Teacher, speaker, and author Charles Eisenstein believes that our economy is morphing from one that is based on money to what he calls the “Gift Economy.” At our Hello Etsy conference this past spring, he shared his ideas about our journey from profit to purpose.
At present, we generally measure success in accrued wealth, specifically GDP. This measurement is dependent upon us converting materials and time into money. And we are good at it — our society is richer in monetary measures than any that has come before us, according to Eisenstein. Yet, he suggests, we are the poorest society in history when it comes to the elements of life that cannot be measured — fulfillment, connection, community.
In an economy driven by money, we compete with each other and we convert our social relationships into digital products that can be sold. We don’t have need for other people unless we are paying them for a service. This means we have no reason to engage with our neighbors or the people around us. They won’t enable us to make more money so we don’t need them for anything.
Eisenstein links this disconnection from each other to the impersonal and disposable goods that dominate the majority of our commerce. Most of the things we consume are not special, they are largely interchangeable, and they are made and sold in a manner that detaches person and provenance from the item. Why would we care about the things we buy and the people behind them?
By contrast, in a gift economy, we share with one another, and therefore depend on each other. Each of our unique offerings, be they skills or goods, contributes to the functionality and health of our communities. Eisenstein believes that receiving gifts inspires us to give in-turn and that giving will provide us with a sense of purpose, that is lacking in today’s money-based system. Car sharing, community-supported agriculture, and marketplaces that are community led, are moving us towards this. The gift economy will lower our GDP and it will make us more reliant upon one another. Compassion and connections will be bred from necessity for each other.
Eisenstein admits that a realistic version of the future includes money, and some impersonal transactions, but he thinks there is room for giving. Your Etsy shops and purchases, sharing resources, and even basic interactions are all part of the shift. The simple act of recognizing the person behind the counter or at the other end of an email can be a gift.
How do you envision the future of our economy and community?