David Friedman on the Gift Economy

by on October 2, 2006 · 8 comments

On his aptly named blog Ideas David Friedman discusses the gift economies (two kinds). It reminds me of Tim Lee’s post a couple months ago, Markets Don’t Need Money.

According to Friedman, when someone gives things away, what he gets, “in addition to his own enjoyment and the feeling of a useful job done, is status. . . . You pour your gifts out to the world and the world, if you are lucky, repays you in a variety of indirect ways.”

This is true, but I think it can be a little more direct and a little more than luck. People who are smart or skillful, who work hard, and who give away high quality intellectual property may get grants, may win jobs, command speaking or other performance fees, and have many meals and hotel stays purchased for them, to name a few ways that they are fairly directly rewarded.

On Tim’s post, TLF friend Luis Villa commented correctly on the need for money, but the two economies aren’t sealed from one another in any significant sense. There is a lot of crossover between the money economy and the gift economy. One just uses a standard metric of value and the other doesn’t.

Especially in the intellectual property area, people would do better to think of value rather than focusing solely on money. Pretty much all human action is economic behavior. (I didn’t come up with that idea just now by myself.)

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