Open Space session: How do we balance the gift economy versus the need for jobs
It’s a topic that always generates a lot of passion; in a climate of increasing unemployment, some people are giving their labour or fruits thereof away for free. Some say they are doing it to liberate themselves from the culture of the wage slave; others do it because it creates community or because it simply makes them feel good. The people who need paid work desperately are not quite so enthused by these motivations and can interpret the whole gift economy idea as yet something else depriving them of a job.
When Ben Brangwen wrote a blog post about his Dr Bike project, where he repairs bikes for free in Totnes, it generated enough comments to make me think that this issue deserved exploring further, hence my question for the Open Space: how do we achieve a balance?
As usual, the discussion delivered more questions than answers and I’m now even more fascinated by the whole issue, but here’s a snapshot of some of what arose:
- Lots of services and goods that used to be exchanged for free have now become monetised, most notably childcare and care for the elderly
- It wasn’t until we started to trade outside of our communities that we needed money
- The gift economy creates relationships and stories, through virtual IOU’s
- The gift economy creates trust, but it needs a certain level of trust already there for it to become possible.
- Volunteering could be seen by local authorities as a cheap way to provide services which used to give people paid employment, like in the case of libraries and play and youth schemes, tempting them to cut even more services.
- The gift economy could be socially divisive between those who have a surplus of goods and time and those who haven’t.
- There is an element of scale: as the gift economy requires trust, it can only ever operate between people who know each other.
- The gift economy will not pay your rent or bills
There was more, but after a whole day of absorbing information, some of it might have dropped of the back of the shelf and this is what I can remember. I hope the discussion will continue and that people increasingly venture into the world of doing stuff just for the love of it. It is about the most subversive thing you can do in an economy solely driven by the profit motive and a powerful way to get people to start thinking a that another way might be possible, even preferable.