Sunday, February 28, 2016

Gift Economics, Rather than Barter, Was the Early Alternative to Money


This is an historical eye opener. In the "The Myth of the Barter Economy" piece done for the Atlantic, Ilana E. Straus makes the argument that money never followed barter as means of economic life; showing, in fact, that barter was seldom employed at all before money, being used primarily as an adjunct to already existing currency driven systems. What existed before was probably something more akin to a Gift economy, where things were provided without regard to any kind of value equivelancy. It was, it seems to me, to be more of a case of enlightened self interest to provide when able so as to be able to count on reciprocation in the future if circumstances put you in need of help.

One also has to take into account the fact that such early pre industrial agrarian, or hunter gatherer, cultures were generaly a good deal more steeped in the idea of collaberation to begin with. Whether you were grouped around a tribe and its village(s), or an interrealted group of nomads, you necessarily had to rely on cooperation to a large degree in order to survive at all. Virtually everything around you was a part of nature that was competing against you for its own survival. And there was so little of it you understood to any degree. Cooperation, if nothing else, offered the group the chance to aquire and store hard earned lessons on how to interact with the environment they found themselves in. Being able to hold that, and then pass it on to your descendants, allowed them to start from a continuouisly improving base of experience; no small thing if you stop to consider having to reinvent the wheel, or the finely edged piece of stone over and over again.

The lesson for now, though, is to realize that a medium of exachange works best when each member of a society has a reliable set of skills from which to choose to be specialized in; where reliable in this instance means one that can be counted on to be marketable as a currency generating commodity (not to mention that the currency itself maintains its perception of translative value, which is a whole other can of worms) in the first place. Change the means by which experience can be captured, and then retrieved, however, (so that it can be done anywhere and anytime it is desired, without the weak link of human wetware) and you have a completely new ball game as far as what that single activity can provide anyone who would utilize it, let alone to the human who can no longer compete applying it as a skill commodity.

The challenge for an alternative, it seems to me, is to blend the best mix of cooperation, enlightened self interest, and technology so that we can make best use of all of them. I firmly believe there is a way to do that; whether or not it is anything related to the outline I have suggesged as a starting point for the discussion. It can be done and it must be done. If we can at least agree on that we are already halfway there.


The Myth of the Barter Economy