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?
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…