Gifting Economies – modelling alternative economies at the grassroots

Patrick Jones has written a brilliant essay in Arena magazine – Australia’s ‘website of left political, social and cultural commentary’ – about gifting economies. Or, to put it another way, the theory and practice relating to life without money.

Rather conveniently, this is a subject on which Pluto published last year, in Anitra Nelson and Frans Timmerman’s eloquent Life Without Money: Building Fair and Sustainable Economies. Jones draws upon the book for his essay discussing the theories and practices of alternative economies, permaculture and sustainability.

We’ve reproduced a chunk of the essay below – a section discussing debt, the common misconception of money’s emancipatory role in human development, and ‘crazy anarchist delusion’…

Exorcising debt lies at the heart of ridding society of the prime place of money, but this notion is often disabled by the strange but nonetheless common view that we have to pay off our debts regardless of the immoral ways they have come to burden us. This is especially true when it comes to property. Graeber recounts the popular myth about money’s origins as presented by economists since Adam Smith:

“We teach it to children in schoolbooks and museums. Everybody knows it. ‘Once upon a time, there was barter. It was difficult. So people invented money. Then came the development of banking and credit.’ It all forms a perfectly simple, straightforward progression, a process of increasing sophistication and abstraction that has carried humanity, logically and inexorably, from the Stone Age exchange of mastodon tusks to stock markets, hedge funds, and securitized derivatives.”

Graeber goes on to debunk this myth of pre-monetary exchange, observing how in many cultures exchange was nuanced and calibrated to local resource availability, local skills and ceremony. In chapter six of Life Without Money, simply called ‘The Gift Economy’, sociologist Terry Leahy presents a case for why a gifting economy might move from ‘crazy anarchist delusion’ to pragmatic reality. He begins by making a defence of utopia: ‘Currently, utopian schemes have a tenuous legitimacy in the social sciences. [But] I defend utopian writing as no more fantastical than ideas underpinning every other social order’. In my recent discussion with Holmgren I asked him what relationships he saw between permaculture and utopian thought:

“[Bill] Mollison said we might be searching for the Garden of Eden, and why not? There’s always been an element in permaculture of utopian thinking. You could say it is even quite strong. I suppose for me the important thing that would distinguish it is living here now, reacting to whatever the situation is, wherever we find ourselves, and yet acting as though the world we imagine as functional, viable, possible, desirable, is actually happening.”

When I was speaking to Holmgren we were sitting in his forest garden accompanied by chickens and goats and food, medicine, fibre, fodder and fuel producing plants. Leahy brings Holmgren into his chapter quite early and notes some of the most crucial necessities for gift economies as they have worked in the past:

“Holmgren discusses classless societies as typically reliant for subsistence on crops gathered in different seasons from trees grown over a wide area. Wildernesses of classless societies are dominated by tree species useful to, and encouraged by, humans. A typical tactic in breaking the resistance of these societies has been to burn and fell these forests, forcing the population to depend on annual cereal crops that are easily controlled by armies and given and withheld by ruling classes and their enforcers.”

To read the rest of Jones’ essay, click on the following link, which will take you to Arena.

Life Without Money

Building Fair and Sustainable Economies

Edited by Anitra Nelson and Frans Timmerman

Examines the failure of the money-based global economy and how we might live in more sustainable, equitable ways. A textbook and manifesto for change.

“The collapse of capitalism will also be an end to money as the prime regulator of society—an eventuality both hard to imagine and necessary to understand. Anitra Nelson and Frans Timmerman have assembled an indispensable collection for those who are bold enough to explore this dramatic prospect. Life Without Money is an essential guidebook for the great debate now unfolding and around which our hopes for a worthwhile future unfold.” – Joel Kovel, author of Enemy of Nature (2002; 2007) and Overcoming Zionism (Pluto, 2007)

“A timely contribution to an under-researched and under-reported area of economics: the theory of money and proposals for alternatives to the globalised capitalist financial system. I would recommend it to anyone interested in finding ways to develop an economy that functions without money.” – Molly Scott Cato, Reader in Green Economics, Cardiff School of Management

£17.99 only £16.00 on the Pluto site

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