A Gift Economy
Another GPT-3 Centaur Essay
I’ve been studying the work of Peter Zeihan for a while now. He regularly talks about how geography, geopolitics, and demographics create forces and pressures that affect possible futures. One major theme that seems to come up often is the impending demographic shifts that will strengthen and weaken certain nation states based on the effects. One major assumption is that the nation states of the world must continue to function as a set of competing consumption economies, which appears to lead to inevitable geopolitical conflict, or war.
What is beyond consumption economies? We can only begin to imagine this as we further develop the vision of a gift economy. The social institution of the gift, and the cultural and spiritual practices in which it is embedded, provides the conceptual foundation for imagining a future that is not based on the endless growth of the consumption economy.
The gift economy is not the simple opposite of the market economy. The gift economy is not a form of socialism or communism. It is the other side of the coin of the market, not a way of replacing the market economy. It is the form of social relations that is appropriate to a non-market and non-hierarchical society. It is a way of making the market economy function differently — and better — by providing an alternative way of organizing social relations.
What would a gift economy look like? It would be based on the recognition of the priority of social needs over the drive for individual accumulation. It would be based on a different understanding of the purpose of work. Work would be remunerative, but the purpose of remuneration would not be to accumulate personal wealth, but to provide for one’s needs and those of the community. It would be based on a different understanding of the nature of the economy. The economy is not a system of market exchanges. It is a system of social relations of production. The economy would be organized, not around the market, but around the gift.
The phrase “gift economy” is awkward and inexact, but it serves to distinguish the new mode of social relations that is emerging from the old. The term “gift” is used here not in the sense of a gift in the “caveman sense” (though, as we will see, it has elements of that) but in the sense of a gift in the sense of a gratuitous gesture, a gift that is not required by either party, a gift motivated by the desire to give and not by the desire to receive, a gift that creates a social relation.
Social relations still are fundamentally about Ayni, or reciprocity. A gift economy does not work if there are bad actors in the system. Burning Man is a social experiment exploring gifting economies. Kickstarter, Patreon, GoFundMe are platforms that explore giving. Non-profits, CSR, ESG, and social enterprises are theoretically about giving, but many of them have terrible unintended consequences to their actions.
Automation, robotics, and new energy technologies have the potential to generate an unfathomable abundance of resources and time. It seems that NFTs, social tokens, and other technology frameworks could further experiment with more advanced models of social relations with greater transparency and algorithmic wisdom. Perhaps, this could lead to a gift economy. However, it could also lead to a Black Mirror dystopian future.
It is all an intellectually stimulating conversation, but it always seems to come back to Spirit.