The gift economy is a bit more than an idea, but it will take some exploration to give it shape and make it real. Typically when you start to talk about the idea, people talk about barter, which is a form a trade or reciprocity where there are quids and quos being balanced. A gift economy in its purity doesn't involve any of that. A true gift ecomony has a depth of spirit that brings peace and joy to the whole community.
Benkler's identification of peer production as another form of production alongside firms and markets, does contrast some with the fundamentally competetive of these other modes of production. On the other hand, the overall frame is one of competition. To really make this mode of production hum, we need to find the true power of gift economies. In commons based production, the big prize is in growing the collective wealth held in common such that production is easy. Translate easy to efficiant both in natural resources and labor. Commons based production must by its overall action increase the overall value of what is held in common or will will certainly face the tragedy of the commons in a big way. If we are still in a global system where growth of production and population are dictated by the nature of the sysstem, then we will still have an environmental disaster. One of the outcomes that must be produced by a new economy is to put humanity on a course towards a sustainable global population.
The only way a real change can come about is through win-win incentives. If some leaders reason that they need to priviledge their own demographic group over all others, they won't lead their communities toward shared benefits except within some community self-identified as the right folks. If we keep on competing for the commons, it will certainly be destroyed and likely humanity will go with it.
Ok, so what is the gift economy then? It involved the recognition that there are kinds of work that a multiplicative in their effects. Without a gift economy to do this work openly, to share it for the cost of replication, that is nearly zero for this sort of work because it is fundamentally information and knowledge. Well, copying the bits costs little, but copying the knowledge takes some level of personal interaction between the experienced and novices. Without any clear understanding of the dynamics of gift economies, the economists of the past couldn't see any way to give incentive for the creation of new knowledge. The truth is that these incentives may be necessary for firms and markets, but not for commons based production.
In the first place, the profit motive mainly serves to narrow the scope of what knowledge developers are interested in to what they can get someone to pay for because they anticipate future profits. Just take a quick look at the "orphan drug" issue with big Pharma. Even diseases with many sufferrers are left wanting because those who get it can't pay for it. In the gift economy people work on things because they are interested in the problems. Even physicists note that there are critical theoretical areas, for example condensed matter physics, that are almost impossible to get funding for because they lack apparent practical applications, but these are often exactly the areas that provide some of the deepest insights into fundamental question. This is exactly the work that can also lead to unexpected breakthroughs.
My ideas are forming and changing as I integrate new ideas. If Graeber's concept of Bullshit Jobs is as pervasive as he claims, then a new economy based on sharing knowledge and ideas and homebrew industries can be immensly successful. If we cut out all the bullshit and share the resulting surplus fairly, then maybe the people doing the real work of teaching and caregiving can be rewarded. We can build our economy on shared capital and risk, and develop processes of open stewardship to transparently manage the details.
I was initially very encouraged by the idea of the DAI currency, and although it embodies many of the properties we need for our financial systems like being decentrallized, it is still designed for scarcity, and not abundance. On the other hand it might be part of an exchange system that help to collateralize our more community oriented currencies.
In effect, we need to provide the same sort of financial services that a bank provides, and to the extent that we want our currency system to integrate with regulated services we will need affiliates that are part of that system. Credit unions are the most natural allies and some are already moving to open source software for their main operations so it would be natural to add open source services to integrate alternative currencies with other services. One service that would be relatively straightforward to provide would be a mutual credit currency. If many credit unions offer a mutual credit currency, then groups of institutions could mutually clear each others currencies thus expanding how many places you can use these currencies. Since people are naming currencies Xcoins, I might propose CommonCoin(s) and say CommonDollar or CommonTerra (Terra is a proposed currency based on a "market basket" of commodities)
My sense is that this isn't enough, I would also propose creating community commonwealths that would serve a number of critical functions. If our communities can remain viable through the sustainable management of assets held in commons, there is not longer a need for a coersive state to rule us. In terms of the modes of production from Benkler, if we successfully manage the communities assets the commons will support sufficient production to provide for the needs of everyone. Caregiving, in the context of the family is the work of everyone and is the basis for a basic income with health care and education for all. The possibility of the Homebrew Industrial Revolution means we can be making a lot of things we need directly, but this will also be in a larger network than the locally manage commons.
This context of the production network is where our currency systems need to replace traditional finance. Each commonwealth can hold a portfolio of stocks and bonds issued in the currencies of the network. There will be many markets in products and components where network currencies are used. The commons can develop software and tools to enable more efficient markets and fulfillment systems. Of course this will all be open source and therefore will build on any existing work that is useful.
We can create services to manage risk and facilitate venture capital formation. Loans can be made from risk pools such that if the investment pays off, it returns a multiple based on how risky the pool is, but is fogiven when the loan is called and the investment restored from the risk pool. Again, collective governance with open stewardship can ensure that risks are managed and common assets protected.
Giving vs. Taking
How do we move from an economy that is essentially a race to the bottom to one that is generative and takes maximal advantage of win-win dynamics? I claim the essential difference is moving from an attitude of taking to one of giving. The model of economic man is that of a rational actor taming the chaos of nature and making it bend to his will. Nature in an undeveloped state is something that man overcomes and the productive capitalist through his hard work and investments is said to create value from from something that was previously worth nothing or near nothing. Much ink has been spilled over the amorality of capital but it all comes back to this, when your economic system is based on accumulation throgh taking you are in for problems. Do you really want to valorize the bullies on the playground and reward whoever in strongest with anything they can take and keep? Is it any surprise that the laws and justice of such a system favors the greediest? That it produces a legal system that cannot prosecute the rich and powerful? It produces lawlessness for them, lawless in the sense of anarchy, there is no state with any authority over them, and state supported violence against anyone who questions the situation. Actually, this violence doesn't need to be targetted it works just as well to control the masses if it is random and ubiquitous. Real anarchists oppose this situation and yet the average man thinks this political faction is all about violent distruption. In the Haymarket affair, who is producing more violent chaos? State violence is the problem, not the solution.
What if we received gifts from nature rather than taking what we want? Isn't that what all the great religions command us to do? If we receive nature's bounty as gifts, wouldn't we be thereby obligated to give back not only our gratitude but our care?