GiftsAndCommerce (ThoughtStorms)

Context : GiftParadigm

And then this conversation ...

I was talking to a woman who'd visited Cuba and was critical. People are without SelfEsteem, she suggested.

: Why? I asked.

They have no hope. Nothing they can do builds their self-esteem. They have no projects. The government owns everything. Pays a fixed salary. They have no economic freedom.

: Why don't they find self-esteem in other ways? Surely the government doesn't prevent non-economic projects. Someone can decide to learn to play an instrument. Or be an artist. Or create gifts for the community in some other way.

That doesn't seem to happen.

: Why not? Even in poorest communities people go out and play music in the bars.

There are no bars. Bars require money, investment.

(all my paraphrase)


NB : My aim here is neither to condemn nor defend Cuba. I want to see what we can learn about gift-economies and commerce by thinking about the Cuban example.

If this story is true, what does it mean?

Gift dependent on exchange?

That GiftGiving is dependent on an ExchangeEconomy? (I firmly believe MarketsAreEmbedded. And the idea that's starting to emerge in work supported by GenevieveVaughan is that perhaps markets are embedded in a larger economy of gifting (inside families, communities etc.) Hence exchange is also dependent on gifting. (GiftParadigm)

Nevertheless it seems that in this case that a gift-giving culture has failed to emerge to create the kind of self-esteem and riches we might hope to see.

Hangover from past?

Perhaps the culture was so influenced by exchange before the revolution that it never escaped? But that seems unlikely : BurningMan proves gift-cultures can emerge spontaneously in a highly exchange-orineted culture.

Climate of repression?

Another possibility is that the social repression and paranoia induced by the state as it tries to prevent illegal exchange, simply dampens the social goodwill needed to create gifting.

Culture anti- ideas and individual expression?

Another possibility. The government's repression of ideas, individuality, homosexuality etc. destroys the possibility of gifts as self-expression and hence suppresses the erruption of gift economies. Compare CreativeClass.

Ironic if by pandering to homophobia and anti-intellectualism Cuba destroyed the only thing that could make it work.

: Update : When I wrote this paragraph I was under the impression that Cuba had an anti-gay culture and legal system. According to these stories I was probably wrong about the latter - victim of the impression generated by the Western media? - http://www.angelfire.com/pr/red/cuba/homosexuality_in_cuba.htm, http://www.aegis.com/news/ips/2003/IP030813.html, http://www.angelfire.com/pr/red/cuba/homosexuality_in_cuba.htm, ) http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/43b/172.html )

However, if this cultural explanation doesn't fit, then the mystery of why there's no social capital or gift economy being generated continues. Perhaps it's more about other repression of freedom of communication which certainly does exist in Cuba http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/2983104.stm))

Not noticed?

Another possibility. There exists a huge gift-economy and amount of self-esteem generated but the visitor I spoke to missed it because she was distracted by physical poverty. (I'm initially disinclined to believe this, as there seems plenty of other evidence of Cubans wanting to leave. And "led astray by foreign propaganda" should be equally a problem for the BurningMan economy)

Trade embargo?

Could it be the US trade embargo? I don't think such discussions are relevant here. We're working on the assumption that gifts are capable of creating wealth (maybe more-so than exchange is). Kown GiftCultures are, in almost all known cases, within some geographically or socially constrained group.

A "Gifting doesn't work in Cuba because it's starved by lack of external exchange relationships" explanation is not going to be an answer most of us are looking for.


See also :