Economics=politics: gift circles&NVC

It has begun to dawn on me that the gift circle might hold within it an an interesting way of governance.

Lets say the governance issue is what time the gift circle would should start. And the whole gift circle is involved in the discussion. A meeting could proceed in a traditional mainstream format where different proposals are put forth for different reasons and then voted on. A meeting could also proceed using the gift circle format (which involves go around and say your needs in a field of listening). Everyone could go around and say their needs in relation to when the meeting should start. Everyone listens and is compassionate to everyone’s needs. Then people put forth proposals that can meet those needs. The field of compassion then helps guide the solution that emerges. There would not necessarily need to be votes if everyone can feel when the right solution has emerged. The field will feel like it has entered into a more peaceful and satisfied state. (See essay by Tom Atlee on “Making a decision without making a decision”

In this case the governance and political system was based on sharing needs, listening, and suggesting possible solutions until the right one emerges. And then have people acting in ways to help that particular solution happen.

But in essence that is what the gift circle does as an economic process too. Its finding ways to meet the needs of the people in the circle.

So we have perhaps an interesting nonduality arising here. That of economics=politics.

Another angle to approach looking at this interesting nonduality is from the perspective of Non-violent communication (NVC), a process invented by Marshall Rosenberg. There conflicts are resolved by the process of sharing your needs, listening and then finding a solution that fits all. What is interesting here is that a gift circle in effect is engaged in the NVC process to a certain degree. NVC generalised to larger systems through the gift circles is in fact an economic systems as NVC is about the economic idea of how to redistribute resources and skills to meet needs. At the same time since NVC is a way of resolving conflicts and mediation, it is a political system.

NVC is an example of economics=politics. And gift circles are an example of NVC. So gift circles are an example of economics=politics.

Politics has traditionally been thought of as pertaining to decision making in a top-down command and control manner. A gift circle can actually provide a format which allows solutions to emerge, and in such a way where people do not have to make decisions, but where everyone knows what to do. These solutions arise in an atmosphere where everyone is caring about trying to meet everyone’s needs. This is a different atmosphere than one where people are trying to exert power over each other so their needs can met without caring whether someone else’s needs are met.

Here is the Nobel memorial prize winning political economist James Buchanan discussing the difference between economics and politics in the more traditional mainstream sense.

“The distinction to be drawn between economics and politics, as disciplines, lies in the nature of the social relationships among individuals that is examined in each. Insofar as individuals exchange, trade, as freely-contracting units, the predominant characteristic of their behavior is ‘economic.’ And this, of course, extends our range far beyond the ordinary pre-money nexus. Insofar as individuals meet one another in a relationship of superior-inferior, leader to follower, principal to agent, the predominant characteristic in their behavior is ‘political,’ stemming, of course, from our everyday usage of the word ‘politician.’ Economics is the study of the whole system of exchange relationships. Politics is the study of the whole system of coercive or potentially coercive relationships. In almost any particular social institution, there are elements of both types of behavior, and it is appropriate that both the economist and the political scientist study such institutions. What I should stress is the potentiality of exchange in those socio-political institutions that we normally consider to embody primarily coercive or quasi-coercive elements. To the extent that man has available to him alternatives of action, he meets his associates as, in some sense, an ‘equal,’ in other words, in a trading relationship. Only in those situations where pure rent is the sole element in return is the economic relationship wholly replaced by the political.”

What is happening in our gift circle though is that there is no longer coercive power. The decisions emerge bottom-up. And in a way where you care about others needs ; you aren’t trying to leverage influence and connections at the expense of others. So this traditional distinction between economics and politics begins to fall away.

Traditionally the institutions associated with politics and economics are different. The White house, the mayor’s office, the government departments that are the places where government happens. Wall St, businesses are where economics happens.

In a gift economy, the network of coordinated gift circles is the economic system. And it is also the political system. The institutions of both systems have become united.

I haven’t delineated the whole system here of how decisions emerge without any decision making process in bottom-up network of gift circles (because I haven’t figured it all out yet:) ) but you can see the basic outline of how this can happen.

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3 thoughts on “Economics=politics: gift circles&NVC

  1. The distinction between economics and politics is a side-effect of the inherent structural flaws in a possession-economy: as you imply above, it does not exist in a gift-economy (or responsibility-based economy, to be more accurate).

    The term ‘economy’ literally translates as ‘the management of the household': up until the mid-19th century the term ‘economist’ was almost synonymous with what we would now call ‘home-maker’. What is now called ‘economics’ is merely one aspect of ‘the management of household’, namely management of funds and physical resources; what is now called ‘politics’ is the management of the relationships in the household. As almost any parent would tell us, management of the household funds may not be easy, but it’s by far the easiest part of managing a household – certainly by comparison with managing relationships between the children! So ‘economics’ is merely the easy bit of managing a ‘household’ at a community or national or global scale, but likes to pretend that it’s the entirety (hence monetarist economics, which attempts to force all relationships and transactions into monetary form) – which clearly is absurd. Yet since ‘economics’ abdicates all responsibility for everything other than money, ‘politics’ is forced to fill the gap.

    Your gift-economy covers some aspects of the necessary integration between ‘economics’ and ‘politics’, but at present it probably doesn’t scale beyond a relatively small ‘community of commitment’. I’d suggest that the next step would be explore the notion of gift-economy as a specific subset of responsibility-based economy. Something to discuss in the relatively near future, perhaps?

    1. Hi Tom,
      Great to hear from yah.

      I read up a little on your ideas of power and response-ability http://bit.ly/9JjhfZ

      In a household the economics and politics are pretty intertwined. Its the same people involved in sharing or exchanging and also managing the relationships.

      There are different levels the household can be at. One level is where people are having what you describe as power-over relationships, they may not be taking responsibility, and they may be using a more possession based system. A second level is where the household may be having power-with relationships, be taking responsibility, and be sharing more.

      It seems to me that in the first situation economics and politics are a little more separate while still intertwined. The economics of exchanging possessions and services within the household is somewhat distinct from policing and having the power of coming up with what the exchange system will be.

      In the second situation the things are more shared, closer to being a commons. This leads to the case where economics is closer to politics I think. In that case the emergent way of distributing stuff and services is both an economic and political act. The responsibility you describe is both an economic and a political act because the responsibility coordinates where stuff goes, and at the same time it allowing the group to emerge its relationship to each other in a healthy manner.

      Hmm I realize I haven’t quite been able to explain very clearly why I think the second level is closer to the economics-politics nonduality. But I think there is something to that intuition.

      How this all scales up I am still trying to figure out. I have a sense that if you have an advanced enough society you dont need laws and enforcement of laws as much. Somehow the system emerges a way of self-regulating itself.

      At high enough levels I think the way the society manages to coordinate itself cannot even be described. It becomes way of government becomes indescribable – like the Tao. Somehow the consciousness field coordinates everything without things having to be made explicit.

  2. I had almost forgotten that the term economics was used for “household management’ In high school, girls were expected to take a course called “Home Economics.” Odd indeed.

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