To continue to grow the economy, we must continually find ways to convert nature into goods and relationships into services.
We must always be selling more stuff, making more money, creating new product, pumping more oil, converting forests into burger meat and increasing the fish catch every year. Most of the available resources have already been converted. The more we continue, the more we devastate our planet.
The gift economy or reciprocity is the exchange of goods and services without keeping track of their exact value, but often with the expectation that their value will balance out over time.
Between people who engage in reciprocity, there is a maximum amount of trust and a minimum amount of societal distance. It is a very informal system of exchange. The expectation that the gift will be repaid is based on trust and social consequences; that is, a mooch who accepts gifts and favours without ever giving himself will find it harder and harder to obtain favours.
If I had twenty loaves of fresh bread, and I kept them and they went stale, I won’t make any friends. But if I give away my loaves of fresh bread, and understand that this giving would be reciprocated sometime, there would be gratitude felt toward me. And I have security. My security, my status and my wealth come from my generosity. That is how hunter gatherer societies and how peasant villages worked. Wealth doesn’t come from having a bunch of stuff in your hut, wealth comes from sharing.
In traditional cultures if someone was keeping or accumulating a lot of stuff, the whole Community thought they must be mentally ill.
An anthropologist was once interviewing a hunter gatherer and asked him why when he killed a large beast he didn’t store the meat so that he had plenty to eat for the next month. The hunter gatherer laughed at him and said, ‘I store meat in the belly of my brother’.
Community only happens when people have gifts to offer each other. A money transaction makes no bond, gift transactions do. If we receive a gift we feel gratitude to the giver. And we have a tie and need each other.
By reducing the resources we consume and encouraging a gift economy, we will find that a growth economy is not necessary for prosperity and a good life.