LIAM CHAI

On the Gift Economy

Everything I do, I offer as a gift to you.

In turn, I trust you to gift me back (or forward) what you think is fair value for my work.

This is not a new way of working together, but rather a very ancient concept. It is an idea based on mutual trust and gratitude. It’s something I think we need a little more of in our world, so I’m betting my time and energy on it.

“Trust people — they’ll surprise you.” – Ron Shaich, co-CEO and founder, Panera Bread (after opening several locations featuring gift economy pricing)

This concept might seem different, but the model works very well. It is the foundation behind open source software, Wikipedia, Creative Commons, non-commercial scientific research, and file sharing.

There are restaurants that run exclusively on a pay-it-forward basis. There’s a web designer experimenting with Trust-Based Pricing. In the book Sacred Economics, Charles Eisenstein describes health care clinics in California and Oregon, music groups including Radiohead, and even a law firm in Chicago, all experimenting with and working in a Gift Economy.

“The gift economy represents a shift from consumption to contribution, transaction to trust, scarcity to abundance and isolation to community.” – Charles Eisenstein

If we mutually decide to work together, it is because you have faith that I will offer a good service for you, and I have faith that you will give me whatever gift, or none at all, that reflects your gratitude for my work; perhaps you will choose to send me a gift of money, or trade, or referrals, or going off and doing good in the world, or maybe with some or all of that.

The point is, at the end of the process, we will both feel whole, we will both feel like we were treated fairly. If we mutually decide to work together, there is no contract or formal agreement: I will offer you my work as a gift with no strings attached, and it is up to you to do what seems fair to you.

Here’s an outline for how the process might flow:

You can read more about defining the gift economy.



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