Gift Economy.

Gift economies have been present since the Stone Age. In modern times, with the advent of new economic structures such as communism and capitalism, certain characteristics from free economies are still in use. With free markets failing and a need for more controls needed, the state owned philosophy of running economies are becoming more and more popular. However, they too are not without setbacks and disadvantages when dealing with a global economy.

With the reliance on plastic money and liquidity, the commodity of exchange is becoming more complex day by day. The reliance on one form of commodity trading using money as the principal source of exchange, is facing scrutiny. Characteristics of gift economies are becoming ever more encouraging and with the influx of the global turbulence in the financial markets, gift economies are being studied further, as financial experts try to borrow the best of each system to build a new world order where depressions and recessions can be minimized.

Gift economies
According to anthropologist Marshall Sahlins, since the beginning of time, and Stone Age economies in particular, gift economies have existed as the fundamental source of a market structure. Thus far, most modern economists and anthropologists reject this notion stating that earlier economies were subjected to severe poverty and scarcity of resources. However, according to Marshalls, the nature of gift economies require an abundance of resources. Evidence augmenting this argument lies in the fact that principles of sharing food and clothing were quite common in earlier times.

Thus, the basis of a gift economy is on the underlying assumption that gifts must be exchanged. This exchange must transcend from the top of society to the bottom and not just an individual exchange between two parties. The basis of this assumption can be held in activities such as alms giving, charity or even sacrifices made to a deity. All forms reflect a sense of exchange in society, which if considered, will result in the collective benefit of the person giving the gift. Thus, creating a society of tolerance, sharing and communal living.

Gift economies and their principle difference between commodity markets
If we examine history, various tribes such as the Chinook, Nootka and other regions from the Pacific Northwest  we can see that most people gave gifts in terms of valuables such as blankets, and food. Hunter gatherer tribes were based on entirely this form of economy where the success of a hunter was not based upon how much he had hunted but rather how much he had bought back with him to the tribe. He did not get paid or reimbursed for his hunt rather it was his gift to society.

Lewis Hyde further elaborated on this issue in the book The gift the erotic life of property in which he mentioned how the gift economy varies from that of the exchange or commodities economy. He mentions the fundamental difference between the two economies in the underlying circumstance of status that is accorded in each economy. In a commodity exchange market, status is based on the function of who has the most. However, in a gift economy, the underlying basis is on who gives the most to society.

Another fundamental difference identified by Hyde between market economies and gift economies is the underlying focus on relationships and connections between the society itself. In a market economy, the nature of transactions is very impersonal, brutal and selfish. However, in a gift economy, the fundamental purpose is to develop, maintain and sustain relationship between fellow members of society. Because of this underlying factor, Hyde mentioned a gift economy as one undertaking erotic commerce, which works against that of a market economy which functions on the principles of logic and reason.

Functioning of the gift economy
The example of the gift economy in modern times can be given by modern scientists who follow the same guiding principles of the gift economy. Scientists that are accorded the highest status are actually those who are willfully sharing their research and academic knowledge with the rest of society. They not only contribute fully to their fields, but also pass on the same information to society, free of cost. Their career is based on the premise that they share their information. Those scientists who are not published are seen as to have wasted their careers.

Definition of gifts
When Hyde formulated his theories on the gift economies, differentiating what constitutes as gifts and what does not was a major issue in his anthropological theories. According to him, anything material and immaterial can be held as a gift. These include talents, and inspirations, which can benefit society as a whole. The underlying purpose of the definition entails that any gift that works in a gift economy is one that inspires the soul, and moves human beings. Gifts given out of obligation cannot be constituted as genuine gifts in a gift economy.

Contradictions within the gift economy
Marcel Mauss argued that nothing can ever be truly free. The same principle works for gifts because, as with everything else, it cannot be free. Though the idea of the gift economy is interesting in nature, practically it is impossible, according to Marcel. The concept of independence that stems in a majority of societies is a clear augmentation of that very fact. When young adults choose to stop accepting money from their parents, or gifts, and choose independence instead is fundamentally living out that idea. Human beings do not wish to be caught in a spiral of obligation. They would rather be free themselves.

Hyde also states that in some circumstances, when people actually do not want the same relationships as portrayed by the gift economy. When we speak about gifts, we automatically establish bonds. But at some points in life, human beings do not want those bonds, but have no choice to accept them when they have accepted the gifts.

Beyond the above two theories forwarded by sociologists, there is an underlying obligation to return gifts in one form or the other. When kings rewarded their people with gifts and tax free time periods, they could buy loyalty. Similarly, when other gifts entail similar benefits which are not that explicit in nature, the idea of the gift economy actually diminishes.

In conclusion, a gift economy has its positives and drawbacks. The underlying focus should perhaps be on the purpose of the gift economy. The purpose is to share a more intricate connection between the members of society, and live in a collective manner than striving for individual goals alone. The concept of connectivity and relationship management should be taken from gift economies and a hybrid version of a new economy should be formed to solve the economic woes plaguing our financial systems.


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