The Money Culture, Part 2

One of the big challenges in thinking about where we might go if we walked away from money is trying to imagine what alternatives look like.  How does a gift economy work if you are in a big, technologically advanced civilization instead of a small foraging band?

Seva, or service, is the selfless giving of oneself for the betterment of others and the world around. At Seva Cafe, the concept of service takes the form of a "pay it forward" restaurant, where every meal is cooked and served with love.
Seva Cafe: Love All, Serve All

A variation of the gift economy has been called Pay-it-Forward.  A beautiful real world example of this in action is the Seva Cafe.

It occurred to me that at least one author has elaborated a speculation about returning to a forager-style gift economy in a high-tech setting: Kim Stanley Robinson in Red Mars (and subsequent Martian books – this sort of thing is why science fiction writers like KSR rock my stripey socks! ).  In Robinson’s setting, the scientist-types in the first colonizing wave on Mars decide that a gift economy is the way to go.

I’m lazy, so even though I’ve got the Red Mars tome right in front of me, after 15 minutes flipping through the thing I’m not finding the passages about the gift economy, how it got started, and what happened.  Any KSR scholars out there want to recommend relevant page numbers?  I found on a quick Google Books search a passage in Green Mars from about page 291 where it’s being discussed. Dr. Sparks at Clemson has a little page about it , connecting the gift economy to some science and Internet philosophies:

In many ways, the scientific/academic community and the Internet can be seen as contemporary examples of partial gift economies: a scientist’s or academic’s knowledge is not worth anything unless it is given away, shared with other scientists and students through publication or teaching. Similarly, the open-handed ethos of the web encourages a potlatch mentality where people create whole sites for the purpose of giving things away.

I note that this was posted in 1997 (message to Dr. Sparks – Please do something to make this less visually uncomfortable. I did my share of bad design in the 90’s too, but it’s time to freshen up a little).  We all  had such beautiful dreams about what the Internet could and should be (at lease, some of us nerdy, lefty, academic types did).  And it’s nice to realize that these dreams aren’t dead yet, as exemplified by things like Wikipedia (see Jimmy Wales’ interview on Daily Show last night) and Creative Commons.

Anyone know of other writers who have dealt with gift economies, with some thought and explanation as to how a non-money economy could be compatible with high-tech lifestyles?  Or other present-day examples of gift economics in action?

And so, I offer my these posts as a gift, with a wish that you pay it forward.

…Part 2 in a series of indeterminate length…


  1. Thanks, Michelle, for having the oomph to take on money. I’d like to know about the experience of the many Americans who went to SE Asia to study Buddhist meditation and had to accept being money-less,which meant depending utterly upon the gifts of their neighbors.

    I have such a different feeling inside me thinkingabout gifts, a happy,flowing sort of feeling, feels organic, as if I am wired by something like oxitocin flow to enjoy making connections via gift, where as exchange, whetner by money or barter, involving a self-oriented calculus, just ties me in knots.

    Please keep on with this, I think it’s central to the needed transitiom. And please connect with Transition SC about it.



  2. I love that you brought up the Buddhist experience. Many religious traditions include an expectation that you will spend part of your time and energy in the practice of “begging.” The attitude, both of the recipients and the givers, is not the same as you might find when someone in the city encounters a panhandler. People feel blessed by being asked to give to one who is focusing on studying and practicing religion.
    I also remember on Sumatra, the practice of always finding someone to give a coin to before traveling, to bring the traveler luck. So there were beggars at all the bus depots, but they were welcomed rather than seen as a scourge.


  3. hi again Michelle,
    Yes! It is sweet to give. Thus, the idea of Santa Claus. There has to be a Santa Claus in a money economy, at lesst one person who is not about money but about giving. To be sure, we’ve got it skewed,as if the value were in the receiving, not in the giving. Yet don’t we all really know that it feels so much better to give than receive. Not that it’s holier; it’s more FUN. A gift economy would be more FUN!


  4. It’s true, and as usual, it’s the connection part that seems to be the biggest challenge for me. One of the other titles I considered for my blog was Ms. Anthrope…

    But I like people, generally, so that’s not really it either.

    And Judy… Judy, you’re definitely one of the people I love. Hugs to you!


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