What is a gift economy, exactly?

Good morning!

Yesterday afternoon Vanessa and I went to a friend’s house to help show her how to do a plumbing thing and to give her some hugs and comfort after a recent tragedy.

The process of being able to add to the ease and joy of her day was fulfilling and delightful, and we had a great time laughing with her and her amazing daughters, playing with their pet geckos and having our bellies filled with soup of the most scrumptious sort.


At one point we were talking about the farm (they’re frequent visitors and they, like us, adore the restorative vibe of the land) and how excited we are to be able to run it on a gift economy when the campaign succeeds.

Our friend asked if I had a good description of what a gift economy is so when people ask her, she has a succinct answer, and after my could’ve-been-more-succinct reply it got me thinking.

What *is* the best way to describe it?

There’s a beautifully descriptive answer on ServiceSpace, and to me it boils down to this: a gift economy is a fundamental shift from fear to love.

Really. Fear to love. From scarcity to abundance, from transaction to trust.

It’s a radical shift in how we see the world, really, and I can understand the confusion a lot of folks have when they first encounter the concept.

We’ve been so conditioned to fear that there’s not “enough” and that without the carrot and stick of a transactional system, there’s the risk of getting screwed over, perhaps even the risk of not having our most basic needs met.


And I would respectfully point out that there’s a whole lot of that going around in our society right now. Plenty of folks have been screwed over. There are plenty of people who work hard all day who are also going hungry, going without basic medical care, not having their basic needs met.

To me, personally, the gift economy is a radical readjustment to love, trust, and the original spirit of what money was supposed to facilitate: Flow.

As I understand it, we invented money to facilitate the flow of goods and services. We created symbols that represented, essentially, trust.

Over time we wandered away from the idea of flow and plenty and trust in our fellow human until today so many of us are mired in the illusion of scarcity and lack and money has replaced a lot of moral compasses.

Ideas and ventures are held first against the yardstick of “will it make money” instead of “will it make people’s lives better,” “will it bring joy,” “will it add to the beauty of the world,” or even “will it cause harm?”

As I see it, a gift economy adds flow back to a system that has become distressingly clogged. It reintroduces care into uncaring actions. It facilitates the shift from fear to love.

Marianne Williamson defines a miracle simply as a shift from fear to love, and I think, yes. That. That’s what a gift economy is. It’s a miracle.


3 thoughts on “What is a gift economy, exactly?

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