Gift Economics

Article — January 14, 2018 — language, trust

We are learning to apply gift economics, in Veda. This is a completely unfamiliar idea, for most of us. This article is an attempt to clarify that, to ease communication when we exchange gifts.

There is a widening difference between common English and the dialect of English developing in our cooperative, where we have four native languages among six people, and language itself is an active area of work for us. I will do my best to translate, and I will speak for myself, not wishing to put words in the mouths of my coworkers. I intend this as a contribution toward a future statement of our values as a whole cooperative.

To start, when I say “gift economics”, I mean the theory and practice of trust and consent in giving and receiving, as applied toward generously providing for who and what we care about.

I consider gift economics a natural science, in the sense that it is an exploration of how nature works. I contrast it with what I call market economics: an exploration of the rules and consequences of a game that we, as humanity, invented. I see market economics as a special case of gift economics.

In market economics, value is considered an attribute of a product. Market value is quantitative, meaning it always makes sense to speak about one product being worth more or less than another.

This is different from gift economics, where value may be both quantitative and qualitative. It is an attribute of a relationship. To know the gift value of a product, we have to consider the value in its relationship to all else that exists, as well as the value in its relationship to itself. Having a qualitative aspect, the gift value of one product cannot necessarily be compared to another in a meaningful way.

For example: what is the value of a fig? Market economics defines this as the price that buyers are willing to pay for it. In gift economics, we look at market price as one indicator of value, among many others.

The first consideration is the value of the fig in itself. As silly as this might seem, it may be the most damaging omission made in market economics. Our economic mindset determines how we think about value in general, and this determines how we see our own value.

If we are blind to the value of a thing in itself, then we can only see the value we provide to others, and not the value we have in ourselves. This leads to an endless, hopeless striving to achieve, to prove our worth, which remains constantly in doubt for the simple reason that we have forgotten we have the ability to perceive our own worth directly.

Those who remember and use their sense of value never fall into the trap of trying to prove themselves; they already know that they are treasure.

Value can be created. In market economics, this is done by transforming lower-value products into higher-value products. Much of the damage to the ecosystem that we’ve suffered in the last few hundred years can be attributed to the operations of human beings attempting this, while only considering market value, which is a tiny factor within gift value.

We have destroyed gift value to create market value, losing ourselves to win at our game. By applying gift economics, all this value and more can be regained.

Our approach to this in Veda has been to practice offering and asking for pure gift exchanges, usually involving money.

Money, in both market economics and gift economics, is an abstraction of value. By that, I mean it removes value from where it naturally occurs, capturing it within tokens of currency instead. This can be understood by learning how to create money. There are many ways of doing this, and I’ll describe a simple one as an example.

First, we acquire control of a valuable item – let’s say a gold bar. Then, we manufacture a token – let’s say a copper coin. Then we agree that whoever holds the copper coin is the exclusive owner of the gold bar, with the right to say what is and isn’t to be done with it.

In effect, this increases the value of the copper coin and decreases the value of the gold bar. If we only consider market value, nothing has happened except to abstract the value from bar to coin. If we consider gift value, however, then we can see that the process of creating money has destoyed value, in this case: the copper coin gains gift value for the person who holds it, but not for anyone else, and the gold bar loses gift value for everyone who doesn’t hold the copper coin.

A more complex example, closer to money as we think of it today, is fiat currency: a form of money that has value because we all agree, arbitrarily, to only exchange certain goods and services in return for that money.

In the absence of such an agreement, we are more likely to offer those same goods and services freely, as gifts. In this way, the agreement creates scarcity, and the scarcity then reinforces the agreement, because, sensing that we can only get what we want if we pay money for it, we are less likely to offer our gifts without asking for money in return.

In Veda, we are learning to apply gift economics in all of our transactions. This means we avoid buying, selling and trading. Instead, we offer and ask for gifts, in free exchange.

A free exchange is an exchange without conditions. There are always conditions, even if only the mood of the people involved, so in truth there’s no such thing as a pure gift exchange. There is always room to improve.

Most of us are coming from cultures that work with market economics, and so we understand how big a shift in thinking it requires to work with gift economics instead. We have to unlearn nearly everything our cultures have taught us, and remember how to perceive value directly.

Applying gift economics successfully requires a holistic perspective. There is no way to make sense of it by calculating who will gain what. This can only complicate matters. We make our work easier when we simplify our exchanges as much as we can.

For example: suppose that I ask you for a backrub, and promise to return the favor tomorrow. You agree, not because you want to receive a backrub, but because you’re happy to give one at the moment. The next day you ask me for a backrub, and I’m not happy to give one at that exact moment, but I remember that I promised, and so I do, feeling obligated – which isn’t likely to result in a very good backrub.

In this case, obviously it would have been better to simply ask for a backrub, without promising anything in return. From my experience, we tend to make our exchanges “fair” when we feel insecure about asking for what we want. Fairness, as I see it, is a bogus value. It symbolizes the idea that we all get what we want, or at least we come as close as we can, yet operating according to the principle of fairness tends to create compromises that leave no one happy at all.

What if I ask for a backrub, and you aren’t happy to give one? This is the fear of rejection that often lies behind complicated exchanges, of all kinds, whether they be economic, romantic or otherwise. It is a legitimate fear. Often, the one asked for the backrub still complies anyway, and this can easily create feelings of guilt and resentment in all concerned.

There are principles we can follow to improve our gift exchanges.In terms of practical, down-to-earth, applicable principles of gift economics, I learned the most from the Wheel of Consent, on Betty Martin’s website.

I’ll share what I’ve found works well for me, with the belief, though not the certainty, that these same principles will work for anyone.

In every exchange:

When I’m being asked for a gift:

When I’m asking for a gift:

When I’m offering a gift:

When I’m being offered a gift:

Gift Economics - January 14, 2018 - Veda Cooperative