August 23, 2012

Could a Gift Economy Change the World?

Photo: D Sharon Pruitt

Saving the world, with compassion, one gift at a time.

Photo: rajkumar1200

So, I was reading this very disturbing article about Monsanto and Indian cotton farmers in Mary Jane’s Farm (you can find the article online here). But I’ll sum it up for you: before Monsanto brought in its genetically modified cotton seed, farmers needed little water and fertilizer and no pesticides. After Monsanto?

“Whereas conventional cotton crops depended only on rainfall and cow dung for fertilizer, natural rainfall is often not enough for the GE crops, and farmers are forced to buy expensive fertilizer and pesticides as well [as paying Monsanto’s $80 ‘technology fee’ for every 2.6 acres of crops]. This has led to poverty and severe indebtedness for the farmers, often to moneylenders who charge exorbitant fees. One failed crop can put farmers into a downward debt spiral with no hope of ever paying back their loans.”

The result? A quarter of a million Indian farmers have committed suicide since 2008.

How can this happen? Well, one solution would be to buy organic cotton. Voting with our dollar would definitely get the message across. The other? Well, okay. This probably would never happen, but let’s just delve into fantasy here for a second. Perhaps it’s an over-simplification but, without greed (individual or corporate), we’d all be a lot happier; we’d all have a lot more incentive toward working for a common, rather than an individual, good.

Let’s imagine, just for a second, that we live in a gift economy.

We’ve collectively decided that money is the root of every problem and we’ve done away with it. Okay, awesome. What does this look like? Well, say I need a new roof put on my house. I contact a roofer and ask what he’d like to barter. Maybe he’d do the roof for a month’s worth of organic veggies. So, I go to my nearest farmer and ask what she’d like in exchange for a month of veg. Well, I’m a yoga teacher, so she asks me to come to the farm weekly and teach an hour or two to the farm crew. She pays me in veg, and I get a new roof.

Photo: seanmcgrath

I know, I know. You’re thinking this is a naïve simplification that leaves big questions unanswered—how do we get things like cars, airline tickets, or surgery without money? Well, I kind of think that it would feel so good to work for a few hours doing what you love in order to get what you need that we just would become a more generous society overall.

Doctors would go back to making house calls in exchange for chickens or eggs or manual labor. Politicians would be elected based on the depth of their compassion instead of their ability to turn us against each other.

A compassionate government? Hell, that would take care of myriad problems—suddenly we’d have plans for green, efficient, mass transportation, socialized healthcare, farming that took the earth, and not the corporations, into consideration and compassionate foreign policy.

In the words of Carl Safina,

“Saving the world requires saving democracy. That requires well-informed citizens… Whether one’s special emphasis is global warming or child welfare, the cause is the same cause. And justice comes from the same place being human comes from: compassion.”

The quickest road to compassion? Cultivate the art of giving; cultivate the art of gracefully receiving. We don’t need to wait for compassion to become the cause célèbre. Why not start now? In my yoga studio, I happily take organic veg in exchange for yoga classes. I’ve also taken gifts of art, massage sessions and offers to clean or cook. Everyone has a gift, an inherent skill, and there’s nothing that makes us feel more worthy than using that gift to obtain what we need.


Editor: Kate Bartolotta


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