I am a baker. I bake stuff. And I sell the things I bake. I won’t abstract and intellectualize and give an analysis of the gift economy but I can share my story. I did once experiment with gift economy. I was motivated by the thought that money runs in the society as blood runs in the veins of the body. Money was important as it permeates everything we do. To understand society and thus myself, our relationship with money needed to be understood. The way we choose to relate with money is economics and I chose to experiment with economy. I was also inspired by the thought that if I removed money, which is an instant and tangible reward for the stuff I do, I could find a deeper motivation for what makes me do what I do. I would get in touch with the real me. And when I do get in touch with the real me, I could connect with people at a deeper level.
What is gift economy? As I understood it, in a money economy, there is a service provider and a receiver. The receiver is in need of a service/product; she decides what she wants and the service provider, in exchange for services/products decides the price for the same. The receiver is obligated to pay for what she consumes. After the payment, the debit sheet is balanced. There are no other obligations and both supplier and receiver can carry on with their lives.
In a gift economy, the receiver decides the amount she wants to pay and her mode of payment(cash/gratitude/smile/carry it forward*). And the service provider, as the motivation is not entirely money, has the liberty to choose what service she wants to provide and how. There is no obligation for the receiver to pay; yet, once she walks away from the transaction, she has left a part of herself in that transaction. What does that mean? If I were to leave you to decide what you want to pay, say for a loaf of bread, which I freshly baked for you, you would be left in a spot where you would have to think about what the fair reimbursement for the labour should be and consider the cost I have put in to bake that loaf. You would also be forced to think about how much you value that loaf. After paying, you would be left with a thought of whether you have paid enough or if you paid too much. Would you feel good about being involved in this transaction? Or would you feel a sense of discomfort or unease? In gift economy, this is what is valued – the zone of discomfort; in this zone, there is an opportunity to engage. In money economy, the convenience of paying with money makes one skip this zone. You engage, you pay, you disengage. No obligation left. You can cut-off from the service provider. Money allows you to be impersonal. On the other hand, gift economy makes you think, feel, value, and engage. It would make you feel obligated and there would be a sense of a need to reciprocate. Isn’t this the basis of all relationship? For me, moving away from the money to gift economy was a form of moving from the impersonal to the personal; from being aloof to engaging; to connect deeper.
The author, a trained engineer, is now a baker. He runs a café called Terrassen Café in Hyderabad. Before he turned a café owner, the author taught in a small alternate school, Centre For Learning, Hyderabad. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.