Giving It Away

Christmas gifts.Image via Wikipedia

Recommended Reading

I’d like to present here a rather long quote, from a work entitled “An Economy For Giving Everything Away“. You’ll find it listed in my Recommended Reading links in the sidebar.

When I first found this work, I was immediately fascinated by it, as it includes a concept I’ve held dear for several decades. I hope you enjoy this little snippet, the whole work is much larger. I hope it piques your interest to the point of clicking and going there, reading the entirety of it.

“Minimizing Anxiety rather than Maximizing Happiness

We have suggested that an individual can behave with the outlook that they are giving everything away. If they accept this, not as a special calling, but as a universal responsibility, then in practice, they will consider the extremes of both wealth and poverty as causing anxiety, and will naturally seek an equilibrium between them.

This equilibrium is in many ways compatible with the usual market forces, and in a behavioral sense, practically invisible. However, the motivation is entirely different. A consumer seeks to maximize happiness. But for a giver, happiness is exhausting, and interferes with their giving. A giver wants to be responsive, and their own happiness is an emotional noise that takes away their sensitivity to others. A giver wants to marshal their efforts on their life vision. Happiness and fun are helpful as indicators of what attracts us, but not necessary or even helpful when we are doing what we truly want to do.


Minimizing anxiety leads to the same efficiencies as maximizing happiness whenever the giver lets the market decide what constitutes “best use”. The differences become apparent in the smallest concerns and the largest concerns. In small matters, a consumer will apply all of their unused resources if that can increase their happiness by just the slightest amount. This is a destabilizing strategy, and magnifies the consequences of competition, where much energy can be spent to award one winner amongst many losers. A giver, who is looking for peace, seeks to avoid distractions. A giver prefers simplifying responses, and defers in every matter, so as to open up more resources for the larger questions that typically have no rational horizon. In these large matters, the giver does not let the market decide, and takes personal responsibility for what is “best use”.

Certainly, there can be great conflicts as to what is “best use”. However, the vast majority of matters are distributed so that only one person has any reason to care. The few matters that do affect more than one person can be quite complicated, and lead to all of the familiar concepts of property, asking for permission, contracts, and so forth. What is different for givers is the underlying outlook that ultimately nothing is ours to do with as we please, but everything is ours to put to best use. This means that wealth cannot always be reduced to a single currency, but is often multidimensional because it reflects different ideas, perhaps not entirely compatible, as to what is best use.

Responsibility rather than Accountability

We may now imagine that there already exists a huge economy based on such an outlook. It actually is much larger than the monetary economy that we normally think of. This economy of giving grows in wealth by circulating it ever more rapidly. The monetary economy is simply a way of tracking this wealth when it can be reduced to a single dimension. The rate of increase in turnover of wealth can be measured by the amount that can be diverted from it, which is a profit, a proportional return. Unfortunately, the expectation of a proportional return is enormously destructive, unsupportable in any material form. Whereas if wealth is understood as an opportunity, then the circulation of opportunity can overlap and increase in number, frequency and complexity without bound.

Apologists for the monetary economy have portrayed it as a natural outgrowth of a barter economy. However, sociologist Marcel Mauss pointed out that there is no historical or anthropological evidence that any barter economy has ever existed.[1] Instead, his study of tribes living without money reveals gift economies where the goal is to give the most away. Exchange is about creating friendships, working out rivalries, fulfilling obligations. The MAUSS movement in France builds further on these ideas. We may think of the relationship between the economy of giving and the economy of paying as that of responsibility and accountability, which are not the same. It is not enough to measure, one must rely on imagination to understand and take responsibility. Whereas fixation on much, and more, and most predates money as pride, and greed, and envy.”

I am Jon. Peace.

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2 Replies to “Giving It Away”

  1. Thank you for stopping by and dropping a line, Andrius. I will go over and check out the group @ Yahoo. It’s obvious that our established system based on greed and conquest doesn’t work: just look at the current global economic crisis.

    To Wordout readers: you owe it to yourself to read the rest of the piece I’ve quoted above. And if it makes you want more, check out the link Andrius left us. Some good folks over there…

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