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I recall reading waaaay back in University an account of a Potlach gift giving ceremony in western Canada. Possibly the article was by David Thompson, explorer. In his account, the chief talked up the value of a sacred object and its totemic significance, and then gifted it to the best fisherman in the tribe. Everyone, especially the chiefs friends and family, ohh'd and ahhh'd over the magnificent gift. In return, the fisherman was expected to reciprocate with a very valuable gift, but alas, while well fed he had few possessions except is canoe, which he gifted to the chief, to much applause. Next morning he could not go fishing as the chief's family had taken the canoe. The chief then graciously allowed him to borrow it, provided he paid for it with a certain percentage of his catch.

While I appreciated the norm of social reciprocity while running my business, I was always wary of the relative value of the gifts to me and the cost of the gift to the giver. Often, I observed the gift had little to no monetary cost to the giver but my return gift had a cost to me.

I am always wary now of how mutual gift giving can be a form of social exploitation in the hands of a dark triad personality who somehow ends up having all the wealth.

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A flip side of gift exchange is that it can be a way of testing if someone can be trusted. There was someone in a reenactor group who stiffed me of the promised value in an exchange. I consoled myself with the reflect that now I knew not to trust him. In a society where trust can be a matter of life and death, giving gifts and judging someone by how he reciprocates (or doesn't) can be buying valuable information.

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I think that there are elements of a gift economy within the management of many organizations (for-profit and non-profit). Generally to get ahead, an individual has to make great efforts without knowing how they will be compensated for them. That might result in a bonus, a raise, a promotion, a grant of equity, or other things. But employers almost never negotiate that stuff up front with existing employees. They often do to bring in a new CEO, but even then the details often have to be worked out later.

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In our Buddhist center, and at others, we are using what we call the generosity model (as opposed to an exchange model). In this model, one who is rich might pay much more for a class than one who is poor. It really goes beyond "what is the value to me" as the criteria of what I'm going to give. Another center publishes the cost of a class, but lets people know that no one will be turned away and you can pay less or more than the published cost. College tuitions are like this. Some pay a lot less, and some pay more, eventually even endowing professorships and building buildings.

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> If the higher price you are willing to offer for my goods is less than the lowest price I am willing to accept you don’t buy them and shouldn’t. If I give you the goods I only discover that I shouldn’t have when I find out how much you are giving in exchange.

This is not so different from price discovery without an auction. Over a long history of exchanges, the parties can adjust their prices and values and observe changes in the frequency of purchases / frequency of reciprocal gifts. On the other hand if there's no history, both a company and a gift-giver would be stuck with their best guess as to the value of their invention.

One advantage that gift economies have over "grocery store" commercial economies is that they can function when parties do not know their future ability to pay. In a sense everything is automatically "on credit," and the loans are diversified throughout the well-being of the entire community. If you want to see people living on a gift economy take a look at friend groups in poor areas, who will pick up the checks at restaurants depending on who at that moment has found work.

If someone could invent an auction for the gift economy, that only required the buyers to reciprocate if they were able, this would have the price discovery advantage and the debt liquidity advantage. I do not have any idea how that could work but it would be nice to use. One final point that has to fit in somewhere: there's an additional element of charity, and it is difficult to distinguish guaranteed charity for past able contributors from insurance. It is like a microcosmic capitalistic system organized entirely though human instincts; except that it affords individuals tools that in our present system are available in their fullest extent only to firms or those with personal employees.

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