which make this basic instinct to assist neighbors obsolete.

Gifting is not exactly barter. It's done for love. And it is happening in ever increasing amounts in the very highest echelons of society. For example, when our nation's most valuable bankers made some boo boos and discovered they were getting tight on cash our President and Congress jumped in to the rescue and gifted them many billions of borrowed dollars. This wasn't barter it was done purely for love since there was no demand for anything of equal value in return now or ever.

And then true to idea of passing on a good deed, these very same corporations gifted much of this public largess to their CEOs, boards and other officers. Again, no quid pro quo, just the pure unadulterated love of giving and giving until it hurts.

Prior to that, Osama Bin Laden gifted the Project for A New American Century with their New Pearl Harbor. And the US hugely gifted Al Qaeda with collateral damage, bombed wedding parties, tortured Imams, etc.

Examples of this new gift economy go on and on. Lobbyists love to give money to politicians in need. News networks love to give us free infotainment. Americans love to give money and weapons to poor defenseless Israel, give regime change and free markets to weak 3rd world nations and give large military infusions to countries in crisis like Haiti.

I am afraid there is some truth to what you are saying. Whether or not we think things are being done by our elected officials with the best interests of the whole population in mind, there are a lot of individual interests that are being looked out for as well--based on long standing relationships and other things that may not be obvious to an outsider.

Could not have said it better myself --thanks SpeedEBikes!

I think there is a difference.. the examples of the wall street bailout etc are really blackmail or theft by proxy.. The PNAC AQ love in is a story of unintended consequences.

the motivation behind the gift is important

Sorry to say this, but that whooshing sound you just heard was the joke going right over your head :P

leduck, you wrote:
"Did Russia resort to the barter system when the FSU collapsed???"

Actually, most of the general public in Russia made extensive use of a gift economy according to Dmitry Orlov. There was a limited quantity of things that could be bought with paper money, so people tended to share money. Further, at its worse, those with gardens at their Dachas helped prevent widespread starvation.

I highly recommend reading Orlov, he has very intelligently compared and constrasted the US and USSR regarding collapse.

Just caught your tweet 3 minutes ago as it scrolled by along with 50 others per minute...

Well, of course a lot of OilDrum readers may be familiar with the "temporary gift economy" offered by the Burning Man festival in the Black Rock Desert. It's clearly not a pure gift economy since it costs a goodly chunk of money to get your entrance ticket.

But enough people come back from that environment energized and wanting to try and carry it out year-round that there's now a network of regional groups who carry out mini-burns all year round, even in the dead of winter like the one being held up in Michigan soon.

There's even a set of "Ten Principles" in Burningman regionals which guide people who are aiming for the spirit of a gifting subculture:

Certainly of more interest now, with the demise of capitalism right at hand, is the search for not just temporary, but permanent, ongoing, sustainable alternative social arrangements. I'm glad you launched this discussion!

Bobby G
Central Wisc. USA

I have no experience with Burning man; but from the descriptions I have heard, it sounds similar to the culture in "Rainbow Family" gatherings, which I have some experience with. The national gathering brings thousands at a time together in a mostly gift economy (there is a designated area for barter- the "trade circle", though trading goes on anywhere). There are numerous "kitchens", which feed anyone who comes asking for food (so long as its done cooking). There is an informal rule is that, if you have marijuana, and someone asks for it, you share (remember, these are hippies). Most items move about in a similar way. All work is voluntary, with a stigma attached to those who refuse to work when asked to. Its definitely more of a "potlatch" than a permanent community, but I wouldnt foresee many problems using the same system in a small agricultural community (simply replace the importation of food with communal plantings of crops/managing of wildlands). It also helps that the common terms to call someone you dont know are "brother" and "sister" - instead of "dude", "buddy", & etc.

back in the 80's before the battle of the beanfield ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Beanfield) this sort of free food culture existed at numerous festivals and beyond. The events were free. the most notable was Stonehenge. I remember donating money to someone who gave me back more in change ;-)

no wonder the state considered it a threat.

The day after the solstice (bloody hippies) the "convoy" (term for the traveller society) feed everyone on site with free breakfast.

After the movement was smashed the convoy dispersed many going abroad those who were left came from a culture know as the brew crew who advocated and lived a material possessive culture in keeping with Thatcherite Britain..

Nice post Gail,

my initial thought is: yes, great idea, but a gift economy could only ever work satisfactorily at a truly localized scale. Forget country-wide.

I've just finished watching the Sopranos again. Excellent entertainment. Everyone in the chain of command 'gifts' up some of their 'earnings' to their boss. Ultimately the Don gets the lions share - in return for providing a comfortable and 'protected' working environment.

Now, does that really differ from a country's tax system?

At some point in a gift economy there would have to be someone who is big and strong and respected who will make sure (by way of 'breaking balls') that everyone gifts their fair share. At the truly local level the stigma of not gifting will be automatic as others will see the person is not gifting.

Ultimately, there is nought different between the IRS and Tony Sopranos henchmen...

HAcland writes: "a gift economy could only ever work satisfactorily at a truly localized scale."

I'm not sure about that. My family and I often do home exchanges with complete strangers, and it works out well. I know, that's more barter than gift--but the interesting thing is that a couple of times people we've contacted have actually let us stay in their houses without coming to stay in ours. And these have been complete strangers. A spanish woman let us stay in her house--and then the next year she came and stayed with us--while we were there. It was pleasant and interesting--and we may never see her again! I guess my point is that there is a lot of goodwill out there, and you don't necessarily have to know one another to tap into it.

When I moved from the city to a small town (accessible only by sea or air) in 2005, the presence of a "gift economy" was one of the noticeable (and unexpected, as I had never experienced it before) differences. People here give stuff to each other and do things for each other as a matter of course, knowing that the favors will come back around, if not from the person you originally gave to, then from some other source. It's been interesting learning to let go of needing to know when some favor or gift will be returned, but to just do and give whenever I can and trust that it will come back to me. And it does... I come home to find that the rhubarb fairy has visited and there's a bag of rhubarb hanging on the front doorknob :)

Freecycle is one form of organised gift economy which needs a certain critical mass of people - several hundred - to work properly. In a small town, even on Freecycle, we recognise each other and know who is giving and who is getting. It works less well when the numbers involved get really high, people don't know each other even slightly, offers are snapped up too fast, and the number of people gaming the system for their own profit increases beyond tolerability.

I think the older generation in this country was more involved with the gift economy also. My husband's unmarried aunt lived with us for a couple of years. If she were alive now, she would be 97. She was always interested in what she could give to others. Every trip to the grocery store was an opportunity to visit with the people who worked there (no matter how menial their job.) When I helped her move to our house, one of the things she wanted to do was to give the remaining two uneaten bananas (which I thought were bordering on overly ripe) to a neighbor.

People like giving..I would say I practice gift economics quite a lot... and here is the thing and this is really important..... It provides a sense of security on par with financial security I have previously experienced both in "spirit" and in reality

on a small scale i see little point acting any other way....

Another thing, perhaps one of the best examples of a true gift economy is in the information sharing sphere - such as TOD. This is a free-access site, a lot of us (me included) have very little information to 'gift', others have much more. Perhaps information and knowledge is easier to gift than tangible items. Think open-source software...

Coins persisted in early medieval Europe, excepting remote Ireland, after the Roman collapse, evidently and FWIW.

This would have coexisted with gift economies and barter both, yes?

I got this information from a short review of The Inheritance of Rome by Christopher Wickham. Early medieval is 400 to 1000, the not-so-dark Dark Ages.

These were common coins, I presume, with debasement that varied. Very familiar.

Apparently, many economies have been a mixture of exchange economies and gift economies, and include coins. People may share what they have, using coins. They may buy some things with coins. But there may be sharing of goods and bartering going on at the same time, perhaps between different people.

Thanks Gail, great post!

A gift economy, what a concept, I have heard about it but never considered it as a broad economic system. If we flip this around and ask what type of group mindset beliefs would have to be in place for this to work we very likely would have the mindset belief system needed to make for a sustainable society.

what type of group mindset beliefs would have to be in place for this to work

To give that a shot:

Selflessness, as both the opposite of selfishness toward possessions, and as a lessening of the ideal of individuality which tends to isolate and insulate people.

Tolerance, as people living interdependently won't survive alpha-behavior, or the trials for who gets to be top dog that most people in groups engage in. These are mostly well moderated in close family structure; to moderate them in larger groups you might imagine the enlargement of the circle of family, or the sense of family that we feel, to the whole group that one is interdependent with.

An ideal towards poverty, assuming we will have a low intensity, low carbon, somewhat depleted future of as many people as can be comfortable with what resources can be had. One may as well make the inevitable an ideal, rather than a scorned condition, and there's plenty of context in both eastern and western religions to support it.

One close example of a cash-free culture operating largely on the principle of a gift economy would be in the early middle ages of Europe, where you had hundreds of symbiotic groupings of monastery with village, a virtually self sufficient and stable ordering of society for some time.

The gift and barter system is not dead for those that live in a community that is active and has personal communication with each other .The value of goods is set by the need of the recipient not the market value this is where the Government gets it's feeling hurt on being get cut out of the loop or not get what it thinks it should get for the transaction .
Simply put not every body is a sales man/woman but on the other hand we all might learn pretty darn fast as we come from behind our computers ,cell phones and texting and try this barter in person what a thought talk to some one you don't know in person and make the deal.

We tend to operate in many economic modes, gift, barter, and formal. I work for heartless school system that puts system first....well before people.....students. In that vein I give freely to children and parents, but have a formal tolerance towards my employer. I often give thanks to our Union for being such good advocates for students and teachers. For my friends and neighbours we freely give, without expectation of immediate return. However, I know that if I made a phone call and asked for help with something, I could count on many to come over asap. Sometimes we barter and sometimes we do a combination of all three. I just had a small backhoe job done. I called to find out what I owed and the operator knocked it back to the nearest even 10. I knocked it up to the next twenty and paid cash.

In town, the stores that treat me like I treat others are the first places I go. When I am treated like a formal customer, (like checking my signature on the charge receipt), I seldom return.

We pay more to buy local, and are pleased to be a good neighbours. If PO means a return to local economies and handshake values, we are ready. The sense of community is a strength and pleasure to rely on.

Our valley runs on cash and under the table whenever possible. I am sure it is this way for most who live in small self-reliant communities. Don't worry, the formal cheque gets hosed by the tax man, big time. We pay our fair share.

Now this is a great post. Something that is very thought provoking, and can be very practical. I'd like to touch on a portion of the religious statements there and say that the book of Ruth in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), is wrapped around one of the Levitical Laws concerning gleaning. The (pre-Kingdom) Israelites were not to glean their fields so that the poor could maintain themselves in this manner. I was told by an elderly woman in my old church that in the 50's through the 60's many commercial farms in SoCal would tell the various churches around them when they were done supplying Heinz et al, that the could come glean.

>1. In what ways can we adopt more of a gift economy, if our current system deteriorates? A couple of examples I can think of include families >taking in elderly relatives and a laid off-worker moving in with friends.

I've seen people bring their excess garden vegetables to the church on Sunday and leave them outside the door for other people in the church to take them. And I'm leading a project at the church for the family's to do 4x4 square garden vegetables on the church's land to give to the Central PA food pantry this Summer.

2. It seems like for a gift economy to function well, there would need to be a fairly small number of participants in the economy, and the group would need to be tightly knit. Dunbar's Number represents a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. This is commonly cited to be about 150 people. Do readers have experience with whether gift economies can be made to work well with larger groups?

Churches were in the 200-500 range, though they were tightly knit, and stable.

3. It seems like a gift economy would be a whole lot easier to operate than a barter economy. Would that advantage be the reason gift economies, rather than barter economies, were so widely adopted historically?

They could also be used for discipline. The Mohawk and Iroquis Nations did not use physical means of discipline, they withheld gifts from their kids and other peoples.

4. Can anyone see ways that a gift economy could be adopted outside very small local groups? Would it make sense to try to do so?

I think there is one fairly large gift economy going on throughout the US: the freecycle networks. http://freecycle.org
The dimension it is missing is probably the interpersonal.

6. What ideas do you have for making a gift economy work, if only on a small scale?

Working on free food as above. I've done free energy in the past through firewood in other locations, and am thinking of resurrecting that here. I have heard some talk of "solar raising" (like barn raising), where the homeowner buys the equipment, and 5-6 people show up to install it on a Saturday. This is easier to do in the 1200 watt range by two people who simply want a backup teotwaki system for under $6k
without grid tie and such.

There is a fairly vibrant freecycle 'community' here in Brighton (south coast of England).

Problem is, a lot of well intentioned people and a few jackals who will profit by selling the goods on e-bay or at car boot sales. Again, I do think that these sort of communities - actually, heck, any human community - can only prosper within a legal frame work which strives for equity, justice and fairness. Whether it be codified into written instruments of law or just a tough geezer like Tony Soprano, some one has to keep order for the good of the whole.

Whether it be codified into written instruments of law or just a tough geezer like Tony Soprano,

Now that you mentioned it, the internal workings of the Mafia are a sort of a gift economy "You do something for me, I do something for you". Although there is a big element of quid pro quo there, and the end result is rarely good for the society at large.

Gleaning is in a way like setting aside a certain share of your crop for the poor. If we could do that today--especially if the crop would otherwise go to waste--that would seem to be beneficial.

yep, that sounds like a good idea. however, very little goes to waste in the final analysis . Many of our fellow creatures depend on grain an other crops left in the field. If fence rows are left to give them a little cover their overall population would astound you. Course if you are only thinking about humans it really doesn't matter. Me i like to leave a little for my fellow creatures. If you don't have a bird feeder and waterer you are in my opinion a selfish out of touch person. They can be put up in almost any situation and will quickly bring great joy. Have you fed your birds today? The birds are the jewels of the landscape after all. If you have an elderly person, especially a feeble one, put up and maintain a feeder for them. Trust me they will get many hours of enjoyment. where are you hummingbird? Help me here!

We have seen things get hard enough in the last year that we had loca people ask about gleaing our orcards.We made them welcome of course, although there was very little in the field to start with due to a late freeze last year-we went deep into the red for the year on the farm accounts.

For the last couple of decades as a whole, we have had perfectly edible fruit good for cooking and canning that we could niether sell nor give away most years.

If we look back at our own history, many things occurred through the gift economy and still do. My great grandparents lived part of the time with my grandparents and help care for my father and his siblings. This wasn't unusual until around the 1950's. The nuclear family as a standard practice isn't as old as most people in the developed world think it is and many sociologists have considered it only a matter of time before the nuclear family is in the minority again. IMO, I think we will see this happen in the next couple of years as with another stock market crash when oil goes back up. Many individuals wouldn’t have enough left to retire on and as the adult children can't necessarily get jobs nor be able to pay for child care the decision to live in extended families will make sense. Grandparents passing onto the grandkids knowledge the way it use to happen sounds like a good thing for everyone.

As kevinw1 mentions, it still exists in more rural areas. After all, if you have a problem or need help you had better get along well with the neighbours and have developed some reciprocity with them. Otherwise, well, life could be pretty miserable, difficult and frustrating. At times it could be a difference between life and death. Therefore, rather than being easier than a barter economy, I am wondering if it is more being the mother of necessity to create reciprocity within your group vs. barter.

I can't see larger groups than 500 being able to achieve the gifting system. Many villages and towns were around this size and able to do so. There are also schools and churches of this size today that are able to do the gift system. However, there tend to be close knit communities that actively work on knowing each other instead of impersonal places. At it's very bases it requires knowing the other members of the group, and trusting that it will be reciprocated at some point. I would think common values and practices probably play a large role as well.

As saddlebear points out, there almost always was some form of currency. What really varied was the % of currency (and its value) vs. gifting. I doubt we will see currency completely disappear as this makes it to difficult to obtain necessary goods that aren't in you area or a close neighbours (the break down of the gifting system when you don’t know the individuals and they aren’t part of your group).

Interesting question about Cuba. I am wondering if this works in Cuba because chances are the drive knows the passenger that he would pick up or at least the majority of the time. Also, I don't think Cubans are as well armed as Americans or even Canadians. I can see this working in rural areas but definitely not in the cities for security reasons particularly for females. For such a law to be created here, things would have had to have gotten pretty bad. Even if there was a reasonably functioning law, security issues and crime rates would rise making it potentially a bad risk each time you picked up someone or were picked up.

I think you are right about the size of the community being important to the function of the system, though I don't think that the low number Gail talks about is anywhere close to the limit. If you think about a group of people, each with about 200 connections, how large a community could you have where no one was more than two degrees of separation removed from each other? I think the number would be pretty large.

Even where a person is not known to you, the knowledge that you nevertheless share the same community is powerful. I can say, moving to a city of 25,000 or so from a city of 500,000, you do behave differently because you know that everyone you come across you will see again, and even if you don't know someone its almost guaranteed that they know someone you know.

I have the same experience with the move. In fact, that is part of the reason for the move was to get to a more community oriented group that prefers friendliness to rudeness and rushing. The town is unifying and you do see some gifting at this size. But I think it is on a more limited basis. If we are talking about a shtf scenario, it will require a much closer connection than what you will feel from 25,000. Were we actually chose to live is a small village of approximately 1,500 that is on the edge of 30,000 town. The village has a much more community orientation than the town and you are guaranteed to meet or know most. You are also aware that you could be penalized socially if you make enemies and that others will end up finding out! Makes you think twice about not helping out or using vinegar or a stick. Going into the town itself, you think about it and are aware but not nearly to the extent as you are in the village. I have noticed that this occurrs in the small villages around us as well and that the people from these villages are more likely to help than towns people.

I have also noticed that the village organizations are much stronger/connected than the town organizations. I guess that while there must be a min that no longer works, we could say that the larger the community the less the connection and at some point the connection disappears and therefore, most of the gifting economy.

The beauty of a gift economy is that -- even in today's tax-starved environment (US) -- it is tax free and thus one way to develop an off-grid economy in a community that truly maintains the fruit of its labors.

Years ago my mother told me a story about an odd occurrence with an IRS agent. She had a friend with a hair salon, and my mother had a background as a bookkeeper (although she was not an accountant or tax expert). So my mom helped out her friend by keeping the books for her salon. The business was audited, and my mom was reviewing the books with the IRS agent. The auditor noticed that there was not an expense for bookkeeping services, so the auditor proceeded over the course of several minutes to ask my mom numerous times, and in numerous ways, why she was helping her friend with her accounting.

My mom simply (and honestly) answered that she was helping her friend. She was initially puzzled as to why she was being grilled over such a simple issue.

As it turns out, my mom's friend did occasionally cut her hair for her -- but my mom viewed those two acts as just two friend helping each other. It was not barter, nor quid pro quo.

Thanks to my mother's integrity and consistency, both of them were spared further indignity at the hands of the IRS. My mother later learned that a barter exchange does in fact create a tax liability on both parties -- so one is expected to declare the value of apples given for chickens received, and both parties must report that value as income.

[Interesting how it's still called "income" when an exchange has taken place -- in fact, it's not "income", it's "revenue" -- you gave up the chickens for the apples, or your (irreplaceable) time for a wage. There is no profit, or "net income". But that's another discussion.]

Moral of the story: pay it forward.

Devil's advocate hat firmly in place, but isn't the principle of 'paying it forward' just a ponzi scheme?

I think your hat is on backwards :-)

In "paying it forward" you do a good deed for someone, and then instead of returning a favor to you the receiver does a good deed for someone else.

In a Ponzi Scheme the originator keeps skimming value from those who enter the scheme late.

In "Paying It Forward" the originator gets nothing more than the satisfaction of having done a good deed.

The only ones who get unfair advantage are those who break the cycle and do not pay it forward. They also get some bad karma ;-(

Hi Greenlevel

Your post recalls a story about a book reviewer who innocently asked the IRS how he should account for the books he received to review. While he was sometimes paid for his reviews, the author received nothing of value, as the review could just as easily be bad as good, and hurt sales. None the less, the IRS told him he would have to declare the hundreds of books he received, whether he read them or not, as income. Being of modest means, this nearly destroyed him financially until he had a brilliant idea. He gave the books to charity, took a large deduction, and the IRS could not touch it as they had forced him to do it.

Its nice when the little guy wins one occasionally.

I think size is crucial, because trust is essential.
Probably two to three hundred will be the maximum size for a community to know each other well enough to trust each other. The smaller the group, the tighter the knit.

You do not only need to trust each other to share your windfalls, and maybe more, you also need to count on each other in danger.

A small church or temple or mosque community is a very good format: People can share beliefs as well as festivals and services and produce.

I do not believe gods exist, except in our minds, but I am becoming sorely tempted to join a congenial parsonage or ulema. Catholic ritual I am familiar with, and I find it quite beautiful, but I strongly dislike the hierarchy, the shepherd and flock mentality. Islam has a lot to say for it, but I would have to join by uttering a lie, and then I like communities where women are strong. There aren't enough buddhists around me to be any use.

Hard, but still a good plan. I am now officially on the lookout for a congenial religious community. I promise to follow tradition and rituals faithfully, but I beg to remain skeptic about gods and miracles.

One suggestion is that you probably don't want to belong to any group that believe their religious books are literally true. It is better to be with a more liberal group who believe that they reflect teachings from long ago, and stories from an earlier culture, that we can reflect on and learn from. Among protestant denominations, Episcopalians and some Lutherans seem to be better than most in this regard.

Religious teachings can also be viewed in part as teachings on how a person should live in this life and in part as teachings on the possibility of an afterlife, and what to do in that regard. If you don't think the part about the afterlife is necessary, you can concentrate on the part about how a person should live the current life.

Some religious types have been critical of atheists for not giving enough lately. This is in the face of the two wealthiest atheists in the world giving billions with no expectation of return.

Of course I'm talking about Bill Gates and the Bill and Malinda Gates Foundation on which he now concentrates his efforts since leaving as head of Microsoft and Warren Buffett who has given billions to the Foundation rather than leave everything to his children.

Here's how the gift economy works at my house:


I like giving my dog treats and she treated me with 9 puppies about 3 years ago. We gave them to a nearby entrepreneur who takes unwanted puppies and tries to sell them to pet stores. He insisted on paying $125 for them.

They all live in Chicago now.

This is an excellent suggestion, thank you.

Sorry to say, I live between a majority of catholics, some muslims and quite a few indifferent people.

Happily, I can assert that atheists are just as human as religious people. We like helping, contributing and sharing just as much (or as little) as anybody else.

Maybe we should work on creating atheist tribes. Attach our ritual and traditions to politics and ethics. Write our own ten commandments. Organize weekly gatherings.

Freemasonry would seem to be a sort of precursor for this. But much too secret and elitist.

It shouldn't be too hard to build communities around openness and egality, for example by requiring extensive debate and votes by everyone, at least everyone concerned in the business at hand.
We can steal all and any of the religious festivals, we'll just join in the celebration. And we'll invent rites of passage for young adults, marriages, reaching maturity and entering and leaving old age.

Anyone interested?


If you have any paid openings for your new style athiest preachers i'm ready to apply.

I think I might fill that position quite nicely myself, thank you.


Pastafarianism has my vote. We've even stolen Christmas (from the Christians, who stole it from the Pagans. Is that kind of like 'Paying it Forward'?), although there's no set date to celebrate it on, nor is there a requirement to celebrate it at all, since we reject Doctrine. ;)

I promise to follow tradition and rituals faithfully, but I beg to remain skeptic about gods and miracles.

We were members of an Episcopalian community for a while, that sort of fit this mold -- Lots of tradition, rituals, stained glass, and "bells and smells". The congregation was an independent lot. The priest said at his first service where it says "the congregation may kneel or stand" he was taken aback when half did one and half did the other.

They seemed to be pretty open to participation, even if skeptical.

On number 5 - ride sharing - you'd have to go back only as far as WWII during gas rationing to find a very popular and successful ride sharing program in the US. I don't have any good reference to point to, but have heard anecdotally that "hitchhiking" and picking up hitchhikers was officially encouraged, considered a duty of patriotism during the war, and worked well all across the country.

Back when I was in college, (early seventies) there was a ride share board. If you were going home for say Christmas break, you could find a student who lived nearby to share the ride -and possibly the driving. I think this is still dome today.

I can remember hitch-hiking several hundred miles (quit my geophone jugging job) with a single ride. When we got to my home, I gave the driver a steak dinner, and an overnight bed. I've also helped get numerous people unstuck from snow, and never asked for a nickel. Shocked me when several times people asked "what do you want?", "Uh, nothing but a smile and thankyou".

The Episcopal priest in a congregation we belonged to at one time would tell about always being on the lookout for people who needed help, by the side of the road or otherwise. With his clerical collar, he could probably do things that others couldn't.

Did somebody say presents?

I like presents.

So do I but tis more blessed to give than recieve.

Yes, she means she likes giving presents.

The ideas expressed in this article are contrary to human nature. While it is undoubtedly noble and indeed sustainable to get people to give more than they receive, and to sacrifice for others, what really distinguishes this from the economic facet of communism? The selfish motive is far, far more powerful than the selfless motive, especially at a time when resources will become scarcer and competition fiercer as the population grows. Furthermore, with overpopulation becoming worse over time, there will be a far greater number of people who act as a drag on civilization, and for whom sacrifice is pointless.

The "gift economy," like energy from fusion, is decades or perhaps centuries away, when the earth has been sufficiently impoverished of its easily accessible resources. For the time being, we are headed into another period of "survival of the fittest." Hopefully the best of humanity will survive and the remainder will die off. Until the population has been vastly reduced, there is no real sense in reinventing the economy.

Gail, this is one of your best posts! Thanks.


The ideas expressed in this article are contrary to human nature. While it is undoubtedly noble and indeed sustainable to get people to give more than they receive, and to sacrifice for others, what really distinguishes this from the economic facet of communism?

I strongly disagree, based on my personal life experience of having grown up simultaneously in three distinct cultures and having lived in both the third and the first world, I have seen first hand the generosity and gift giving coming from those who could often afford it the least. It is greed and selfishness that is the abnormal state that exists among a small minority of wealthy and powerful.

BTW basic human nature has absolutely nothing to do with communism or any other "ism" for that matter. You need to understand it at the level of primate behavior, Bonobo chimps are our closest cousins you might want to study their societies first.


As we look for ways to avoid future economic problems, Psychology Professor Marc Hauser says we should acknowledge the impulsive, aggressive inner chimpanzee that got us into this mess, but mirror our patient, altruistic inner bonobo to avoid a repeat.

I completely agree. Gifting is just giving and it happens all the time along side the formal monetary economy. Altruism and compassion are incredibly powerful.

I completely agree. Gifting is just giving and it happens all the time along side the formal monetary economy. Altruism and compassion are incredibly powerful.

I agree. The more of this we can do the better our formal money based society can function. Its great to cut out the bean counter mentality of things, and just do we you can. It can also give the giver tremendous satisfaction.

Yes, that's pretty close to saying "family" is an arrangement contrary to human nature. I think the best and most approachable example of a "gifting economy" is within the family unit. Its also possible that you could measure or define the extent of one's family by looking at how far the "gifting economy" goes.

Growing up I never thought of it as such, but I had a large and close extended family. If anyone needed anything (like a washer broke or something) the word would go out and someone in the family would have an extra, or know how to fix it, or something like that. With necessities it worked very well - if you didn't have enough, someone would help. Luxuries and trivial stuff was another story. If you wanted something no one thought you needed, you were on your own.

on edit: Thinking about that a little more, I was thinking that "need" might be what has changed between then and now, as people in this country have so much and necessities have been well supplied for many years. But I don't think that was it, really. "Giving" wasn't so much about making sure people close to you had what they needed, but that they had what they deserved.

I think more trivial stuff has changed hands than anything else, just because...

This is a big topic in economic anthropology, a subfield at the boundary of econ and anthro which largely studies the economic organization of non-market societies. Following the work of Marcel Mauss in *The Gift* (1925), Marshall Sahlins constructed a model in which the delay and lack of precision in gift exchange was a function of social distance along a continuum from generalized to balanced to negative reciprocity. The more closely people are related (not just kinship, but socially), the more exchange between/among them and their groups was framed as "gifts" about which it was improper to keep careful track of repayment, either in kind, amount or in time (think of parents paying for their children's college expenses). The farther people are apart the more they'll insist on a balanced and rather short-term exchange of goods. Strangers, as Gail noted, are likely to haggle and bargain very closely since the chances of repayment are much reduced.

This all makes sense once you think about it. In this view, economic exchange is all about building and maintaining relationships...converting "economic" capital into social capital in culturally appropriate ways. How many TOD posts have come up with this point, that what matters most in surviving PO is having social capital by having invested in social relations. Tribal wisdom here.

Not all things can be generally exchanged, but rather are separated into "spheres of exchange". Money, in this view, acts like a corrosive acid to the social fabric, since money, as a medium of generalized exchange, can be traded for things or services it's not supposed to ordinarily - love, sex, drugs, insider information, hush money, etc. That's why the rush to buy gold always has me scratching my head.

As I stumbled into this area, I could see that this was an area that has been well explored. One of the groups that has gotten very much involved with this is the "women's studies" groups in universities. I know gift economies have been brought up in the comments at The Oil Drum a number of times, but I did not see a full length post on the subject.

One thing I did notice that had been mentioned in various articles (such as this one) is that oil (and other fossil fuels) are a one-time gift to us. The teaching of many churches is that everything that we have is a gift. The correct response to all of these gifts is a willingness to share with others, particularly those in need.

This is also part of a field now known as Behavioral Economic and Market Norms vs. Social Norms. A fun and highly informative introduction to it is “Predictably Irrational”, by Dan Ariely (Website http://www.predictablyirrational.com/?page_id=129). I highly recommend it. You can also see him on Book TV @

Hi Shox,

I must admit that you have a cast iron point about the selfish impulse.

Having a little actual family and community history in my concrete encased hard drive (the one between my ears)I will take your point farther and then reverse direction with it.

In the early stages of a gifting relationship you learn who the one way Joes and Janes are rather quickly if the chips are down.There are plenty of them no doubt.I learned early to do various nieghbors and trades people small little favors and give them minor oppoertunities to cheat me-or not- wherever I have lived.

If a local girl who cleans houses by the hour uses a gift of getting paid for her four hours by being allowed to go a half hour early starts showing up fifteen minutes late or manages to avoid finding some doggie vomit or something of that nature..well...or a handyman con sistently takes two hours reputedly to finish (being a highly accomplished handyman myself, I'm a good judge) an hour job, then after two or three tries he is on my sxxt list-he will never be called to help out when I really need help.But if he shows up and just resets a breaker and says just gove me some gas money after he has worked for me a couple of times, you've found a guy you can trust to go do something for you w/o supervision at a fair price.

He gets the favor back of coursein some fashion.The point is you learn who your friends are , and if tshtf, that is going to be priceless knowledge.

Now there are a number of people here who are rather adamantly opposed to religion, and I know where they are coming from-I have read the history of many religious wars,know something of the history of the major religions,etc, and understand perfectly where they are coming from and respect thier views.

But I hold that religion is a cultural phenomenon that cannot be obliterated, although a new religion , or something analogous to a religion, can sometimes be substituted under certain circumstances.Stalin's statues can be substituted for those of Jesus.We might stop to remember that the Catholic church in Poland was one of the most important factors in the destruction of the Iron Curtain.

Societies that are highly religious-not just REPUTED to be so-often enjoy many advantages over societies less so.They in my personal experience need less police, less jails, lawyers, courts, welfare, medical care(my family's church opposes alcohol with a passion and frowns on tobacco big time).

The church, locally, with a typical membership of thirty or forty up to a couple of hundred,ties the community together-the members see each other regularly, make personal visits to the sick, help out in many kinds of a bind, collect money especially for members out of work, contribute to charity as in the haiti disaster, and get these things done in an incredibly efficient manner without a bunch of useless offices, laws, regulations, and salaried employees, all necessary for a formal charity or govt agency.

The members gift each other frequently and in many ways, and everybody comes out well as a result.
Sometime back the richest farmer in the nieghborhood , who "wouldn't pxxs on your guts if you were on fire " if he were the richest lawyer in town,dropped what he was doing and fetched his tractor to pull mine out of a patch of swampy ground(It is not easy to get a farm tractor stuck but with the amoubnt of rain we have had lately and me being unfamiliar with the field-not our land )and would have been thoroughly insulted if offered money-he knows that if i am around and his truck is in the ditch I will bring my tractor and pull it out, or help him round uop his cows if the get out .

The prayer meetings and Sunday schools classes and the funerals and the cemeteries where our Mommas and Daddies and Pas and Grannies and sometimes our own children lie all together, the weddings, the Christmas plays, and gifting bind us all together and taken as a whole constitue a robust survival machine.

It is not unusual at a fundamentalist church to see women's purses, mens overcoats, video cameras, nice guitars, and other very expensive small items of property left unattended with hundreds of people milling around.

Nobody in my immediate family can remember hearing abouyt anything being stolen under thes circumstances except fro a car in he unattended parking lot-a local scumbag was caught after a few weeks by the cops who hid out and waied for him to strike again.

Of course there are more than a few perverts in churches, and preachers out for thier own ends, and embezzlers, and all the other kinds of parasitic people-but they are also in law enforcement, the schools, the banks, the health care industry, and everywhere else.

I would strongly suggest that anyone making plans for tshtf by moving out to the country establish themselves in a local church at least to the extent of attending services and contributing to the collection plate occasionally and meeting thier nieghbors.

Getting tight with those ignorant superstitious people with thier silly dream worlds may very well be the price of survival.There really isn't much else left of the face to face know your nieghbor community left anymore except for the small local churches.

I don't think they remind the members much at the Jaycees or the Chamber of Commerce or the country club or the golf course about looking after each other.

Daddy and I went rabbit hunting today.Our nieghbor who buys dog food for his rabbit dogs (we don't have rabbit dogs at the moment due to thier dying of old age) who invited us got a couple of two pound vacuum sealed bags of our homemade sausage and a couple of Texas sweet potatos (a kind of wineter squash as big as a good sized pumpkin from our pantry and the other nieghbor who owned the land we hunted got five pounds of salted side meat and a peck of winter apples.

The guy who owns the farm we hunted used to come and play his harmonica for my bedridden Momma every month or two for ten years.

Suggested reading-Stienbeck's Grapes of Wrath.

But I hold that religion is a cultural phenomenon that cannot be obliterated, although a new religion , or something analogous to a religion, can sometimes be substituted under certain circumstances.Stalin's statues can be substituted for those of Jesus.We might stop to remember that the Catholic church in Poland was one of the most important factors in the destruction of the Iron Curtain.

Societies that are highly religious-not just REPUTED to be so-often enjoy many advantages over societies less so.They in my personal experience need less police, less jails, lawyers, courts, welfare, medical care(my family's church opposes alcohol with a passion and frowns on tobacco big time).

I agree that religion appears to be a universal phenomenon among all cultures and may be an expression of our very DNA. However, the notion that "highly religious" societies "need less police, less jails, lawyers, courts, welfare, medical care", etc. is just not supported by the facts.

The U.S., is by any measure *the* most religious Western nation in the world --with Church attendance and a belief in a literal God/afterlife and disbelief in science/evolution consistently charting well above that of any Western European country, Japan, Australia, etc. The U.S. is also the world "leader" in incarcerating a greater % of its population than any other nation. We are arguably the most litigious and violent Western nation, and spend far more per capita on healthcare with worse outcomes.

I beg to disagree .Most of American society is not religious at all, ecxept in a trivial sense.

The people who are actually serious practicioners of thier religion in my rather wide experience are much more stable and need much less policeing, etc.

I can name off dozens of nominal Christians in my nieghborhood-they identify themselves as Christians, and are Christians in the sense that they are NOT followers of Budda or Shinto or Mohammed and in that if someone asks, they identify themselves as christians.

Your average dope dealer or great white shark lawyer identifies himself as a Christian.Saying this does not make it true, except in the nominal sense.

Furthermore the argument does not hold because correlation is not proof of causation.There are a great many reasons American society is violent, among them our overall cultural heritage.I dread to think just how much MORE violent my local society would be if it weren't for the calming influence of the local churches.

I have spent about half my life in the company of well educated and very liberal people, because when I was young I was a very liberal long hair dope smoking hippie type but with a good job-most of the time , at least.

I know lots of teachers, social workers, nurses, etc.Virtuall all of them make mealy mouthed speeches about public service-virtually all of them collect a pretty good living out of thier "service" including benefits and holidays and pensions.

I know lots of fundamentalist Christiand-REAL Chrstians-who work thier butts off on jobs that pay a lot less and DONATE twenty hours a week or more teaching, visiting, organizing,helping any way they can.

Out of all my dedicated to helping humanity liberal self identified agnostic or athiest acquaintances, just two were ever able to find the time to come visit my bedridden Mother before she died-that would have been unpaid overtime to them , you see.

Over fifty mill hands and laborers and farmers from local churches stopped by at some time during her extended illness-some of them as much as fifty times, to cheer her up and keep her company.Anybody who wishes can come and see the guest book we kept for her.

A hundred and fifty people who are not blood relations showed up on a work day during a spell of very nasty weather to support our family on the day she was buried right before this past Christmas.

Now I do think that Bill and Melinda did a fine thing in giving so much of thier money away.

But I am much more satisfied- with what my old Daddy and I give away-cause we give away enough that we sometimes eat beans not because we like beans( we do like beans and grow most of them personally) and drive old cars and trucks-our newest is thirteen years old-because we HAVE to in order to stay out of the red for the month.

I sorta expect that Bill still flies even better than first class in his own jet.I doubt if Melinda sews up little rips in Bill's slacks, or clips grocery coupons.

In other word in terms of making a sacrifice, he has not really done anything at all if he kept even one percent of his money.Even one tenth of one percent would be enough to live like an oriental potentate.

And I don't even believe in anything but the IDEA of Christianity-I'm an eeeevil evolutionist and an agnostic leaning toward athiesm.

Religion is a built in survival machine.Certainly it can be put to ill ends or abused-but pray tell, what human endeavour cannot be put to such ends or abused?


Where to start? Well... first off, I agree with your assessment that there are many self-described "Christians", but few relatively true practioners of what Christ himself actually *preached*. E.g., giving selflessly to the poor, renouncing materialism, healing the sick (without profiteering in the process), turning the other cheek, embracing one's enemies, etc. Most modern-day American "Christians" routinely denounce anyone who promotes such ideals as... Socialists.

And here's the thing: they're more or less right.

Such ideals ARE "socialistic", or rather, socialists selectively embraced those aspects of religion they deemed positive/beneficial to the working class when that political philosophy first took shape. And ever since our great victory over Communism (the implosion of the Soviet Union), Americans have taken to reflexively expunging *all* aspects of the dreaded socialism (altruism) from our laws and culture --including the good ones, like good old fashioned empathy and charity.

I too know a fair number of "genuine" Christians who actually try to practice charity and model unselfish beahavior. Problem is, they're vastly outnumbered by the mass of intolerant racist, sexist and homophobic hate-mongers, "Prosperity Gospel" right-wing pro-corporate fanatics, and anti-rationalists. And the thing is... it's probably always been that way.

It's easy to assume that "back in the day" things were much better, men were men, women were women,
sheep were scared, etc. But this is just contemporary wish-projection and idealizing the past. The reality is that humanity has always been a mixed bag of good & bad, smart & stupid, kind & cruel, and everything else in between. Plenty of Crusades, holy wars, Inquisitions, pogroms, and witch hunts throughout history to attest to that. Religion has never made mankind less vicious, selfish or cruel in general. In fact, religious fundamentalism has frequently made it *easier* to amplify the worst tendencies of human behavior and justify countless atrocities. "Let's kill all the non-believers, God wants us to!" "Those (fill in the blank: Pagans/Jews/Hindus/Muslims/Christians/athiests etc.) are responsible for the bad crops this we've been having!"

Religion probably played a key part in social cohesion and well being among human communities *in the past*. Problem is, we don't live in that simpler pre-industrial past, not faced with hard choices about overshoot, extinction, collapse, pollution, peak oil, erosion, climate change, nuclear proliferation, etc. Simple country faith alone is not likely to solve our mega-problems today, any more than neighborhood charity is likely to feed the starving masses of Africa.

One of the biggest problems with most religions --especially the proselytizing ones-- is the strict adherence to an outmoded (and frequently inaccurate) worldview and an implicit (or in some cases, explicit) requirement to subordinate one's reason to blind faith. This might have worked fine back in the day when there were 300 million people on the whole planet, the human footprint was well below the earth's carrying capacity, and we couldn't do any real damage that ecosystems could not eventually recover from. Unfortunately, that time has long since passed.

We need to face humanity's current problems with sober reasoning, unbiased by religious dogma and
cultural prejudices. We need to weigh our alternatives with reason guided by logic and empirical evidence, and --yes-- human compassion. In short, what we *don't* need is to have the debate sidetracked or derailed with magical thinking or unyielding, reactionary dogma. We don't need more religion, or at least what usually passes for religion... in my humble opinion.

Hi Harm,

If you read my comments regularly, you will know that I am a Darwinian and if you know anything about biology, which seems likely to me, given your knowledge of other subjects , you also know that we are just another species of animal and that we are truly nasty and viscious predators and competitors.

Whenever we get to the point that we have overcome (temporarily at least)the microbes, snakes, wolves lions bears and tigers (oh my !) LOCALLY we turn on each other.This behavior is genetcally determined and is not subject to just wishing it away-although would I join you in the wishing instantly if it would work.

You and just about everybody else here in this forum seem to think that I am ADVOCATING religion-far from it, as far as my INTENT is concerned.I am simply trying to get people to recognize it for what it IS, in true scientific biological terms.

"WHAT It IS" IS a group survival mechanism.You will NEVER get rid of it, but you can cause it to morph into different forms of many sorts , on a local level, and create a new form sometimes that will spread because it is SO VERY EFFECTIVE at ensuring the differential reproductive success of the group members.

Religions are not bullet proof against change or education.They morph and INCORPORATE SUCH FACTORS.

I have not yet heard anybody opposed explain JUST WHY (in thier high moral indignation) the poor stupid ignorant dumbmass unwashed Irish and Poles, who are among the most Catholic nations on this Earth, have birth rates below replacement -but it obviously isn't because the Pope supports free birth control and abortion.

(All you pc types who cannot recognize sarcasm by the shovel full need not get your panties in a bunch-I'm a proud ignorant dumbass redneck superstitious Scots/Irishman myself even though I read a serious book every two weeks and have around a hundred semester hours outside my degree. I'm like the drill sargeant who is no longer allowed to actually call his victims names DIRECTLY.I say what I AM and follow upwith-and none of you are any one whit better than ME.) ;-)

My fundamentalist family used to breed like rabbits.The entire extended clan of us will disappear from this earth in a few generations as things are now because our birth rate is well below two per woman.This is true in a very great many churches.

Now In fifty years or working memory , I have never heard a preacher, except the television kind, say anything against birth control,although all I know personally are very passionate about abortion.

So is my one of my sisters, a nominal christian who is a professor and APRN and a DARWINIST.She is a specialist in looking after premature babies.She routinely keeps them alive at six months.

Now I myself on a few occasions have suggested that an abortion might be the best course for a young woman in a bind and am not opposed in principle, so long as it's done early.But this gets us into one of thse messy areas where whoever has the momentum on thier side thinks they can win the ball game once and for all.Messy subject, abortion.I bring it up to point out that moral absolutes are tough nuts.

So help me, as hard as I have tried, I cannot see a six month abortion as anything short of socially sanctioned murder-not that murder bothers me very much , as long as it is out of sight and out of mind.I'm a Realist, remember.Kill one, murderer, kill a hundred, mighty chief, kill ten thousand, warlord, kill a hundred thousand and up, mighty conquerer with rhetorical pedestal in history books for so long at least as your descendants are still on top and in charge of the history books.

As a supporter of our Second Amendment rights I KNOW the gun control advocates arguments are not just about pistols in the hands of muggers-if they manage to eliminate hand guns,then rifles are next, then shotguns.....Of course I DO understand that it would NOT be a good thing for every coke dealer in Detroit to have his own personal chicago typewriter (-Thompson submachine gun to the uninitiated.)

THIER incipient new religion is a vision of the COPS being thier preachers and shepherds.The cute young New York artist I have refered to here in times past as a former wife is now a middle aged Jewish lady.If her grand parents and cousins in Europe had had arsenals and a little less liberal education into the kind of wishful thinking of thinking that opposes firearms a hell of a lot of Nazis would have been worm food a lot sooner.

I notice that they are now a rather warlike people-having MORPHED thier religious survival mechanism as necessary to survive under current circumstances.Even the girls know all about assault rifles and grenades.

And yes I DO KNOW that the wars of the Middle East are mostly fought along religious lines.

My point , overall, is that they would be fought anyway,sooner or later, as the people start getting in each other's way and coalesce into identity groups of "us" in order to take care of the "them" issue.In biological terms the time differences would be entirely inconsequential.The descriptive terminology used to describe the workings of the groups is likewise of little consequence, except in armchair wars such as the one we are enjoying at the moment.

THus ever it was and thus ever it will be, unless some particular group manages to secure control of everything and everybody and midwife the birth of THE BRAVE NEW WORLD.

Of course there IS another possibility-unfortunately only a very slim one in my opinion-that bau might actually work out due to a few positive Black Swans and we might all get rich and quit having so many babies because we are too busy golfing, skiing, and shopping.

Paint me a realist.

I'm sure that if we could ever sit down together and avoid the limitations of the written word , you would find that I actually think very much as you do about a great many subjects.I have been known to write an anti religious rant myself in my younger days,and I am a great fan of such literature as The Screwtape Letters.

Mark Twain is my favorite single all time writer and his anti religious bias , and his talent in expressing it, are simply awe inspiring.

We share a love of Mark Twain. One of my favorite writing by him is the War Prayer which is read and animated in this two part video. He did indeed have an interesting view of religion.


Thanks For the video link Rube.It took a while to load (my isp service is not quite up to video) but it was worth it.

Of course Harm is as right as I am, or anybody for that matter, in opposing religion for the reasons he has so eloquently stated.

I just happen to think he is wasting his energy fighting a force of nature the hard way, like a brawler or boxer.Change in respect to religion can be brought about slowly by prosperity and education, and no preacher or Iman or priest or rabbi can resist the temptation of prosperity for his flock.A sort of long slow judo is more effective.

The local churches used to rant about rock and roll but now they play rock style music, and rock values are slipping into the churches.One of my sisters just remarked about young girls -hot young blossoms as Twain describes them-coming to church in outfits that would have earned them the name of prostitutes two generations back and probably actually have gotten them arrested three generations back.I'm talking minis short enough to make it hard for a dirty old man (such as myself to be honest) to keep from craning his neck, tight blouses, eyeshadow, lipstick-and a ripe but illegal sixteen years old-the age at which my grandmothers had thier own homes and husbands.Fortunately I am hard enough of hearing that I find it necessary to sit right up front and thereby literally put such temptations behind me.

Preacher or Sunday school teacher never said a word-those kids are not compelled to attend church when they are adults, although some are more or less compelled to attend as children.They are wanted as members of the church community, and while the church contributes to thier values, it does not DETERMINE THEM.So the community changes as the overall society changes.

I do agree that we are approaching a crisis situation fast, in terms of civilized society world wide, but in mother nature's terms it will be likely no more than a moderate case of the flu while she rids herself of an excess of one particular organism-us, as in you and me, folks.There is a possibility of course that we might be hard enough to get rid to cause her to get a bad case of the flu that progresses to pneumonia and lots of other creatures vanish with us.

There will still be plenty of DNA around and empty niches will be refilled in a hurry.Nature doesn't give a rat's axx.You can. so the astronomers tell us, see ten thousand galaxies thru the area of the bucket of the Little Dipper with a big telescope.

This planet and everything on it means about as much in the GRAND SCHEME OF EVERYTHING, whatever that scheme might be, if one exists, as a cigarette butt in the gutter means to Bill Gates.Now I happen to be very attached to the Blue Ridge Mountians, and the wild flowers in the meadows, and our apple trees, and the dozens of colorful birds at my feeders this very second, and my little niece who has just learned to say my name.

I am so attached to them as a matter of fact that I think maybe I have morphed the religion of my childhood into a sort of nature worship, thereby INCORPORATING my knowledge of the sciences into my personal religion-for although it has no recognized Holy Books as such -yet, or any recognized hierarchy of priests and leaders, I think religion is the best term to describe what I see emerging.

If it works out,and the present day calender survives, along with the tradition of Sunday as a day of rest, someday there may be a new kind of Sunday school where Rachel Carson is an Old Testament prophet and James Lovelock is a towering patriarch.The reading lessons will include
Jack London and Edward Abbey.

It's followers will deny the name of thier god, but it will still be a religion-a group of people working together to survive by appealing to a sort of higher authority and values ACCEPTED as being of greater worth and validity than our day to day material values.I'm painting too fast with a very broad brush here of course.Maybe somebody such as John Micheal Greer will explore this idea further.


Sorry if I came off a tad too strident. I've enjoyed reading your posts before, and would not mistake you for a Pat Robertson acolyte. ;-) You and I definitely see eye to eye more often than not --even on the 2nd Amendment. I don't equate armed citizenry with violent citizenry, and there are other far more important factors at play in the U.S. besides gun ownership. Rising income inequality and de facto disenfrachisement of most citizens thanks to the ruling corporate oligarchy being chief among them.

You may be right about religious tendencies being an unconquerable force of human nature. History sure seems to bear that out. Nonetheless, if us rationalists ("pc types") fail to at least try to reign in some of its worst manifestations, we might as well throw in the towel on humanity right now.

And re Irish & Poles: I am not a sociologist, but if I had to take a stab it would be this. I suspect the fact that these are relatively liberalized societies in terms of women's political and economic rights (women are educated, can vote, run for office, hold traditionally male dominated jobs, etc.) has a lot to do with the declining birth rates. Along with their greatly improved material standard of living vs. "religious" countries with much higher birth rates.


I have to amend my previous reply to you.

You are more than welcome to preach in the parish I would like to build.

I also think everyone should be invited to preach at our gatherings.

None of us know everything. Most know more than others about a few things, but no one can know everything, so let's go for the wisdom of the masses, let everyone speak, and wisdom will appear as if by magic.

It is a strange and beautiful thing I have seen happen. When faced with a problem, and when open debate is available, a wise solution is often sought.

As confirmation, I would suggest the following : quite a few of current Athenians are descendants of the people who produced Kleisthenes and Pericles and Socrates and Demosthenes, proud inventors of democracy (and skepticism). The Spartans, who were a slave-holding master race of soldiers, practically died out killing themselves in a fight with the Thebans, even before Alexander came on the scene.

Shox, you said, "Furthermore, with overpopulation becoming worse over time, there will be a far greater number of people who act as a drag on civilization, and for whom sacrifice is pointless."

I understand that overpopulation means that limited resources need to be divided somehow between more people, but why is it pointless to sacrifice for these people who did not ask to be born and who are all actually real people with hopes and dreams as well as a hungry tummy.

In a "civilized" country, if numbers must be reduced then it would be more acceptable to concentrate on fewer new babies than to starve existing ones.

Could you explain your comment further?

Shox has probably gone to bed.

I think he simply means that he intends to cut off charity to those who are not yet in need of it-people who are still spending money on unnecessary things his family has already cut back on.

I understand his point perfectly if I understand his comment correctly.

I gave a couple of relatives the use of property that could have been bringing in some needed income because they were just getting started and work was slow some years ago.Since they were paying no rent, they were comfy buying a new Mitsubishi Eclipse on credit.Plus the first big screen tv in the nieghbothood.

I have never owned a new car in my entire life,or one less than four years old, and never one as nice as that.To keep peace in the family I allowed them another year for free when I threw them out.

Needless to say, they acted as if they were doing ME a favor by staying the year.But thier Momma was helping look after MY bedridden Momma and I didn't want to create too big a fuss.

People who are gettng charity need to tighten thier belts a little before they actually collect it, unless they are truly hard up.

Who said no good deed goes unpunished ?

I hear ya, oldfarmermac.

I just recently offered my nephew a pick-up truck load of firewood (about 1/2 cord) AND MY pick-up truck to haul it in for his wood stove this winter. His wife has just lost her job and so now they're burning 24/7. Well, my offer wasn't good enough. Can you figure THAT out? I can't. At any rate, maybe it's because not all the wood was split (I just had hernia surgery so I sure as Hell am not splitting any more wood for a few weeks).

At any rate, some people are real good at looking a gift horse in the mouth. My mom had a term for them that I still like, "Beggars on horseback."

Yeah-your sister or brother probably grew up hard and did everything for thier son ,your nephew, because they wanted him to have what they didn't as kids.

So now he's a spoiled brat-like my relatives I mentioned above.Thier attitude is that once they have gone to work for eight hours, that's enough,everything else should be a present.

This kind is going to have a hard time adjusting once thier parental hosts are sucked dry or dead.

People who are gettng charity need to tighten thier belts a little before they actually collect it, unless they are truly hard up.

I know of a couple who went out and bought a brand new Dining Room Suite. Heaps of chairs, solid timber, ornate legs, etc. Then went down to St Vinnies to get a food hamper because they 'couldn't afford food'. I'd call them Evolutionary Throwbacks, but they don't believe in Evolution.

I really think it's highly unlikely the current financial system is going to fail. Change always means disruption. The fact that there are winners and losers doesn't mean we can logically extrapolate to a barter economy, or an every man for himself free for all.

When animals were replaced by cars, it must have seemed like the end of the world to buggy whip makers and blacksmiths. They re-absorbed into other areas of the economy. It took time and effort. As will the transition to more expensive oil and tighter credit. Ultimately the new equilibrium will become more efficient, but on the way some people will be hurt.

The best thing you can do for yourself is earn and save as much money as you can in the way you know best. For anyone who is not already an experienced farmer, this will give you a far greater return than bartering or going back to nature. If you have concerns about dollar devaluation, there are easy and inexpensive ways to diversify into other currencies including precious metals.

The financial system, monetary system and fiscal/government promises system most certainly can fail, indeed ARE failing. They are intrinsically failures from the get-go. This is mathematics.

What I guess you are saying is that the 'economy' will always exist. And I certainly believe that is correct, but only when 'economy' is defined as the interaction of humans towards a common well-being. As presently defined in the prevailing paradigm the economy must always grow, larger, larger, larger, devouring everything in its path... This can not, and will not be possible. There really are limits to growth. But humans will, at some level always need to interact with one-another.

The best thing you can do for yourself is earn and save as much money as you can in the way you know best.

I think that's fundamentally wrong-headed. Especially in the context of the "gift economy", and the role that plays in family ties and social ties, its fundamentally wrong-headed. If you say that in the future we may have to rely on our social and family ties to get uys through, what kind of advice is it to say that the best thing to do is disregard those ties, but store up fiat currency?

Of course that's an approach that is drummed into our heads every day, but I don't expect my money to do much for me in a shtf scenario. In a way, having a hoard of cash may in some situations label you as "the wrong kind of person", if the rest of society is surviving through interdependence, family and social ties.

Excellent point about potentially being labelled the "wrong kind of person". Being different in these situations is usually a very bad idea since you aren't part of the group any longer. Also, money doesn't do any good when everyone is is primarily surving through interdependence, family and social ties. Money becomes the wrong type of currency.

Gift economies are not so unusual. People particularly friends and family give and do favours for each other all the time without necessarily expecting things in return its like good will. So its not like we do not do these things already but I do think we could do it more explicitly. If the idea of the Gift Economy was better known then maybe when doing something for a friend you could give the nod knowing that your friend will pass on the gift, understanding that what goes around comes around. I dont expect anyone thinks this ad-hoc practice would really replace the exchange economy.
However there are already much more highly developed gift economies at work right here right now in the culture of sharing that the internet as a technology has facilitated. In this immaterial sphere of bits and bytes alternative licenses to the all rights reserved model of conventional copyright such as the GPL Free Software License and the Creative Commons Licence actively promote the free sharing and collaborative development of software tools, knowledge(wikipedia)and media. Our greatest collective asset is our minds. We can share and pass on knowledge and it costs us next to nothing.
How can this translate to the material sphere? This to is already happening. Chris Anderson just wrote an article for Wired magazine on Open Source design for Open Manufacturing http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/01/ff_newrevolution/ . Why not open shareable design for sustainability see - http://www.appropedia.org a wiki for appropriate technology or Factor E Farm - who are developing a global village construction set - http://factorefarm.org/ - There are examples of the gifting spirit everywhere see the Open Everything Mindmap at - http://blog.p2pfoundation.net/open-everything-mindmap-and-visualization/...
Also see http://fcforum.net/ for the Charter for Innovation, Creativity and Access to Knowledge for Citizens’ and artists’ Human Rights in the digital age. I find this whole movement quite inspiring.

ok Im done



@ lukitas -- i think the content of your belief system is not as important as the power of community in a religious or cultural group. I belong to an Episcopal (Anglican) church community but don't feel as if I'm really one of the "true believers". I have recently discovered a local group of Alcoholics Anonymous that resembles the "gift economy" we are discussing, and A.A. doesn't require you to profess belief in any particular deity (although it does suggest that you try to derive strength from some sort of power greater than yourself). There is definitely a spirituality and a giving community within A.A. groups, and they come in different sizes, so you can choose one that's not too big and not too small. But my experience doesn't help you much if you're not a recovering alcoholic, as I am.

superb,very very thought provoking post gail. i hope to respond tomorrow.

A pity when people rely on Wikipedia for anything connected with accurate information on societal issues http://www.archive.org/details/WhoControlsWikipediaPriceSystemAnalysis
It is a really poor source generally for information. Wikipedia's economics and energy articles are particularly bad and controlled by mainstream cliques through foundation money funding.

Gift economy is a throw back to low energy conversion and scarcity based societies.
As far as a meaningful alternative, energy accounting keeps track of resources in a given area (technate) and measures those against population demand and ecology. This system was proposed in 1934 by M. King Hubbert and Howard Scott http://mkinghubbert-technocracy.blogspot.com/

Energy accounting, takes the place of religious or political control i.e. contract society based on abstract thought more connected with class/caste, because it is a science based method, secular and non partisan.
As in the Technocracy Study Course ... it is a non market economic system.
Wilton Ivie .. well known biologist and member of Technocracy Incorporated was very articulate as an essay writer on this subject of being a consumer in a science based society http://web.archive.org/web/20010514113821/www.technocracyinc.org/pamphle... with that as a 'right of citizenship' and not at the whim of charity of politicians or religious people.
The old Ecclesiastic approach may have made some sense in its time and place of flat lined energy production and human labor and handicraft society... now it is just an antique throwback though.. and just another method that a class system is maintained based on old scarcity principles http://www.technocracytechnate.org/ more info on energy economics.

My first reaction is that gift economies are just as exploitative of natural capital as capitalistic economies. In a capitalistic economy, status is afforded by the quantity of embodied natural capital that a member can accumulate. In contrast, in a gift economy, status is afforded by the quantity of embodied natural capital that a member can distribute. The key problem - the competitive exploitation of natural capital - is equally present. I understand that many people have a visceral reaction against selfishness which pervades intersocial relations in modern capitalistic society, but that is tangential to the overshoot dilemma. Capitalist and gift economies are equally greedy in relation to their exploitation of our collective endowment of natural capital.

I agree. We can take everyone off the wheel of politics and religion now with a science based social design.
That which ceases to function, ceases to exist and our current system is no longer growing... and it has to, according to the Rules of the Game in a Price System http://web.archive.org/web/20010627051921/www.technocracyinc.org/jingle.htm
So... Adam Smith contract society... given us from Sumer in the 3rd and 2nd second century B.C. is coming to an end and we must shift into an energy based economic system or we are truly doomed.

Money makes for a desultory end as bad choices pile up... those choices under Price Systems always being the same... profit guides all.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9ps5vJrIxM&feature=related More on the Technocracy technate design... which does not depend on 'gifts' or any other type of charity but makes consuming a 'right' of citizenship in accordance with sustainability.

I think there may be some truth to what you are saying. Whether it is just ourselves, or our clan, that we are trying to take care of, it helps to have food and fuel and the other things we accustomed to. When there are too many of us, and declining availability of natural capital, a gift economy doesn't fix these problems--just shares what is available somewhat more equitably. In doing this, it probably reduces the total amount of natural capital required, since now such a big percentage of it is used by the rich. So it might help some, but doesn't fix underlying problems.

>> a gift economy doesn't fix these problems--just shares what is available somewhat more equitably

I think a gift economy might be worse for sustainability for two reasons.

Firstly, as you've said, a gift economy might share 'what is available' more equitably. Since people with less wealth have a higher marginal propensity to consume, then we might expect a gift economy with the same size as a capitalistic economy to have a greater proportion of consumption, and less savings. A different way of putting this is to say that in capitalistic economies, some individuals will amass great financial wealth. This unspent wealth is savings that would not exist in the same quantity if that same wealth was distributed equitably... so therefore, a transition to a gift economy might involve a large increase in the marginal propensity of that society to consume, rapidly degrading natural capital...

Secondly, I think our moral traditions and emotional tendencies allow us to moderate extreme behaviour in the capitalist tradition much more effectively than in a gift economy. Let me explain by way of an Easter Island thought experiment. Suppose the Easter Island economy is capitalist-like. Suppose a tribal leader discovers a new way to fell trees which is vastly more efficient than previous technologies. The tribal leader proceeds to fell trees as a means of amassing personal wealth and hence status. In this case, other islanders could call the tribal leader greedy, and other islanders might be envious of the wealth and status which the leader has accumulated. From our perspective far into the future, we are interested in whether there is any mechanism whereby the islanders might be convinced not to fell trees until the island is deforested. Now, accusations of greed and feelings of jealousy might not be the most effective tools, but at least there is some way to indict the tribal leader who is making the largest draw on natural capital. By contrast, consider the same example in a gift economy. The same tribal leader discovers the same new efficient way to fell trees. However, instead of felling a great many trees to amass personal wealth (and in doing so drawing the ire of the religious class who call him greedy, and neighbours, who are envious), he fells a great many trees in order to provide many islanders with luxurious accommodations. The tribal leader gains the same status, but now, who on the island can possibly speak out against this draw on natural capital? One cant say the tree feller is greedy, and the only thing to be envious of is the great status this leader has achieved (others might seek to follow his lead and find other ways to rapidly draw down natural capital for the benefit of others). In this way, the gift economy is insidious. Even as natural capital is exhausted, there is no part of traditional morality which can critique the exploitation of that capital since everyone is complicit in the taking of the resources, and everyone is benefiting in the short term. In other words, insofar as exploitation of the natural environment is concerned, it may be that a gift economy embodies an even greater level of moral hazard than is present in capitalistic economy.

The term 'gift economy' makes the thing sound wonderful, but it needs to be analysed as an economic system. For the circumstance in which it evolved - small stable tribal groups - it does an excellent job of distributing resources equitably and efficiently. But let's not forget that in the aforementioned environment, natural capital would be the most distant of all possible limits. It should not be surprising if the gift economy would perform badly in a situation where natural capital is a proximate limit.

Maybe the truth is that no economic system really works well to limit the use of natural capital (or at least, among the short list discussed here). We need some form of energy to live, and it is hard to get around fulfilling that need. I doubt people will voluntarily die, or even substantially cut back their usage, for some distant goal of "saving the resource for future generations" or "protecting the earth" or "preventing climate change", unless they are given very unrealistic estimates of how little they need to cut back, and how beneficial the savings will be.

In the end hard science impartially and disinterestedly applied always has great explanatory power.

Darwinian biology applies in our case just as much as in the case of any other living organism.

People who think ANY species respects and conserves it's environment know nothing about biology.
Overshoot and environmental degradation are as natural as rain fallig and the sun rising.

Unless some natural control succeeds in holding thiere population down,even a few rabbits shortly can destroy an ecosystem to the point they suffer die off.

We are no different, except (one ) that we have evolved to the point we can think ahead and (two ) we have learned how to avoid or even destroy our natural controls.

I doubt if we can think well enough, however, to escape our own dieoff over most of the planet.

I do think if we are tough enough to do what is necessary we can avoid a die off in the US for at least a few more decades.

I shudder to think what is in store for people in overpopulated countries dependent upon both imported food AND imported energy.

Since my wife and I were starving on $154/month when I was in the USMC, we have given 10-20% of our gross income to various charitable organizations. Additionally, it is not unusual to have five families in my blueberry patch multiple times each year and I deliver asparagus and wave petunia plants to older neighbors in the early spring. I also freely lend truck, tractor, and other tools to my neighbors.

However, I plan to alter (temporarily stop all giving) my giving as we experience increasing negative impacts from peak oil. I have a finite amount of resources and even less to give. If I meet today’s needs of my neighbor ($356 electric bill, $165 water bill, rent, car payment. etc), he has no incentive to make lifestyle changes. The family will retain the three cell phones, satellite TV, $900/mo SUV payment, etc. I am frequently faced with these situations because our county unemployment is 14.5%. If I meet these needs now, I will be wasting those finite resources and soon have nothing left to give.

Eventually, that neighbor will be forced to relinquish many of his toys and adjust to a meager table. Because of peak oil he will soon be hungry and every dollar or item given will be used for bare essentials. Hopefully, because I am peak oil aware, thanks to TOD, I will have resources to give after circumstances have forced us into a survival level lifestyle.

I believe that my local extended family of 17 will survive only if we can maintain a majority of our local community. Accordingly, all my planning and preparation includes this concept. Of course the greater my success getting them on board the easier the maintenance task. I use the Grange, local radio talk program, local newspaper letters to the editor, and a monthly Peak Oil/ Economic Analysis letter to alert the community to the future as I see it. I am seeing good results from these efforts, especially as unemployment has reached 14.5% and is increasing.

It sounds like you are really thinking things through.

I agree--sustaining people in lifestyles far more lavish than they can really afford does no good. I expect in the long run, quite a few folks who are able to take care of themselves will end up taking in needy relatives too. But one needs some balance too. You can't take in so many that the whole group cannot be supported. Then every one is worse off.

You are suggesting it's OK to make a judgement of whether a person is worthy before giving to them. Perhaps that is perfectly understandable when you are giving asparagus or petunias.

Nevertheless, if your neighbor figures out he isn't invited in the blueberry patch because you consider him more wasteful and inconsiderate than your other neighbor, does this not create a lot of bad feeling?

I'm involved in a dispute between neighbors where one is trying to run the other off her land for being too much of a hippie...

I wish I knew what really works to make people more thrifty and considerate. Maybe real hardship does. Maybe it's just a mindset you're raised with.

Gift giving is an important part of family dynamics, IMO, and should be extended to friends and close communities. When Jesus advocated giving the extra coat away, it was probably to someone you were familiar with and how could a decent person see a neighbour shiver in the cold without helping?

In larger groups you would not know if the person was in fact needy or if they were going to sell your gift for profit!

How would you alter the concept that gifts are meant to be kept and treasured, even when you dont actually like or need the gift? My mother has many items that she wont part with just because someone gave it to her.

I think we are especially talking about things here that are meant to be consumed--food, basic clothing, perhaps heat for a home, so as to help out those in need. I know there are a lot of gifts that are given that are just "consumer junk" that everyone would be better off without.

I'm going to make an extremely insulting comment. I apologize in advance.

You cannot anthropologically look at "gift economies" without also recognizing that they were also often sexually promiscuous. Meaning, frankly, the "no money, no honey" rule didn't apply there. The sexual act is not looked at something that must be compensated for by pay--ie, it also is a gift. Nor does the "no money, no honey" rule apply with bonobos, nor much even with chimps. However, that rule does indeed apply in our culture. I. Since "status" is gained in our troop by wealth as defined by hording, not character or integrity or gift giving, and status is useful primarily for mate gathering--well, we have a real problem. . .

And that's as polite as I can put it. No, I'm not a bitter single guy. Actually my chicky poo is a retired model, and like a lot of strong attractive women is on her way to being one of the biggest misogynists I've ever met. Bless her heart--she's living in the rainforest jungle in Hawaii, and that's about as far as one can get from the cat walks in New York City.

We live in a culture where women make upwards of 70 percent of all purchasing decisions and a ideal hip to waist ratio is a better predictor of financial success than a Phd.

Well, that's as nice as I can put it.


Sometimes the truth is sorta ugly, or at least not nice.

I wish there were more hard core realists posting.

I myself passed up the opportunity to settle down with a couple of good solid women in favor of that hip to waist ratioon others..The ones I did marry were good women but not as good in terms of staying power as the ones I passed over.

And to be truthful, a woman needs a lot of staying power to put up with ME for very long.

Nowadays my brain is running ahead of my plumbing,but the clock is so nearly run out that it hardly seems worth the trouble.

Friends and family try to "fix me up" occasionally but I just ask them why they are mad at whoever they are trying to fix me up WITH.

I'd suggest as goes peak oil so may go "peak poon". . .

Ahem. . .really, trying to remain constructive.

I just expect the Californian Perkybreasted Golddigger will become extinct in the wash of all this too.

I wonder what's wrong with "sexual promiscuity" as such. You can have lunch with someone, why not a sexual encounter? Very much in the spirit of Gift Economy. If you meet a stranger in the airport, exchange a few words, give them encouragement if they're sad or lonely -- a good work even if you never see them again. A sexual encounter could amount to the same sort of contact. Gays in the 1970s had a world-wide community going on the basis of casual contacts, great while it lasted. Too bad it turned out to be a good way to transmit a fatal virus. Now, with new public acceptance and visibility, it seems that gay people want to pair off as much as anybody else -- but are far less possessive of one another, unlike the straights where the old ideas of ownership of the partner persist.

It's odd to read postings by heterosexuals, whose spousal relationships seem edgy somehow. They say that gay relationships are more on the friendship model, with sexual equality. (The difference supplied by male-female in straight couples, gays tend to find in joining different ethnicities, classes, or ages. When we see two guys together, Anglo and Latino, Asian and Black, etc., our gaydar goes off. The cutest young couple I know is Jewish and Malaysian.) My wife and I were always competing for turf in our relationship (and not especially over the gay thing, which we were told was just a bad habit I could get over, or something so unimportant we could ignore it); my husband and I just do what needs doing and don't think about credit or blame. He's much younger and cuter than I am, and so has had more opportunity for little flings -- but we've been together for 27 years and it looks like he's taking care of me in my old age.

Maybe there are reasons that sex is a hot-button issue; but maybe it could be just another social interaction, like eating, or helping strangers on the road.

Hi Mudduck,

It's hard to understand the phenomenon of homosexuality for the average person-one needs some education the social sciences and biology to comprehend the subject.My own grasp of the subject is limited, but it is onviously a natural occurence and should not be thought of as a sin or defect but as a fairly common thing like being left handed or having curly red hair or somethingof that nature.

A good case can be made that while male homosexuals don't father many children, they do contribute in a serious way to the survival of thier relatives children and thus are reproductively successful in a broader sense.

Jealousy and the piar bond of monogamous marriage is very easily explained.Reproductive success for a male is raising children that are his own natural offspring.Another man's children borne by one's wife represents a major failure in biological terms for the cuckold.

Women on the other hand may sometimes not be sure who the father of a child is, but there is never any doubt about the identity of the mother.A woman who "cheats" and bears the child of a healthier , more attractive, or stronger man than her husband is actually acting "rationally", in reproductive terms,so long as she avoids getting caught and losing the support of her current husband.The chances of her being supported by the temporary object of her affection are not very good, unless she is herself uncommonly attractive-attractive enough to HOLD her termprary conquest.Sperm is cheap. Marriage and child support ain't.

Of course some women do manage to trade up by switching men.This is common when the current man becomes less fit by turning into a drunk, losing his income, etc.Also when a fit and attractive man is on the prowl because he has no wife for some reason.

I use the term fit in the biological sense as well as the physically descriptive sense.The terms do overlap but a fat man with plenty of sperm and money and a good established law practice is quite fit in todays society.He will have no trouble attracting a fertile woman.

Why does this sound like a scheme to avoid paying taxes?
The government needs tax revenue to do things. No revenue, no government.
If anything the government should be better financed to help mitigate Peak Oil.
Instead the government became broke handing out tax cuts.

At the risk of getting mired in a political side conversation...what has the government done during the last 30 years of energy crisis in the US that leads you to think they will now apply our tax dollars to fix the peak oil problem?

Gift economies are part of the system of economics known as distributism - another word for gift economies is gratuitousness. This notion extends further than it is being used here - simplifying - it means that in a profit making business the gift giving is the gift of recognizing that the business is there not just for profit but also to benefit the community - the gift being economic behavior that is not just profit driven but driven by doing good for the community. Profit is not the sole purpose of a business - profit is a means to an end - the end being the betterment of the community.

In Bendict's recent encyclical he discusses this gift economy more fully.

Gail - I cannot urge you enough to look into distributism - for a PO'er - this is the way between capitalism and socialism. There is a good site explaining more - distributist review.

Not that Wikipedia is necessarily a good source on things like this, but I see it says:

Distributism, also known as distributionism and distributivism, is a third-way economic philosophy formulated by such Roman Catholic thinkers as G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc to apply the principles of Catholic Social Teaching articulated by the Roman Catholic Church, especially in Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum Novarum and more expansively explained by Pope Pius XI's encyclical Quadragesimo Anno. According to distributism, the ownership of the means of production should be spread as widely as possible among the general populace, rather than being centralized under the control of the state (state socialism) or a few large businesses or wealthy private individuals (capitalism). A summary of distributism is found in Chesterton's statement: "Too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few capitalists."

Essentially, distributism distinguishes itself by its distribution of property (not to be confused with redistribution of capital that would be carried out by most socialist plans of governance). While socialism allows no individuals to own productive property (it all being under state, community, or workers' control), and capitalism allows only a few to own it, distributism itself seeks to ensure that most people will become owners of productive property.

One issue I see is that when we are already well into overshoot, there really isn't enough to divide up to distribute. Another issue is that specialization does seem to increase total output--especially when there are fossil fuel resources that can best be used with equipment like big tractors. But even apart from the fossil fuel issue, a well trained cobbler can make a lot more shoes than a number of individuals each trying to do this, on their own, without training. It seems like there may be elements of distributism that may be helpful, but we can't expect it to solve all of our problems.

Thanks for the suggestion, though.

Thank you for a very thought provoking blog. I carried out cultural research among Inupiaq Eskimo and Athabascan Indians in northern Alaska documenting their traditional subsistence lifestyles. You are right in re: to the role of gift giving in subsistence economies. A successful hunter gains status within his group or community by giving others gifts of what he takes from the land. Each gift helps to cement ties of reciprocal obligations with those receiving the gifts. This in turn sets up a cycle of giving within the group. Bartering or outright sale of meat, skins or other items usually was limited to exchanges with a village trading post or distant purchaser. Elderly Eskimo and Indian informants told me of how they would barter with one another before Europeans became a major presence in the North. It was a carefully prescribed procedure often with an undertone of suspicion and even suppressed aggression. Gifts, on the other hand, elicited a bond of friendship and trust.

Thanks for your insights. It does seem like a barter system would be difficult to maintain on any significant scale. Gifts would work much better.

Gift economies were absolutly essential for the working of society in pre christian Europe. It is also the basis for sacrifice. You gift a god in return for a good harvest etc. They found an ornate cetic shortsword that had been thrown off a bridge in Britain that was so valuable that in todays terms it would be the equivilent of driving a new porch into the water.

The gift economy is very active within my immediate community. I help out with physical work that others, like the older men, cant do. I hand out bottles of home made mead and any excess produce from my garden on a regular basis to people as well.

In return I receive presents for my kids, I get help with learning Dutch and get envited out to social events etc.

Good post Gail.

Where we live in SW MO - out in the country, this kind of "economy" is called "Being a Neighbor". It exists right alongside barter and capitalism.

The same fellow who bales my hay for a half share, last month brought me some milk replacer he bought at auction and he is who I buy with (FRNs) my feeder pigs from as well.

I do some outside chores for another neighbor in trade for his bull (dairy) calves and also volunteer to run his hay rake or help repair a tractor gratis. He in turn might do some work at my place with his equipment, planting for example but I've also done several little remodel jobs on his house for cash money.

When I think about it I never hear anyone grumbling about "helping out" a neighbor, the carping usually is about so-and-so not paying or dragging their heels regarding a cash debt or some such complaint about monetary transactions.

It requires a certain level of trust and understanding, but I've done favors for friends and bought drinks and so on with no immediate quid pro quo. It all comes back, anyway. In these societies, you're usually talking about pretty tight-knit social groups: tribal or clannal affiliations, small communities, and the like. It can't work on a larger, more anonymous scale, without immediate quid pro quo. But for a small group, of course.

It sort of works for information sharing, as with The Oil Drum and Wikipedia. But those are admittedly more limited uses.

as i said superb post gail

i've not thought about this much so this is sort of my stream of doing such.

i'm within a couple of hundred yards radius of 6 or so households- semi-rural.. kinda rugged area.

as i think of what has been exchanged with our neighbors [not a lot actually over the 10 yrs. we've been here] those we have related to some we have also gifted/exchanged with some, & most has been via gift economy.

some examples;

we are close to an elderly couple. our first relating was them offering me wood as he saw me scrounging a meager brushpile on our fence line. we have never exchanged dollars except to directly pay for something purchased/picked up for one another. we have probably gifted probably in dollars a 1000 counting both sides. what i notice as i think thru this is we pay attention to one another's needs/desires, & offer/gift with that as our focus.... not money; which feels caring. btw feels a little icky to 'account' with dollars equivalent. in fact i have dreaded the possibility- this came up once- of a 'sale' of an item between us. in fact i think i learned from my father not to get into large deals/trades with neighbors whenever possible. if u can't make it a gift it might be too big to 'gift/exchange.

i also feel i owe one neighbor whose mailbox i damaged this fall & he fixed it before i got back from a trip. we don't relate much-furtherest away- & i will be offering some tractor work- the 2nd time, or other work.

another neighbor & i have worked together some but i feel some tension re our gifts/exchange. our first exchange wasn't a gift but a offer to sell, & i purchased an implement. i have corrected this for me by clearly being vulnerable dollarwise in a 'trade' where there is no specifics quantity-wise of what is 'owed' me & what was offered is stored at his/their place. he has many skills & tools etc. & is a very valuable asset though tension has been present at times. the way i look at this also is with close by neighbors & being somewhat isolated, & expecting very bad times[actually even if we didn't] it is more important than several 100 dollars to at least be on civil terms. that sounds kinda one down; but in actuality we are all subject to the good & bad of each other when closeby physically-- not unlike family or a marriage.

i want to say more re dunbar's no., our wiring, antisocial traits, tragedy of the commons, etc. but gotta go clean the chimney--it's still winter.

your post has been one that has been very helpful on a feeling level for me, as well as the typical TOD thinking/intellect plane. thanks.

Interesting discussion, and thank you Gail for bringing it up.

Nobody has to invent the gift economy. It already exists alongside the formal economy. Get to know any tight knit ethnic group or spend some time in a rural area. Nobody has to promulgate it, as gift economies automatically expand during hard times. Nobody has to make it widespread or uniform, because each person is the center of their own network, which overlaps other people's networks, spreading like mycelium through the formal economy. It's not that hard to figure out the largely unspoken rules. People soon figure out who within their circle is a jerk and start monetizing exchanges or demanding barter from them. And a uniform characteristic of gift economies is that too much discussion of who does what for whom and how much it is worth in money causes reactions from embarrassment to anger and usually sours the deal.

Like FMagyar and other posters, I too exist in a multi-level economy: formal, informal, domestic, gift and least of all organized barter. The formal economy brings in the dollars. Find work, do work, chase client to get paid, keep $1 for every $2 gross, pay federal, state, city, unemployment, social security, Medicare, workers' compensation taxes..... OK, got that.

The gift economy is tiny but entirely more interesting, as the following recent examples show: "Would you like a fig? Shannon came by on a scooter out of nowhere and handed me a bucket of figs." Your brother came by and borrowed the chain saw. I still have too much winter squash; I need to give away more. Anne's fence was about to fall down so I fixed it. Anne, who is 80, came out rather surprised and made me a snack of banana bread. Check this out, Margot left us a gallon of fresh milk and half a case of canned tuna. Does your brother want any eggs? We have way too many. I'm calling the gleaners to get those apples; I already made as much applesauce as I am going to use. Jill was advertising fresh vegetables so I went over and Jill picked my brain for two hours and gave me a huge box of vegetables and I paid her $5. (Which is ridiculous all around, as a monetary exchange; the vegetables were worth way more than $5 and I charge way more than a box of vegetables is worth for two billable hours of picking my brains.) I gave Jill's onions to Erin. I need to get to Seattle on Tuesday, any chance your brother would loan me his car?

Anne paid me in fish, a reportable transaction for business services that I will pay taxes on and she can deduct. The fish was really good. Susan paid me $50 for fixing her computer and tipped me in raspberries.

Gift-giving has come up a lot for me in the medical profession.

One place it has been studied extensively is with pharmaceutical representatives, where 25% of the budget is devoted to advertising and gift-giving. While many physicians are deeply convinced that these gifts do not alter their behavior, research (by Montreal psychiatrists) has conclusively demonstrated that physician behavior is altered by company gifts, and not necessarily in the patients' advantage. Thus the ethical code of conduct of the American Medical Association limiting pharmaceutical company gifts to ballpoint pens and sticky pads(and bags and books, and sweaters, oh well...).

Also, working in community health centers, the transaction between myself and the patient frequently involved no money. I got paid with gratitude, and at times with flowers stolen from local gardens or shops. The drive to gift what one can is definitely powerful.

Finally, there was the Christmas I received 25 free teddy bears (Babar dressed up as Santa Claus, actually) from a local store. I gave them away to homeless women, and the ones who surprised me the most (I was in an early part of my career) were the women who promptly and proudly and very joyfully gave theirs away to someone else. I concluded that having something to give away makes us feel deeply worthwhile.

We are very fortunate in having a couple of truly human physicians in our nieghborhood.The older one, now retired, had so many free samples that you could aviod the drugstore quite often if he knew you were not well off.People with insurance and good jobs or businesses got patented drugs, every body else got generics if no samples were available and a generic would work.

Our new doctor has no samples at all because the drug companies won't give him any-he prescribes generics in the VAST majority of cases, knowing the state of the bank accounts of his patients.

He writes for an on patent drug nly when a lad result indicates it is needed, or if the generics don't work, he will try a new drug.

He doesn't take insurance, practices out of his house, and charges only thirty five bucks.It is not uncommon for him to spend forty or forty five minutes with a patient.

He says he is making way more money than he needs or spends.

I have reason to believe however that at his former location he was raking it in in the big city, which probably explains how he can afford such low fees now-savings.

How about this type of non market economic approach which does not depend on 'giving' or charity in any way, and elevates it to a 'right of citizenship as to consuming ability http://www.technocracy.org/component/content/article/71-archives/285-ivie
Energy accounting would eliminate all the antique concepts of barter, money, or gifting for the basics of life etc. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6UX1crhRXI

Being dependent on the whims of neighbors does not sound like a great idea.


Thank you for your links to those fascinating archives of the Technocracy Movement. But with all due respects to the great M.K. Hubbert, the technocrats' new society proposals are, to a large extent, batty.

Here's an example from their FAQs:

What will be the status of women in Technocracy?

For the first time, women will receive their consuming power independently of men and in equal amount. No man will be able to win their favors with any sort of purchases, for the men's Energy Debit Card will be useable only for masculine consumer goods, and the ladies' only for feminine goods. The women, on the other hand, will be unable to sell favors to the men; thus effectively ending the possibility of being a commodity sold in the world's oldest profession.

[emphasis mine]

The ladies. Sweet suffering Jesus H. Christ. Welcome to the tinfoil hat community. No wonder the Technocracy Movement so rapidly became the butt of ridicule.

Men will be paying in cash or in kind for access to T&B until the day of general judgment.

Well... ok Carolus. If you do not mind living in a class/caste system and getting paid peanuts compared to an equally educated man then the Technocracy idea probably is not for you http://www.archive.org/details/TechnocracyTechnateDesign.WomenEssayWriters

Probably the day of general judgment is at hand Carolus... if resource destruction for money making and contract society is an issue.
Tinfoil is a product of science by the way. You probably would feel much poorer without it.
Pity, you find this type of thing strange or offensive ''For the first time, women will receive their consuming power independently of men and in equal amount.''

Just for fun check out Biophysical economics sometimes called thermoeconomics. That is what Technocracy is about in a non market science system.
Have a great day.

Gail writes:

I understand that in Cuba, a law was passed that if you had extra room in your vehicle, you were required to pick up people needing rides, if they were standing in designated ride-sharing locations. Do you think the USA could get to this point of sharing?

[emphasis mine]

Gail, if you are required to give something, then it's not a gift. So the question you put should read:

"Do you think the USA could get to this point of coercion?"

Excellent posting, Gail.
This goes well in line with my experiences in India or Africa: When I backpack-travelled there I was invited several times by people (mostly about my age) to chat with them, have some tea, food or even stay with the family for a while. They were very amiable, but eventually it could happen that someone (of their friends) asked me if I could give him some money.
This sounds somewhat amiable for a westerner, but later I learned that this is a normal way of social balancing among those who have more or less. In a way this is a more direct and personal way of social insurance.

One of the 10 principles of Burning Man is a gift economy.
The population is shrinking, but I think the highest was 50,000 participants. That's a lot of gifting! Granted, Burning Man is a short term, temporary but repeating event (1 week) and completely not sustainable, but you asked for examples...!

As no one else has posted on the formalized efforts like timebanking I will.


software to run your timebank

(the time trader ppl arrange a conference call and have a new "Member-led Guide, containing the "Nuts and Bolts on
getting a community group up and running" released by Tony Budak in case running a timebank is a road one wants to travel.)

The UXA and EPIC movement

Here's a time bank going great guns:


As with many formal barter transactions, the exchanges have a set monetary value, at a fixed exchange rate of $10 national currency = 1 Life Dollar.

Gift enconomies can only function in homogeneous societies where the rules of exchange are established. One can see the problems of cultures clashing ideas of property and ownership every day in countries where there are large immigrant populations. An international gift economy would require an extensive set of shared values, which is something only time and lots of contact can bring.

Piffle. Who said anything about an international gift economy. Gift economies function at the face group level, a scale between the domestic economy and the larger community, which uses either money or barter. Very often, the larger community uses barter transactions valued in money. For example, Anne paid me in fish for services which I have no trouble valuing, since I charge other people cash. Anne knows the dollar value of her fish. Hence the transaction was valued in dollars but settled in fish. Historically, this has been the norm more often than societies having so much currency in circulation that they can monetize every transaction.

My experience has been that gift economies: redistribute surplus, particularly seasonal or perishable foods; serve as an emergency lifeline for persons in the face group fallen on hard times; reinforce social connections; and to a limited extent allow the exchange of services with an understanding of reciprocity.

Time banks are a way of extending the system beyond the immediate face group.

Okay, how about this: banks, many of them, defer foreclosure. The family stays in the house. Gift? I think so... in a strange way. The famiily gifts to the bank by keeping the heat on, and maintaining the home. But no real quid pro quo. Maybe it won't last, but until the bank files the papers, life goes on.

I predict more and more of this sort of gifting. Generational gifts within families and churches, as members do lose their homes, and their jobs and livelihoods. We see it today all around, grandparents raising grandchildren... and of course, children caring for destitute parents abound.

There does seem to be some built in drive in people to help others. Didn't Bill Gates give a bunch to his foundation, and Warren Buffet did also (to Gate's foundation, I mean). What is that about?

How about foreign aid? The penultimate gift of all time was the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe. And, Japan, I guess... probably a different name for that plan, but same deal. No demand, no quid pro quo... just us doing what we thought was the right thing to do.

That is what makes me so mad about the Chicago School (and, I guess the Austrians as well)... they turn this on its head. And, after the results are so clear. If we did the right thing all the time, there is no telling what would result... maybe we would find a way to get into sustainable living, as a gift to one another?

What's going on? I sound like ... not a doomer? Ah... feels so good! Wish it could last... but it is a fantasy today. How do we turn this around? Comeon TOD... talk me down now.

I think you could extend the 'family' concept to small groups of close friends and family reasonably easily. In fact, among my close friends and family that sort of gift economy already works, and it acts to draw us together and cement the emotional ties we have to one another.

The difficulty is extending that to larger groups. Would it be possible to have a gift economy function between small groups rather than between individuals within different groups? If there were prestige associated with giving, and the small groups could form a group identity (as many families do, and as clans and tribes have done in the past) and share in the prestige of that group identity, I think it could work.

In fact it might be possible to use that same prestige to cut down on inter-group conflict by using sports and competitive activities as an outlet for competitive urges without diminishing the bonds between groups that lead to a functioning gift economy.

Apartheid policy, surrounded by economic distressed larger community is plight of this economically and socially isolated community I visit from time to time. People relocated by government policy from urban welfare to rural welfare. Yearning for the good life yet trapped by addiction to alcohol and worse. Tempered by assumption their welfare support is due to them by government yet local government takes care of its own first. People have been murdered over competition for minimum wage jobs and families have multi-generation feuds.

A picture of a dysfunctional community in present day that may be a microcosm for what we will be facing. People have skills, they are industrious and desire for scale wages, and the good things it buys. But this is holding them back from doing anything. An outsider (me) views all this and has audacity to ask a respected community elder to consider http://www.timebanks.org/ time banking as a way to mitigate this impasse thrust upon these people. A computer program that serves as a registry for and accounting of time dollars to give people sitting at home a way to make their local world work better and to sustain themselves.

I feel arrogant to propose this as I have job and things to do with my money. Yet, I am worried about myself and this solution is the only one that seems to make sense even for myself as eventually this will be happening in my home community too.

Solutions scaled to a dysfunctional future is what we need to explore.

What ideas do you have for making a gift economy work, if only on a small scale?

I think the key is trust that "what goes around comes around" and willingness to give without expectations.

Two examples from my life over the past few days:
- we have some extra furniture (including a nice oak table, a bed, a sofa): rather than sell these, we offered them to community members who have less than us.
- we have been arranging some transport, and had some extra space. We knew of some people needing to move stuff as well, and offered to let them include their stuff for free.

I have found that people want to do/give something in return. When you know people, they don't really want to receive gifts "for free" (nobody wants to be a charity case, except maybe on their birthday). Receiving a gift makes them feel good, and either immediately or later they are offering something in return (e.g. in our case, help with the move).

Besides, giving is much more fun than bartering.

Perhaps one outcome of a monetary exchange system is that the reduction of trade to just the "price point" (the intersection of supply and demand curves) severs the non-monetary elements of trade so that we end up with "producers" and "consumers" instead of citizens engaged with other citizens.

I feel it is possible to extend a gift economy to the whole humanity.
It's all a matter of consciousness and experience of self.

When consciousness remains at levels associated with survival and when pleasure comes from material gratification and personnal power, a gift economy is not possible because the people will have a tendancy for fighting and controling through ownership.

When consciousness expands and embraces higher realms of existence in which the experience of self is expanded to include family, tribe, nation, race, nature, animals and pleasure is experienced primarily through Love, Co-Creation and Communion, then giving becomes natural because it is giving to another part of self.

Status through giving changes nothing if the individual is attaching to status... True giving happens when the feeling of separation melts, not when one is craving status.

A contracted state leads you to frustration that will seek pleasure outside of self. In this state you will need means of securing future gratifications but this is only possible if you choose control and power.

A relaxed state leads you to find a source of infinite pleasure and energy at the center of your consciousness and leads you to an ever wider expansion of your experience of self. Control and power become meaningless because your only aspiration is to share the love and joy that shines from your center.

Of course between two extremes there is a rainbow of colors that compose today's humanity. But it seems clearer to me each day that the next battle will not be won by the contracted people through their control and power but it is now time for the love and the light shining from the center to win.

The question is not : do we have to choose a gift economy or a barter economy but : what state do we want to live in ? A state of communion with Existence through which we learn to see and FEEL all life as Self or a state of contraction in which we have to fight for survival and ephemeral gratifications ? It is the consciousness level of human beings and not logic that will lead to a choice of economy.

If we choose communion, it will feel natural to give our gift to the world, it will flow effortlesly and no articifical incentive will be required.

To join a gift economy voluntarily is a fine act.

But gift economies often, as a lot of the comments here have pointed out, turn into hierarchies where gift-giving becomes expected; and in particular into hierarchies where position comes from an unalterable status - age, gender. It's absolutely unreasonable to expect people to be born into a gift economy; you always need the option to leave, and this means you always need the option to accumulate; you need the option to tell your cousin and his cousins and her cousins no.

Some of the saddest routine stories of the developing world come from the intrusion of capitalism into what's traditionally a gift economy: a Filipina works awful hours as a maid in Singapore, obliged by traditional ties to send most of what she earns back to Luzon, and in Luzon her husband invokes the traditions of the gift economy and drinks the earnings.

Reminding people that their husbands drink, and setting up bank accounts in Singapore so that the savings can at the end turn into a lump which provides a house in Luzon, is a pretty honorable development goal.

when a person takes a job in Japan, many of the exchanges are similar to those in a gift economy. The employer is closely involved in the life of the employee and may even help find a spouse for an employee. In return, an employee shows much more loyalty to the employer (in terms of not changing jobs) and is very concerned about the quality of his work.

I have lived here in Japan for over 30 years. Here's my take. The quote does not hold so much any more. There is less job security and people now change employers more freely. Nevertheless, Japanese society does have a strong "gift economy" component. Aside from the institutionalized mid-year and year-end gifts, relatives, friends, associates, and neighbors often give each other things, often something to eat. Sometimes people have too much of something for themselves (including things they received from someone else), so they give the excess portion to others. There is no expectation of an exchange, although it is not unusual for the recipient to grab something they have too much of on the spot, and share it with the giver. Gifts also take the form of helpful favors. For the last 13 years I have lived in a rural district. Here everyone gardens, and many people grow rice, including me (as you can tell from my handle). People are constantly "gifting" others in the neighborhood with garden produce, pickled vegetables, cooked dishes, mushrooms gathered from the surrounding mountains, and what have you. I myself give away lots of vegetables and rice. People do give gifts to people who have been helpful, as a token of their appreciation, although often the recipients think nothing of what they did and do not expect a gift.

Do people gift to people who do not gift, or does everyone gift so there IS an expectation of a "return".

Virtually everyone gifts; those who do not are sort of on the edge of the community, keeping to themselves (ostracism as in old times is now rare). There IS an expectation of a return in certain formal, institutionalized circumstances. For example, people give money to the bereaved at funerals, and the bereaved gift those who attended the visitation or funeral (in fact, the gift is called a "return").

Anyway, I think that everyday gifting in Japanese society has roots in the past, when the general public (known then as "peasants") used it as a way of sharing the wealth in their communities. Life in premodern times was hard for the hoi polloi. If people with surpluses share them with other members of the community, everyone benefits. People aren't looking for a return gift, but over the long run everyone will be gifted. Over a year, we give away a lot, but we also receive a lot. Occasionally we will come home and find a bag of food sitting by the door. We don't know who left it, and no one comes to say they did. So obviously they are not expecting anything in return, not even a thank you, for the bag of food. And we do the same. If the person isn't home, we just leave our gift there.

Thank you Gail and everyone for a remarkable and generally positive experience in reading. I hope you will come back to this topic later in another post, having incorporated all the wonderful insights and your own research into gift economies.

No one said anything about The Gift, one of the main sources for people researching this topic, although you mentioned it in your post. Hyde's book is really dense, and difficult to read (at least for me) but he talks about art in the gift economy, and how that works in the larger, enveloping market economy - and the difficult relationships between the two economies. Futher discussion along those lines would be welcome (to me.)

Also unmentioned is one of the original American subversions of the gift economy, recounted in Shell Game by the California carpenter and poet Jerry Martien. In his version, the original American colonists were shut out of the market economy by the British and Dutch authorities, who refused to allow them to have much "hard" currency -- preferring to keep the colonists in that era's equivalent of the Third World. The colonists saw that the Indians were apparently exchanging beads ("wampum") and began using wampum as a local currency -- tradeable with the Indians for furs, which were tradeable with Europeans for limited amounts of hard cash.

But wampum was not "money" -- it was part of the Indian traditional gift economy, and served to recount the story of gifts given and received; it was converted into money by the colonists in a sort of violation of its traditional function. And pretty soon, of course, wampum was counterfeited by the colonists, who turned the laborious hand production of beads into an industrial process.

As Hamster noted above, we need the gift economy, and it will always be there when we need it most, because it is the foundation of economic systems -- the default when complexity fails. But it is easily twisted and abused as gifts stop being given forward, and are allowed to accumulate as "profit."

This was an excellent and timely suggestion -- many thanks.

For a long time I have been practicing, and advocating, a
"Robin Hood" economy -- steal from the rich, give to the poor.

works for me ...

If the very rich are successful in completely destroying all forms of
currency by eliminating the myth of scarcity, they may find
that the poor, who have always kept the skills necessary for survival without currency, may fare better than they do.

There is a story that ministers sometimes tell from the pulpit.
An angel comes to visit a man.
He asks the angel if he will show him what heaven and hell are like.
So the angel shows him a room.
Inside is a very large round table. In the center of the table
is an enormous soup bowl, with savory meats, vegetables and spice
filling the room with a pleasing aroma.
All around the table are seated hungry people.
Unfortunately, they cannot reach the bowl with their right hands.
On the left arm of each person is permanently fastened, a very long spoon, long enough to reach the bowl, but too long to reach their own mouth.
All of the people are moaning and crying about their misfortune.
"This is hell", says the angel.
He shows the man another room.
In this room is a table, just like the other room,
and a bowl of soup, just like the other room,
and people seated around the table, with spoons
just like the other room.
But here, everybody is laughing and talking and having a good time.
They are feeding each other.
"This is heaven", says the angel.

It works on earth, too.