What is the gift economy?
In a gift economy, goods and services are given without any strings attached; it is an economic system where it is the circulation of the gifts within the community that leads to increase; in this context, hoarding actually decreases wealth. At its core, gift-economy is a shift from consumption to contribution, transaction to trust, scarcity to abundance, and isolation to community.
Individual acts of charity, even ones as simple as offering a used book free of charge, can boggle the mind of an economist. Giving, for sure, is a transaction. But it is difficult to measure its value. Yet as the “sharing economy” of the Digital Age grows and morphs beyond commercial platforms like Uber or bartering websites, it also opens opportunities for new forms of genuine sharing, often anonymously.
There is a new “store” in Paris called “Magasin pour rien,” or “Shop for nothing.” It offers recycled goods free of charge to people who need them. It is backed by local government but builds on an initiative in Germany called Givebox, in which individuals create public spaces to give stuff away on a regular basis or to leave stuff, from strollers to irons.
Websites such as Freecycle and Freegle have helped expand giving. They are a new form of the old practice of leaving one’s unwanted household items on the sidewalk. Yet they also can result in new friendships and shared experiences as goods change hands. The sites help people meet their material needs without having to shop at big-box stores.
Another new form of giving involves stores or restaurants that allow patrons to pay double for a product or service, such as a meal or a haircut, and “suspend” the extra payment for later use by a person in need. Such places promote generosity and social bonding, although the giving is done with no expectation of reciprocity or credit.
An example is Karma Kitchen, which first opened in Berkeley on March 31st 2007, by several volunteers inspired to seed the value of a “gift economy”. The idea has now spread around the globe including France, India, the UK, and Japan. Run by volunteers, meals are cooked and served with love and offered to the guest, as a genuine gift. To complete the cycle of giving and sustain the experiment, guests make contributions in the spirit of pay-it-forward to those who will come after them.
This is a new model of consumption, one that involves kindness and connection. Givers may not even know the recipients of their generosity. Rather, the focus is as much on community building as on commodity sharing.
Based in part on part on an article by The C.S. Monitor’s Editorial Board October 21, 2015
For more on the concept of the gift economy, click here http://www.servicespace.org/join/?pg=gift
For information on Karma Kitchen: http://www.karmakitchen.org/index.php?pg=about