Saturday, October 03, 2009

The Gift Economy

I've been reading about Eric S. Raymond's articles on the hacker culture and the open source movement and realize that the hacker culture is the new economy.

But the "new economy" that the media portrays, one of making millions of dollars overnight isn't what it's talking about.

In Homesteading the Noosphere: the gift economy model is proposed as a better model to explain why people give away software for free rather than to try to charge for it.

The new economy is the gift-economy. In times of abundance, when people already have their basic needs met, it is the gift economy that is working.

And what are they working for? Reputation.

I've been reading the book of Proverbs recently, and one of the lessons I'm learning from the book is that reputation is very, very important. "A good name is better than fine perfume.",

It reminds me of the verse in Psalms 112:9 "He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor, his righteousness endures forever; his horn will be lifted high in honor." Notwithstanding that, the word gift is mentioned 159 times in the Bible and of course, there is the tradition of Christmas.

I think that we should move on to the gift economy and recognize that that is a very good indicator that we live with an abundance mentality.

Some people criticize that gift giving is actually binding people into social obligations. That is true. The word gift may sometimes be used to mean bribes or used to curry favor. But that reminds me of another verse that says:

"And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked."

The gentiles when they "give" give with an expectation of reciprocity. But a true follower of Christ gives without expecting anything in return. Does that mean you can steal, and rob Christians by conveniently borrowing and never returning? Could you borrow a car from a Christian and not return it? I think what Jesus meant by this is not to make us chumps but for us not to be obsessed with getting something in return. It does not exclude virtues like being wise in discriminating good from evil, and in good stewardship of money. We shouldn't be chumps in lending money to people that we discern are evil or scoundrels or untrustworthy. But we should not be scrooges hoarding our money, but look forward to blessing our fellow man, not turning a blind eye to those who are in need.

I think gift giving may be a outward sign of someone having "Ubuntu" (the philosophy, not the Operating System), a recognition that we are all interconnected and part of a community of human beings.

But that is digressing the point. Ethics is not the main point of this article.

After thinking about it, I think that we should not be looking for what is fair. That we should look for what we think we should receive for what we gave, but instead at the end of our lives to look back and see that we have given of ourselves more than what others expected or deserve.