Thinking about the "gift" giving in economics. Or GiftEconomies.
One way of thinking. For a long time biology / ecology only saw and focused on large, macroscopic animals. More recently, we realize that the quantity (biomass) of tiny and microscopic life far exceeds that which is visible to the naked-eye.
We are literally swimming in a soup of micro-organisms. And it's very plausible that, in reality, all macroscopic life depends on the microscopic. We'd die without the invisible life-support system provided by these masses of micro-organisms and the chemical environment they produce and sustain.
We might surmise something similar about "gifting".
Taken broadly, gifting can include all those co-oparation and co-ordination activities that happen in everyday life which are not governed by exchange. It includes gallons of information sharing (where did you get? How did you? Could you tell me ...) with friends, colleages and people on the street. It includes signalling of intentions, turn-taking, spontaneous help, charity, contributions to free / amateur projects, participation in festivals and traditional events, support within the family etc. etc.
: Could also mention blood-donors!
:: indeed we could : BloodTransfusionService
We notice the ExchangeEconomy (mainly transactions using money but also barter, informal loans and explicit favours that we expect to be repaid) because these are things than need to be acounted and which we might even have evolved to notice. And supporters of the market tend to credit the civilization and economic growth only to extension and innovations in this domain.
But we're starting to see the limits of exchange too. We notice that sometimes commercializing something kills it. It forces it into countable PropertyModules. It incurs extra TransactionCosts. And deadlocks as we wait for both parties to have (and recognise they have) things of equal value to exchange. Contrary to the expectations of the boosters, "liberalizing" the market doesn't heal the fabric of society. It divides. It makes people isolated and less communicative. Less helpful. The rich ecosystem of communication and mutual support starts to die. As it dies, people try to fix it through the market. But the market solutions are shoddy substitutes. Condominiums and security cameras are no substitute for neighbourhoods. Therapy and foot-massage don't compensate for the lack of being part of a community that really cares for you. Prostitutes are not lovers.
And we, nearly, have a diagnosis. We understand there's an issue of "Trust". Of SocialCapital.
Online we discovered an extra-ordinary thing. There is no CapitalistColonizationOfTheInternet. It failed and the .com crash witnessed capital's realization of this. We couldn't turn internet communication into paid transactions. (We tried, but it didn't work : OnMicroPayments) Instead we found "each other" (ClueTrain). We found TheAgeOfAmateurs. Everywhere the market couldn't get established, communities flourished : FreeSoftware, WebLogs, wikis, free-discussion and support of all kinds. Music sharing. Collaborations, organizations, AlternativesToCompanies.
So maybe, the evidence is mounting, via. anthropologists and sociologists studying communities, that MarketsAreEmbedded, and not just embedded in a civil society with PropertyRights as defined by laws layed down by government; but in a similar rich soup of non-commercial, non-market based co-ordination and co-operation, mutual support, help, favour, gifting and other loosely accounted ties of support, friendship and trust.
This is the gift-paradigm. To understand markets and wealth as part of (and maybe a relatively small, utterly dependent part of) the much larger ecosystem of relations between people that includes gifting and loosely accounted, reciprocated support.