The Gift Economy Paradigm
Defining Gift Economy
- What We Do | ServiceSpace.org
Service Space is an incubator of gift-economy projects. This page offers a list of transaction models that fall within the the gift economy scope of activity.
The gift economy paradigm is gaining currency.
Ideologically, it is a way of doing business that leaves determination of value in the hands of the client.
Ethically, it challenges the receiver to give back.
Philosophically, it offers a worldview centered on relationships instead of money.
With a gift, the exchange of goods and services happens as a one-sided event without any agreement that it will be reciprocated---without, by definition, an exchange at all.
Instead of the commodity being offered for money (as with a market economy) or traded for another commodity of similar value (as with a barter economy), it is given freely. If a return happens, it occurs when and if the recipient chooses to offer a gift back; perhaps the return will be of comparable market value, perhaps not. There is some debate whether this even qualifies as a true economic system.
"Mankind was my business..."
“Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!"
~Marley's ghost in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Gift Economy on Wikipedia
- Gift economy - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Anthrolopogists have a lot to say about concepts of property rights and reciprocity within communities. Political and sociological nuances defy purist definitions of gift-giving.
Is altruism in the business world possible?
Most people are familiar with personal gifts. The giver’s intentions may range from loving to obligatory. There are usually social norms involved, such as the anticipation of getting another gift or thank-you note back. Sometimes gifts are exchanged immediately, as with major holidays. Sometimes one person receives all the presents but cultural customs assume a future reciprocal event (as with birthdays) or other gift-giving opportunity.
“There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Gifts in the professional arena almost always have self-serving agendas or debts attached. Promotional items, referral perks, and special deals can feel like gifts but involve professional benefits or consumer costs.
The pragmatic application of a gift economy system likely involves the expectation that most clients will choose to offer payment---even if only out of guilt or a sense of propriety. Some business owners report an increase in income after switching to gift-based transactions---and anecdotally, their returns seem motivated by good will. Cynics might note that humanitarian-minded principles are good for business.
Most human beings live in a community where currency is necessary. Unless one subsists purely on charity, barter, or self-sufficiency, money is required for survival. It seems challenging to circumvent this reality because philanthropy does not currently make the world go round. But it does make a difference.
No strings attached.
A true gift implies no return…no expectations, no hidden agendas, and no egotistical motivations. At its most idealistic, the philosophy of the gift economy offers a new paradigm: goods and services are given to those who want them. It trusts that appealing to noble ethics will inspire more of the same. The act of the gift is not a manipulation but a blessing and an invitation.
-places the recipient at the center of the interaction (not money)
-expresses to the recipient that they are worthy
-appeals to the recipient’s own generosity
-makes “tips” obsolete while allowing for payment to reflect perception of quality
-allows for abundance to flow from recipients back to givers, sometimes in unexpected forms
-allows for those in need to receive benefits they cannot afford while neutralizing the power dynamic of “charity”
-transforms the market relationship from seller/buyer to giver/giver
These people are doing it.
- Gift Economy
Examples of gift-based work in action from The Huffington Post.
What are you working for?
How can one survive without overtly working for money? Gift economy pioneers are figuring it out. Even under a dominant market economy, even with risks and uncertainties, they are making a living. More than that, they are making life meaningful by offering their skills in accordance with their ethics.
Most people do pay it back...they will give what they think is fair or what they can honestly afford. Other people choose to pay it forward---to offer a gift later, or to someone else, when they can. If a recipient takes advantage of the gift situation and the interaction feels negative, the giver is under no obligation to work with them again. But even if there is no visible return, the gift transaction can have lasting ripple effects.
Gifts can change people. And a pure-hearted giver never suffers a loss, because they are not working for material rewards...they are working to make a difference.