Friday, June 16, 2006

Finding value in giving;
an economy that values people

Both of my hypothetical readers noticed that I haven't told any personal anecdotes here. I prefer to direct our attention toward culture and communication rather than autobiography. But community is part of culture and communication, too, and I like to encourage a sense of community online and off.

Since I do have this blog, and I do live in North Carolina, I thought I would join the community of NC bloggers who participate in the Tar Heel Tavern. The theme of this week's 69th edition of the THT is "reciprocation."

It reminded me of the complicated game that dominates much of our lives, the economy*. An author with remarkable insight, Daniel Quinn, has characterized the economy as a reciprocation of products: "Make products, buy products." Production and consumption: It's all about the products.

When I hear or read economic news and commentary, it often seems that people are entirely incidental to the reciprocation of products and money. If the produce-and-consume cycle chews up and spits out some people, well, I guess that's just the price we gotta pay. Wait, did I say "people"? Oops. I meant: Human Resources. They're raw material; of course they get chewed up and spat out. That's what resources are for. Apparently that's how the economy game is meant to be played.

Quinn and others have suggested a different reciprocation, one that emphasizes the value of people over products: "Give support, get support." A support economy, some call it, a reciprocation of cooperation rather than products. Some Human Resources, er, some people also call this form of reciprocation a gift economy.

Hardcore mainstream economists, the professional league players of the economy game, might say that the exchange of money is a kind of support. You pay me for a product; I pay him for a product; he pays you (for a product, of course!). Money changes hands, so that's reciprocation, right? What's the difference?

The difference is attitude. Attitude makes a difference in how we live and how we value our lives. What attitudes underlie the economy game, the way we play it now? When people become mere resources, chewed up and spat out as incidental by-products, what are we really saying about our values?

The Tar Heel Tavern call for participation noted that "being able to do something for someone else is a very satisfying experience, and that when giving, it comes back in some way." When I think about that statement, I think about people. I think about relationships that maintain communities.

Giving--a gift economy. During the 95% of human history that we ignore, and within the human cultures we try to ignore, the gift economy was routine. Give support, get support; that was just expected. Saying that being able to do something for someone else is a satisfying experience, and that it comes back in some way, people from other times and other cultures might look at us funny and reply, "Well...duuuuuh."

And we might say that now in regard to our immediate families. But how would we live if the satisfaction of doing something for others was a more fundamental part of our lives? How would we live in a support economy? Would we argue furiously to deny people a minimum supporting wage? Would social security be just another "well...duuuuh" expectation? Would we debate for decades about who deserves basic medical care?

I'm pleased that the Tar Heel Tavern reminds us to think about reciprocation. I'm pleased that we have an opportunity to remember how satisfying it is to participate in a support economy. I'll be even more pleased when we create--actually, recreate--a support economy. It really isn't far removed, even now. My grandparents fondly remember when the cheerful (and reciprocated) support of neighbors was a routine part of their lives. And this Tavern theme reminds us that the satisfaction of giving lingers in our lives now.


* "the economy" or The Economy? Or even, THE ECONOMY!

When I hear it spoken on the news and even in conversation, the words sound capitalized. Have you noticed that, too?

1 comment:

Ron Hudson said...

I like this post...a lot. It is my belief that we are facing a near-term paradigm shift relative to the economy and how we value people. Perhaps it is just a desire to see change, rather than a drive for change that I perceive.

I concur that we have to find a way to put people first again. If we choose to allow unfettered Capitalism to be the baby-sitter of those of us who are falling through the cracks, it is tantamount to saying that we don't find any value among the poor, the elderly and the sick or disabled. All we have to do is look at a national budget that cuts support for these groups while subsidizing the building of weapons and refineries, and the facilitation of changes in business that allow companies to cut pensions/insurance/disability for those who worked with those promises in mind.