To subdue the enemy without fighting is the supreme excellence. - Sun Tzu

Monday, February 08, 2010

Gift Economics and everything else: An Anarchist Manifesto

What I find most important about post-capitalist Gift Economics is that it works best when the giver expects to receive /nothing at all/ in return, not even increased social status. The closest you might get is a closer bond of friendship, but any quid pro quo transaction is barter, not giving. Even social status can be turned into a commodity, such as titles of nobility in feudal societies.

People don't operate merely as individuals, but also as communities. So gift economics is theoretically scalable based on communities giving to communities rather than just individuals giving to each other or giving between an individual and their community:

A cooperative or industrial/production collective, in my opinion, could also be considered a 'community' in that they share many important traits such as equality of members and a shared relation/experience/purpose (but also, a productive enterprise exists as part of a larger community); thus it is not inconceivable that a simple supply chain could be worked out using nothing but giving:

For example, suppose a hospital needs to be constructed; the construction management collective (perhaps members of the community benefiting from the hospital, perhaps people that just like building hospitals) issues a call for the necessary materials, such as steel I-beams; the call for I-beams is answered by a steel mill cooperative and production and transportation is arranged; the mill in turn announces that it needs Iron &etc in order to continue production, and so on.

The part that gets iffy is when a producer or supplier has insufficient resources to answer all the calls for its product; some propose a sort of resource-based pseudo-money to act as a mechanism to transmit 'price signals', but I think that's a mistake that would reproduce capitalism. There's no reason why a producer should have to provide for complete strangers. Instead, we should build networks of communicating communities so that demands are fulfilled by need and by strength of community ties.

This is a Gift Economy, remember! The giver receives /nothing/ for giving, except a stronger, healthier community (which in turn benefits them indirectly; or, in the case of something like a hospital, sometimes very directly), and the satisfaction of a job well done (which is far more motivating than capitalist economists care to admit). If something can't be found, or no one will provide it, then the community should build the means to produce it themselves. In that way, necessities will be prioritized, then amenities and entertainments as diminishing returns and available resources allow.

Sure, some hoarding will occur. But I think that's better than precarity and scarcity that naturally and inevitably result from a capitalist system in which means of production and a person's time itself can be turned into a commodity and bought and sold. Individuals and communities in a Gift Society can only hoard so much, and only what they themselves produce; in a Capitalist system, a person can hire other people to hoard for them, until they can build their own stinkin' space shuttle while half the planet's population can't even find enough to eat.

Also importantly, without any sort of profit motive, there would be no reason for marketing and other such forms of mass fraud. Without the need to get dehumanizing wage-work, jobs which don't need to be done won't be. But people won't be bums: Who would give food or other resources to someone who refuses to help or be productive? People would build communities of mutual aid and mutual respect.

The greatest challenge is that atomized individuals (people with no real community/tribe) can be exploited through enslavement (involuntary labor enforced with the threat of suffering, torture, or death). Their surplus labor-value (their product above what they consume) is taken by the exploiter(s) and used both to enrich themselves and leveraged to exploit others (for example: today's wage-workers are threatened with homelessness and prison as the only alternative, and atomized by what the Situationists called The Spectacle, which is basically the media/business/government image-management system. Wage-workers' surplus labor-value is then used, in part, to hire police, raise armies, and propagate the Spectacle; all of which are used to exploit the environment, conquer new people, and turn more communities into atomized individuals).

People are exploited in order to exploit others, which threatens even the most God-like Ayn-Randian Ubermensch. That means that in order to be successful as a species of free individuals and communities, we need to recognize that a threat to liberty anywhere is a threat to liberty everywhere- in short, Solidarity.

I understand that this is a thoroughly different worldview than that to which most people are accustomed; but just as a machine sometimes just won't do the job no matter how well it is repaired, I find the orthodox worldview wholly insufficient.

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