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capitalism, gift economy and prices that are too damn high!  RSS feed

 
paul wheaton
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Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
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I just felt the urge to share some thoughts in this space.

I've written before that I no longer have any clue what capitalism means. And it seems that some people desperately need to talk about it. And when they talk about it, it seems that the thing they need to say is "capitalism is bad". Then they try to say "why" and that stuff seriously confuses me. By their standards I guess I am just too stupid to understand obvious truths and should just go along with what they say.

My feeble understanding of capitalism is that I can work super hard for a year, save up all my money and then live without working for several years. That's probably not what capitalism really is, but .... I guess for the most part I don't give a shit.

And when people try to tell me that capitalism is bad, I kinda get the impression that what they are really saying is that other people have stuff that they want. And rather than work to get that stuff, they want to simply have that stuff without all that work. I'm not sure why I get this impression. Probably that stupid thing again.



Then there is the "gift economy". The idea is that there is a society where the goal is to have the least stuff. The people with the most stuff are icky. The people with the least stuff are cool. And the people that generate the most stuff and give away the most stuff are the very coolest. A dozen times, very passionate people have told me this and then point to what I am doing and say that I need to give it away in a different way. Apparently the way I am already giving stuff away is not the right way (usually something about copyright). And when i talk about how a farmer could make more money with permaculture rather than using herbicides, I'm told that that is also wrong (my impression is that they think the farmer should give food away).

I do have this to say about "the gift economy": I think it is a very real thing. I've given a lot of stuff away for free. It has been a lot of work and even a lot of expense. But there have been hundreds of people that have given me things that I never would have received if I had not started by giving things away. Plus there is heaps of stuff all over the internet that is there because people gave it away for free. So I do think that while it might not be "the" gift economy that some folks talk about, we do have "a" gift economy that is seriously cool.

When I was young I wrote a massive set of libraries for software engineers (pascal) and gave it away. It did well. I did another in C++. It did well. And there were other libraries that were made available in a similar fashion which helped me for the stuff I was trying to do. All these people gave their stuff away. I gave away BananaCom in the 90's and it turned into a business. People sent me fun little gifts!

And when I did kickstarters, there were quite a few people that said "why would anybody pay for that when that information is already available for free on youtube" (leaving out that I was the provider of a fair bit of that) and a few others said "the world desperately needs this information and it is wrong of you to hoard it behind a price tag" (leaving out the free stuff I have already provided).

I have three points to wrap up on gift economy:

1) I get the impression that the folks that are telling me about "the" gift economy want gifts. But I'm not seeing where these folks are giving much away. One time I did find out that they were giving away some youtube videos, but they didn't seem very good (and they had something like ten views each).

2) I've given a lot of stuff away, and I think 98% of the support for my kickstarters is BECAUSE OF all the stuff I've given away in the past. The people that come here to volunteer, it is 100% because of the stuff I have given away. The people that help out here on permies, or for other parts of the empire .... I think a person could label it all as "gift economy". And I didn't plan on it, but this does seem to be working out the way the gift economy is designed to work out. It isn't replacing capitalism, but happily intertwined within capitalism. Spiffy!

3) If you tell somebody they have to give something away, it stops becoming a gift. If you take something away from somebody, that is not "gift economy", that is theft. If you demand that somebody create things and give it away, that's not "gift economy", that's slavery.



And finally, there has been some recent stuff here on permies about "that is unreasonably expensive". I think if a person tries to sell a thing and the price is "too high" then few people (or nobody) will buy it. And that person might choose to keep the price high - which is their right as the content owner. I have told some people that I thought the price they were asking for something was too high and then was shocked when a huge number of people paid the "too high" price. Wow.

Selling stuff is always a gamble. Is it better to price it high, or price it low? Might it be smarter to give it away? Might it be smarter to put a freakishly high price on something?

I set the price for a single deck of cards at $20 and was told "nobody would ever pay that much for a deck of cards." 357 people did. And since then, about a hundred people paid $21.95.

So I need to point out that when somebody on permies.com says "that is unreasonably expensive" that, first of all, I would remove such a post for suggesting that somebody on permies.com is being "unreasonable" (less than perfect). But it is matter of opinion, strategy and, as with nearly any endeavor, gambling.

And, finally, I get the impression that the person with "this is unreasonably expensive" on their lips is actually saying "I will buy it for a much lower price".



All of these things really boil down to:

A) respect the person that created stuff.

B) do not attempt to shame a creator (or anybody) into .... anything

C) if you want something to be free/cheap, then maybe you should create something similar and "be the change you wish to see"



 
Robert Alcock
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Location: Cantabria, N Spain
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Hi Paul and all

I wouldn't class myself with those people who think that just saying "capitalism is the problem" is enough to change anything. But on the other hand I do think there are some very seriously unsustainable things about the existing financial and economic system, and since we are normally told that we live under a capitalist system I suppose that it's easy to think that those things are wrong with "capitalism." In my view it's not really about criticising stuff in the abstract but about finding things you can do about it in the concrete, which is why I do permaculture type things.

Fundamentally, I think that the problem with the financial and economic system is that money doesn't work as advertised. Never has. Whenever you work for money, you find that you've given away something of immeasurable value (part of your life, no less) and received in exchange something of no real value (bits, paper or at best, in the past, useless shiny metal). The only benefit here is that you might be lucky to find someone equally foolish in order to exchange your useless tokens for their real stuff of value (like say land). What makes this even worse is that there is a big parasitic load on every money transaction. In the old days it was the uncertainty of whether you were getting real gold and silver or counterfeit, the likelihood of theft/taxes, bankers manipulating the value of coinage, etc. (I just read the other day that Venetian bankers crashed the European economy by manipulating the exchange rate between gold and silver... in 1346. Plus ca change). Now it is the certainty of inflation, taxation, bank charges, interest rates, and the ever present possibility of banking crashes.

So, I maintain that it is a wise policy to have as little to do with the formal money economy as you can. This, of course, is extremely difficult to achieve in reality, but remember that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. Through mutual aid (exchanging labour for food, accommodation and experience) I've built a passive solar house for roughly 1/3 the average market price of a house in our region. (See www.abrazohouse.org) Yes, we did spend money, but much less than we would otherwise have done.

Does mutual aid count as the gift economy? I don't know, but certainly we have a flourishing gift economy in our neck of the woods. Just last week we were given 4 chickens by someone who wanted to get rid of them and we gave them a good home. Or so we thought -- but the next night there was a storm, our electric fence blew down and all 4 were massacred by a fox. Easy come, easy go. But the very next day we went round to a friend's house to lend him an electric guitar with amp (that we'd been loaned ourselves) and he also wanted to get rid of some chickens -- so we got 4 more. These kind of exchanges make for stronger friendships.

Not sure if this contributes at all, but if it doesn't, then at least it's worth as much as it cost!
 
Charles Tarnard
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The only part of the capitalist system that is 'bad' in my opinion is the part where greedy bastards acquire ALL the assets and then manipulate them to make sure nobody else gets an opportunity to get ANY assets. If you can keep that in check it works pretty well, IMO.

Stuff is too expensive... for me to afford to pay for it. It's a shame. I'd love to shell out 40k a year for all the education opportunities presented here and elsewhere - while providing a home and meals to my family - while taking the time off work to utilize these opportunities, but currently I can't. A PDC, natural building, earthworks, wofati, water harvesting, soil building, wildcrafting, and meat-smithing class will have a pretty steep entry fee, and choosing your favorite -or the one you can utilize the soonest- makes it tough. It's easy to get a little vocal about the things you can't swing, and some can get a little disingenuous about the reasons why (I know I've been there).
 
Topher Belknap
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Location: Midcoast Maine (zone 5b)
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There is a frequent confusion between 'Capitalism' and a 'Free Market'. Capitalism has to do with where the surplus is sent, namely to people who provided capital. That's the essence.

 
Landon Sunrich
pollinator
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Location: Western Washington
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paul wheaton wrote:

I've written before that I no longer have any clue what capitalism means.



So firstly, I also will readily admit that with the way the word 'capitalism' gets thrown I also don't always know what is meant by the word. But I do, naturally, still have several problems with it. The main 2

1) It commodifies everything. The ultimate goal is to figure out how to exploit a resource for individual profit.

"Oh, what a lovely view! What? There's Coal in them hills? And you say a hundred dollars worth of dynamite will get me 150 dollars worth of coal? That's a net profit! To hell with the view!"

2) It seems to be inextricably tied to imperialism, and it always has been.

Now there's plenty more to bicker about but those two things alone make it a seriously flawed system in my view.

No real comments about the gift economy. In my experience sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. Sure learn a lot about the character of those you are exchanging with though.

 
Chris Badgett
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Capitalism is like a tool. Every tool is a weapon if you hold it right. Every tool can create value if you hold it right.

Perception of how you use this tool will often vary. And this perception may differ from person to person. That's freedom of thought and expression, and that's great!

At the end of the day entrepreneurs create value and let the free market decide.

At the end of the day consumers of said value can speak their mind and/or vote with their wallet or not.

If someone sees that something is too expensive, perhaps compete in the open market and offer something better for free or for less $

The permaculture way involves spreading a surplus which includes giving away other valuable stuff for free (like this website) or reinvesting in more value creating ventures that the market appreciates.

 
Eric Thompson
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I think the gift economy works great - but not with everybody and not exclusively! And beyond that, a relaxed gift economy inevitably creates a sense of entitlement: the more someone gives something away for free, the more they owe it to me for free. This also works with perceived abundance. If I suddenly have a windfall of something, more expectation builds in my circle that I will offer it for free. "You just got a container of 20,736 decks of permaculture playing cards? Uh, can I have one??".

But the gift economy isn't a replacement for capitalism - it runs right beside it! I probably wouldn't reply "$20/deck - same as my ebay price.." I'm sure to gift some and ebay some in separate streams..

capitalism just takes the analytics out of calculating the value of something - it's value is whatever it's worth to someone. I'm seen people pay for music that I'm sure is worth far less than zero!

And most of our decisions aren't purely capitalistic anyway. I wouldn't pay as much as $20/hour for someone to mow my lawn. Nor would I mow my neighbor's lawn if he offered $50/hour. But in a capitalist system I may employ someone to mow the neighbor's lawn (and maybe my own if I could get the cost a little lower..) But of course if my neighbor has an amazing mower already, he should mow mine for free, right?





 
John Saltveit
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I agree with other posters. The problem, in my view, with capitalism, is not that it makes efficient markets. It kind of does that, as anyone who has taken Economics 101 learned. It also creates horribly inefficient markets. They are called externalities. For example, you drive to work or bike to work. If you drive, there are negative effects that you don't pay for: air pollution, inefficient use of land (huge parking lots), a culture of spending lots of time driving, long traffic lines, higher taxes to pay for wide streets, traffic lights, cops, bad health from getting no exercise, etc. People keep doing this because our system doesn't make people pay for it. With bicycling, there are positive externalities that people don't get paid enough for : less air pollution, better health due to exercise, closer sense of community, seeing more flowers, less noise you create, smaller chance of harming others in a crash, no need to pave huge parts of the earth. There seems to be a continuing drive of businesses to earn more money , by saying we're in competition, so people always have to work more hours, in more soulless number crunching ways to harm others to make more profit. You need to work 80 hours a week because advertising tells you that you need a giant 8 foot flat screen and all the new video games and processed food and a new fast car, all of which are bad for you and everyone, in a competitive greed show. No thanks,
John S
PDX OR
 
wayne stephen
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"The only part of the capitalist system that is 'bad' in my opinion is the part where greedy bastards acquire ALL the assets and then manipulate them to make sure nobody else gets an opportunity to get ANY assets. If you can keep that in check it works pretty well, IMO." - Charles Tarnard


I have to argue that never in history has any capitalist ever hoarded all the resources or profits for themselves . If they did they would not be able to hold on to it for long . When Bill Gates became the richest man in the world , many others became richer also . Even us poor schlubs are here today typing on a variety of personal devices we could not have imagined 30 years ago . Every kid with a minimum wage job seems to have a smart phone these days . So , I have to argue the same for permies . When permies become richer and more successful - and I mean that in the truest free market sense - then the benefits of permaculture will become more available just like the technology we are using today to write this . People need incentive to invest and work their asses off . I challenge anyone to name an invention , technology , or inspired musical piece that was created by a collective living under a socialist profitless society . Dimitrij Sergeevich Mordasov created Sputnik - not a collective - and I am sure his motivation was self interest . You know , not being "purged".
Two good rules for living in a free world :
1 : It's risky . Caveat Emptor !
2 : If you think it should be free , then make it or buy it and give it away . Plenty of room for altruism in a free world .
 
Ann Torrence
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A great explanation of capitalism was in one of my college textbooks, yes still in print and a comic book at that:

Marx for Beginners

----------

We started a biotech business because of a failure in the gift economy.

For his science, DH makes molecular markers in his lab. Because part of his work is federally funded, he is required by law to make them available to others in his field (he can't squash others' science by not sharing technology). He is not required to give them away; the university can also license his ideas and products to be sold through the free market. Back in 1995, he got a phone call from a colleague and friend:

Colleague: would you send me some of xx? I tried to buy it from yy, but they are out of stock.
DH: Sure, but can you tell me something? Why didn't you call me first? You knew I make a great xx.
Colleague: I've had bad experiences with other people who give me reagents then expect to be a co-author on the paper a year later but don't agree with my conclusions. It's cleaner just to buy it.

That in a nutshell is the problem with a gift economy: you never really know what the price of anything really is going to be, or when the obligation ends. Some people might say that's a benefit because continuing obligation holds a social group together. But individuals who can exit a gift economy for a market-based system seem, over the course of history, to do so in droves.

Luckily, DH works at a very entrepreneurial-minded institution of higher learning and we could start a business selling what he was willing to give away.
 
Charles Tarnard
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Wayne-

I don't think this is the right forum in which to continue this conversation. I'll simply say that my initial post was certainly a simplification of my position, and a more in depth analysis would be certain to trigger a much more interesting - or inflammatory - conversation .
 
Su Ba
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Tis interesting to see the various points of view. I have no beef with capitalism. I was raised to it and for many decades the country thrived under it. I fully support a capitalistic economy as adverse to imperialism, communism, socialism, or moneyless. Capitalism can be fair. An owner of an asset assigns a monetary value to it, be it based upon supply & demand, greed, or some other system. Fine.

As with any economic system, it can be corrupted. In my lifetime I have seen emphasis on net profit and greed damage our economy to the point that the common man is losing ground, living a lower standard of living, with a great percentage of the population slipping into lower economic levels.......becoming lower middle class or poverty level. A greater percentage are receiving government subsidies. A smaller percentage has been elevated to wealthy. Again, I have no personal beef with this, though it is sad to see.

My complaint about the high prices and corporate greed is that it also encompasses basic needs ....food, shelter, medical care. That fact that iPhones and iPads are highly priced, that Apple is reporting incredibly high profits, doesn't upset me. $20 playing cards are fine. But the situation where more and more people cannot afford to purchase fresh, nutritious foods does. In my area, acceptable housing is becoming unaffordable to many. Since becoming profit driven by corporations, medical care is not only extremely expensive but often unavailable in a timely fashion. The waiting period to see a specialist in my area ranges from 2-6 months! Not because no doctors want to practice in Hawaii, but only because the corporations only add a doctor to the staff if the profit margin is within acceptable parameters.

The permaculture movement, along with other systems such as natural farming and organics, can help make a significant improvement in the quality of people's lives and health by training them to grow food. Food is a basic need that people can help meet for themselves. But they need help to be taught because the knowledge was lost to most families. Personally I find it repugnant for excessive profits to be made when it involves basic needs. Especially with a movement, such as permaculture, where there is a mandate to share surplus. Thus the concept of sharing, of fairness supposedly exists in permaculture.

As for gifting economy, I've seen that it only works in al society where people have been raised to it or embrace it. I am not well versed in Native American culture, but I recall that some NW Indian societies incorporated gifting. The society worked well until missionaries forced its abandonment. The gifting practice in Taiwan continues because people have been raised to it, even though gifts are often useless or impractical.

The Hawaiian culture had aspects of gifting that still persist to this day. Again, I am not well versed in cultural science, but I see where gifting amid a small community is still working. Excess is shared with relatives, friends, and community. In my own close community, the concept of gifting excess is gradually seeing a rebirth.
 
R Scott
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You are seeing the results of indoctrination. People are taught "the" answer, but not WHY. People scream over one another but absolutely refuse to listen to the other opinion, let alone debate an issue.

Until people learn to think critically, they will continue to repeat these platitudes without any understanding of consequences. They will be swayed by emotions and charisma instead of logic and reason.






 
Jason Alexander
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[quote=paul wheaton

My feeble understanding of capitalism is that I can work super hard for a year, save up all my money and then live without working for several years. That's probably not what capitalism really is, but .... I guess for the most part I don't give a shit.

And when people try to tell me that capitalism is bad, I kinda get the impression that what they are really saying is that other people have stuff that they want. And rather than work to get that stuff, they want to simply have that stuff without all that work. I'm not sure why I get this impression. Probably that stupid thing again.



Working hard for a year and then taking several years off - that is merely an indicator of your (and my) priveledged position in this capitalist world ( being born into a wealthy country/society).

When people say that capitalism is bad, because they work 80 hours a week doing labor and can't afford medicine for their dying children, while fat Americans( not necessarily you - i have no idea lol, but in general) can work that much and can take a few years off - that is a far cry from wanting to have stuff but not wanting to do the work.

A few years ago I rode my bicycle from Alaska to Argentina, passing through some of the poorest areas in the Western hemisphere, and staying in remote poverty stricken towns/ villages and camping. The people would ask how I was able to do such a trip. I explained how I worked 70-80 hours a week for several years and saved all my money, and then try to spend as little as possible along the way. I soon realized that most of the poor people I was talking to worked that much as well, and never had any savings at the end. Just survival. That's captalism to me.There can't be rich people without poor people - and no matter how poor you think you are, if you are reading this you are likely one of the rich ( in the global picture).



 
William James
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Move to cider press/ulcer factory?

I'll add my 2 pence here. I saw something recently arguing that capitalism basically boils down to the employer/employee relationship. It's basically about generating an economic surplus off of someone else's labor and being allowed to decide where that surplus energy should be directed. That is why the surplus is re-invested not only in being able to produce one's product (with the labor of others), but toward generating the social situations which accommodate that production (from better roads, lower taxes, all the way to the myriad of extremely ugly things we could easily list).

People have and do break out of this fundamental relationship of capitalism. That is what worker-owned and operated co-ops are. 1 person, 1 vote, everyone decides what to do with the surplus. The problem comes when the co-op is successful and needs to bring in more labor. Either they let new people vote, have a probationary period to test if people 'fit', or the turn back to capitalism and hire employees who do not vote.

As for the gift economy, I feel it's sort of a coping mechanism for people living in a capitalist society. It makes you feel good but doesn't quite replace nearly enough of the majority of your economic transactions. Plus it doesn't really change the fundamental mechanisms at work, does it?

Anyway, back to the chickens.
William
 
Jason Alexander
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Su Ba wrote:
The Hawaiian culture had aspects of gifting that still persist to this day.


Tell me more lol. Traditional Hawaiian culture didn't have even the slighest inkling of the idea of private ownership. (Although the use of certain things was restricted only to the royalty). What still persists to this day that is any more interesting than a bunch of permaculturalists sharing chickens?

No offense, but it is easy to not have any beef with capitalism when you live in the cradle of comfort. If you think that you don't, try Haiti. Great weather there, beaches, can grow lots of delicious tropical stuff, no need to heat the house. A permaculturalist's dream!
 
Jason Alexander
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Chris Badgett wrote:At the end of the day consumers of said value can speak their mind and/or vote with their wallet or not.




Voting with your wallet is inherently capitalist - those with the fattest wallets have the most votes. An entirely undemocratic idea, unless everyone earns the same amount.
 
John Saltveit
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Entrepreneurialism is essential in every society. Adapting to change just means you're alive and human. Life changes all the time.

People who say all permaculture training and knowledge should be given away for free are acting like when we talk to kindergarteners and say, "Let's be nice to each other." Yes, but is that really going to happen or is that some kind of eventual utopian goal? I think the latter.

I don't have any problem with people doing something useful like training people about permaculture or welding or whatever and making money off of it, or even getting rich. The problem in capitalism is that people like the Supreme Court pretend that the rich have the same power in our society as the poor. Billionaire hedge fund managers make money by taking jobs away from the United States, and sending them to third world countries in which their average wage goes down, because their despotic leaders control the country through our foreign aid. Bill Gates doesn't have to have 100% of the power to twist it around and make almost everybody follow his plan. The wealthy control the rulemakers: Congress and the president. This is our economy.

100 years ago Joseph Schumpeter, Nobel winning economist and darling of the far right, sadly realized that entrepreneurialism was no longer what was dominating the culture. It was large corporations and the squeeze that the wealthy and powerful had to make sure that they kept the benefits of society and that it wasn't available to the poor or middle class. In the United States, poor people have fewer chances statistically to prosper because we are so controlled by the wealthy. In Europe and Japan, poor hardworking people can get an education and health care without going bankrupt, and the rules have been balanced enough to give poor people a better chance to control their own lives. There are many well designed studies to document how this is true now, although it didn't used to be true. I think we can do much better, and I believe that in the future we will, because we're running out of planet to destroy.
John S
PDX OR
 
Su Ba
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Jason, if you checked out my blog you would have been aware that I spent much of my life in the Washington DC-Boston rat race of materialism and one upmanship. 14 years ago I decided that I had enough. I had been pushed to the edge of the cliff, so to speak. I worked two more years at anything I could to earn money, cashed everything in we owned and escaped.

I have been fortunate to be accepted by an Hawaiian family. They have given me a mountain of knowledge. While pre-European influence Hawaiians did not deal with currency and possessions as we know it, their society, aside from dealings with the Ali'i and their associates, was based upon what we may call trade but it was closer to gifting or sharing within their land sector. To this day a sense of sharing a bounty can still be found, though most haole will never see it. Catch a big fish and most will be shared within the circle. Kill a feral cow and most will be shared. When I harvest a field of taro, I share the abundance within my circle.
 
Jason Alexander
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Aloha Su Ba,

I am glad to hear that you are enjoying a good life in Hawaii. I agree that the idea of sharing a bounty still exists, in some aspects of Hawaiian culture - but this same idea/mechanism exists in nearly all tropical cultures. In warm climates, amassing a store of capital is pointless - the capital is food, and it will rot. There is always food around ready to harvest in warm climates, and so no need to store it anyway. This is arguably the reason why Europeans were so successful at colonizing the rest of the world - the ability to preserve, store, and protect food/fuel for future use was a prerequisite for survival - without these skills it would have been impossible to make it through the harsh Winters. The storage of excess (along with war and appropriation of resources)led to the ability to finance the expeditions that eventually colonized most of the world - and the switch from the barter economy to the gold/silver economy (coupled with the influx of billions of dollars of slave-mined precious metals from South America) led to the development of capitallism.

Similar things were going on in (some) warmer regions of the world - as population density created more pressure and impact on the land and society, Polynesians desperately took to the voyaging canoes and spread out across the Pacific Islands. (The 'menehune' arrived in Hawaii approx. 600-700 AD, and the Tahitians 400 years later). But the islands are small in size/number and too far from anything else to be connected by trade routes - so the development of a capital-based economy stopped there. Sure, people shared within their circles - but were still taxed by the Ali'i for anything that would store well (Dog teeth,fine lauhala, red feathers, kahelelanai shells, etc.), in exchange for protection from the various chiefs who continuously battled for control of the resources. The idea of the Hawaiians living in a paradaisical society of abundance and sharing is largely a myth - a romanticism of how things 'used to be' before the arrival of Cook and the rest of the haoles. In reality, the Hawaiians were never truly united. Murder and cannibalism was widespread. (Hawaiian history conveniently forgets that when Kamehameha 'united' the islands, he was backed by US marines with an agenda of their own - divide and conquer). As the marine warships waited in Kahului harbor, Kamehameha (Hawaii) and his warriors backed Kalanikapule (Maui) and his army into I'ao valley and slaughtered every last one of them. The river ran red with blood for three days, supposedly. And so the islands were 'united' lol...

I have shared in the akule harvest, when they move into the shallows to spawn and the elders of the community can see/sense them beneath the water - amazing indeed from an East Coast rat race perspective. I have hunted feral pigs and shared in the ensuing feast. I have been welcomed in by many kama'aina, and shown the true nature of aloha. At the same time, i've been assaulted for being haole, run off the road on my bicycle countless times (for the same reason), been robbed/burgled several times. But life in Hawaii is essentially a soft existence - although most of Hawaiian culture has been lost through systematic oppression (first by the Ali'i and the sandalwood trade, later by the haoles) - since statehood life has been relatively easy. If there are no fish to catch, there's always the EBT card lol...

It's funny how you say you escaped - escapism being such a huge part of the American mentality. The grass is always greener on the other side of the hill. Go West, young man...Love it or leave it. But escapism has led to the self-destruction of the US, and puts even more pressure importance on the rat race. (You worked like a rat to earn money, to get out of the rat race.... go figure) To escape is a sign of success in the US, where in many places (Hawaii being an exception), the thought of 'anywhere is better than here' is commonplace. To retire early, move to a 'better place', preferably without having had to do any hard work, that's the new American dream. There is little sense of identity, little sense of community. Sure, some hippies / permaculturalists do all they can to foster a sense of community and place - but they have to escape from the mainstream just to maintain sanity and dignity. It's a reactionary measure. Escapism almost defines us as Americans, from the Pilgrims to modern times.

Of course, I'm guilty of it as well. (although i moved to hawaii with only an airline ticket and $400 - there's no need to buy into the rat race in order to escape from it)
After 8 years there, never leaving the islands, I decided to go travelling for a while. And now i've escaped from the US entirely, and being away from there for so long really lets one put it all in perspective.

Anyway, rant over. Just my 2 puka shells.

Aloha nui loa,

Jason
 
Su Ba
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Jason said, "The idea of the Hawaiians living in a paradaisical society of abundance and sharing is largely a myth - a romanticism of how things 'used to be' before the arrival of Cook and the rest of the haoles...."

You bet!!! Most people, including the locals, have the wrong idea what life was like for the common man prior to the European influence. They were serfs, for real. No land ownership. Production heavily taxed. No personal ownership of anything of significant value. Strict kapu system. Life was tough back then unless you were Ali'i. But the ahupua'a system involved trade/barter/gifting....some aspects of which still linger today in select situations. I'm not saying that the system was good, or that it should be returned to. I surely would not want to live under it. But some concepts managed to linger in family life even though the culture was forced to change. Plus, the ahupua'a system was a sustainable system, much like permaculture today.

Most mainlanders have the wrong idea what modern life is like in Hawaii. They move here expecting it to be paradise of some sort. Thus most become disillusioned and move back within 2 years. Judging by what I see in my own area, I suspect about 50% of new arrivals move out within 2 years or so.

I definitely ran away from a life that was mentally, emotionally, and physically killing me on the Eastcoast. I am not ashamed to admit that i was escaping from a lifestyle. Since I was willing to adapt (which seems to take about two years) and willing to take on a physically demanding lifestyle, I successfully made the transition. I am now living a homestead style life, much happier, much more content, much healthier. But I work harder than I ever have.

Arriving with only $400 here takes guts. I'm impressed, Jason. But hubby and I wanted to put down roots here, so we purposely arrived with no debts and enough money to buy our land and shelter without a mortgage. Hubby has found employment (something not usually available here), thus we have the opportunity to channel money into building our own house....rather than living in a small, rough shack.

Getting back to capitalism -- definition as I see it : an economic system based upon ownership and the means of production mainly by the individual (or corporations) as opposed to government or cooperative. I am surely support capitalism but as with any economic system, it can be corrupt. Greed for more profit easily creeps into a capitalistic system. It's excessive greed that affects basic living commodities that disturbs me.
 
paul wheaton
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I think podcast 86 is the one I made about greed. It is one of my favorites. In a nutshell: I think the word greed has been mangled and abused to the point that it no longer has significant meaning.

I think that rather than focusing on "greed" (a red herring) the thing to do is focus on bad guys. People that are screwing others for the sake of their own gain. Often with the phrase "acceptable losses" on their lips. Or by making laws that trip up competitors.
 
Tyler Ludens
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In my opinion, there is a difference between Barter and Gifting, though they are often confused with each other. In Barter there is an expectation of return. In Gifting, there is no expectation of return. In my experience, if one engages in the Gift Economy with expectation of return, one is bound to be disappointed and should stick to Barter. One also does not demand a gift (unless one is a child).


gift

noun
1.
something given voluntarily without payment in return, as to show favor toward someone, honor an occasion, or make a gesture of assistance; present.


bar·ter

verb
1.
to trade by exchange of commodities rather than by the use of money.
 
Chris Badgett
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I liked this article about reframing our relationship to money: http://www.tropicalmba.com/coconutcash/

It's about the idea of changing the statement: I have "money problems" to I have "creating tangible value for others" problems.

I don't agree with everything in the article, but I think it adds an interesting angle for discussion on this thread.
 
Mike Schroer
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Paul,

I think you have answered your own question about capitalism (capitalist).

"People that are screwing others for the sake of their own gain. "

We have had huge gains in productivity in the last 40 years yet the wages of the average worker has stagnated or gone down.
With these huge gains in productivity, why are we still working 40-50 per week?

"People that are screwing others for the sake of their own gain. "

This tread has the phrase "I don't have a problem with capitalism" used numerous times followed by a specific criticism. I feel this indicates that we are all so indoctrinated in the current capitalist system, and although we have issues with it, we have difficulty in clearly seeing an alternative.

A large part of capitalism is our flawed monetary system, the Federal Reserve and the banking fractional lending process, but that is worthy of another discussion.
It is called indebted slavery.

It all comes down to the same thing.

"People that are screwing others for the sake of their own gain."

Greybeardmike
 
John Saltveit
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I think that greed is when you remove yourself from the community and say that your monetary access is automatically more important than anything else: More important than family, fun, health, emotional connection, children, animals, justice, spirituality, The environment, long term benefit for all, freedom, equality, creativity, compassion or any other community held cultural value. It's highly unattractive and hard to convince someone else that they should care above all about your pocketbook. It's also extreme short term thinking that we have been specializing in very much since the 1980s. Since we systematically devalue culture, and there are extremely powerful unlimited aspects of our society pushing us in that direction, we (Americans) lack the historical countervailing balance that older, healthier cultures feature. We also refuse to study history so we are condemned to repeat it.
John S
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Eric Thompson
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Mike Schroer wrote:Paul,



We have had huge gains in productivity in the last 40 years yet the wages of the average worker has stagnated or gone down.
With these huge gains in productivity, why are we still working 40-50 per week?

"People that are screwing others for the sake of their own gain. "

This tread has the phrase "I don't have a problem with capitalism" used numerous times followed by a specific criticism. This smacks of indoctrination to me.

A large part of capitalism is our flawed monetary system, the Federal Reserve and the banking fractional lending process, but that is worthy of another discussion.
It is called indebted slavery.


Greybeardmike



I don't think capitalism itself is inherently bad - like most tools it's all in how you use it. Definitely the Federal Reserve is not ideal in a capitalist system, but lending makes a lot of sense - it just needs to be a real market system, not the protected US incarnation. Measuring productivity increases is difficult -- there certainly isn't much real meaning in government statistics that just measure money flow.

But even though the US would ideally be closer to true capitalism, and even though the financial game is somewhat rigged, t's still an open system where if someone determines that lenders have all the advantage, they can become a lender (at a fraction of a percent less efficiency than the next higher guy on the ladder).

"People screwing others for their own gain" is more humanity than financial -- it's taking place in every financial/political system - and even in my own farm community! Regardless of monetary system, we have become poorer in our "community" collateral. Those people performing "slash and burn" on a social scale are definitely contributing to this, and with financial support backing them, it becomes a habit with increased leverage over time. The good news is that we can all mostly opt out of this system and create community on our own - still easier to conceptualize than to execute on a very big scale -- it seems to be a feat these days to even keep a community spirit among immediate family.




 
nancy sutton
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Regarding the effects of capitalism, I'd suggest checking Thomas Piketty's recent book "Capitalism in the Twenty First Century". A prominent French economist, he studied the last few hundred years of statistics about capitalism, and has shown that the inevitable result is increasing accumulation of wealth in fewer and fewer hands... with less and less remaining in the remainder of the population. The fact is that the return to the capitalists is always increasing faster that the rise in laborers' wages ... the 'wealth pump' works pretty well, and the exceptions usually prove the rule ;) He postulates that democracy is doomed, without redistribution .. which will be unlikely. We all know the Golden Rule.. 'He who has the gold makes the rules?".

Another book by David Graeber, "Debt: The First Five Thousand Years", clearly lays out the anthropological research showing that credit/money is a relatively new invention... earlier humans typically, and successfully, used the 'mutual obligation' system.

I think we all know that usury (charging interest) was repeatedly condemned as obviously immoral by great teachers going back, at least, to Aristotle.

There are ways to 'fix' our financial/monetary system, as history tells us ... start by googling "The Chicago Plan" ;) And I think that Permaculture teaches that all real wealth comes from the earth ... maybe we should acknowledge how little 'added value' actually comes from us :)



 
Dawn Hoff
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But Paul - you always said we aren't allowed to discuss politics and then you write the libertarian manifesto

Capitalism is not the problem IMO - the state is... And I shall refrain from saying more On the political side for now.

Gift economy is great, but very complicated, and people who thinks that gift economy means that they are entitled to other people's stuff hasn't understood gift economy. The people in this village where Iive understand gift economy - it creates and intricate web of invisible IOYs which holds the web of the village toghether, if you misuse other people's generosity you will ultimately be shunned - but there is quite a lot of leverage depending on you situation and how well people know you.

We've given loads of stuff away for free over the years, we get loads of stuff for free all the time... Call it gift economy, call it carma - I don't care if works. But what ever it is it starts with and not with my neighbor.
 
Dale Hodgins
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Here's something that is obvious to me, but probably not a welcome observation. People of less than average intelligence are often victimized by the system. It would seem likely that they could easily reach the bottom under any system. We have many free choices to make in free societies. That's how I like it. I'm bright enough to make my own decisions.

I have known many who constantly fall victim to adds for things that they can't afford. They eat trash and buy rent to own furniture. I'm with Forest Gump on this, "stupid is as stupid does". I haven't administered IQ tests. The more free we are, the more freely we are able to do really silly things with our health and wealth. There's no easy fix. Historically, families were responsible for members who weren't capable of handling their own affairs successfully. Now it's left to each individual to make financial decisions. Many are not up to the task. As consumer choice has risen, the opportunities for a fool to part with money has exploded.

This is where community needs to step in. Those who can't fend for themselves, need direction and protection from their natural urge to wind up broke. Giving them money solves nothing. People in that situation, need advocates to help them navigate the financial mine field that is modern life.
 
paul wheaton
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But Paul - you always said we aren't allowed to discuss politics and then you write the libertarian manifesto


My childhood was ... unconventional. I was fortunate to spend part of my childhood with some very wonderful people. And then when I became an adult, some of these wonderful people would avoid me because, apparently, by their standards, I was "conservative." And others would avoid me for being "liberal." (and then others for being arrogant, or being "me" - but frankly, these people are so amazingly *good* that ... well, that's another story for another day). So when it comes to politics, it would seem that liberals are certain that I am conservative, conservatives are certain that I am liberal and libertarians are certain that I am libertarian. I have to say, I am pretty apolitical. I think that politics is a tar baby - the more attention you give it, the more your life will be stuck with it. Solving world problems through the political system is the most obvious and direct path - and, the tar baby. And if the world's population adopts the things I advocate because they think they are cool, or make a better life independent of politics, then my life will have been of greater value in avoiding politics.

I do think that politics should not be discussed in this forum. But we did create a cider press forum for discussion this sort of thing.

 
Dawn Hoff
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paul wheaton wrote:
But Paul - you always said we aren't allowed to discuss politics and then you write the libertarian manifesto


My childhood was ... unconventional. I was fortunate to spend part of my childhood with some very wonderful people. And then when I became an adult, some of these wonderful people would avoid me because, apparently, by their standards, I was "conservative." And others would avoid me for being "liberal." (and then others for being arrogant, or being "me" - but frankly, these people are so amazingly *good* that ... well, that's another story for another day). So when it comes to politics, it would seem that liberals are certain that I am conservative, conservatives are certain that I am liberal and libertarians are certain that I am libertarian. I have to say, I am pretty apolitical. I think that politics is a tar baby - the more attention you give it, the more your life will be stuck with it. Solving world problems through the political system is the most obvious and direct path - and, the tar baby. And if the world's population adopts the things I advocate because they think they are cool, or make a better life independent of politics, then my life will have been of greater value in avoiding politics.

I do think that politics should not be discussed in this forum. But we did create a cider press forum for discussion this sort of thing.


I won't discuss politics, don't worry

But I agree with every thing you said in that post, and I believe it was very very political. How ever I agree with you that politics (esp. party politics) is a tar pit - and that the best you can do is start with yourself. Be the change etc. I think Bill Mollison would say the same.
 
Mike Schroer
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I agree that Thomas Piketty's recent book "Capitalism in the Twenty First Century" is a very good read. I have also been encouraged to see a number of current economist taking an interest in the "Chicago Plan"
Another book that I found particularly interesting is "The Great Frontier", by Walter Prescott Webb. He speaks of the great frontier being the period from 1500 to 1950. Several civilizations had emerged and collapsed in Europe and Asia due to over running their resources, plagues, and wars prior to 1500. When humanity advanced technology to the point of being able to circumnavigate the globe and the North and South American continents, Australia and the many Pacific islands were discovered we had a huge surge in the resources available to mankind. Capitalism appeared to be a wonderful system in this environment.

But today there are no new frontiers, we have mapped nearly all of the planets resources. The easy oil, gas, coal, and minerals have been extracted. We have mined a large part of our topsoil. As long as the pie was expanding and labor was organized, the capitalist were willing to give up some of the spoils. Now that the pie is no longer expanding and labor unions have been crushed, the capitalist are no longer willing to share the growth. I like to call the current situation "Cannibalistic Capitalism". The good news is that people are beginning to notice.

Permaculture and the sustainable reliance that it promotes is definitely a step in the right direction. Permaculture is something that can be done on an individual, family, or community/group level. It not only gives me hope, I just really enjoy working with nature.
 
nancy sutton
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I think that just as in learning how to produce our food, fiber, fuel, etc. permaculturally (i.e., regeneratively) from the earth, we have had to look backwards to older ways of doing things, it will behoove us, in the future, to also know about past ways of allotting the said food, fiber and fuel (not to mention the music, art, humor, community, etc ;)

And sooooo many today believe in Thatcher/Reagan's slogan 'T.I.N.A.'... There Is No Alternative.. regarding the economy/money etc., and SEE no other way, that it will be well if some of us (many!) are aware of how ''it' has been done in the past.. and that there ARE alternatives... even, better ones :) Hence my book suggestions :)

(Maybe we could use a thread to discuss only 'money'... non-debt forms, successful historical and current alternatives, various proposed systems, even gold and bitcoin, and...? Or maybe not.. or one is already out there... or this kind of 'education' is really not likely to useful? I think there is a 'permaculture finance' effort somewhere.. I think it has been scoffed at by some...well, I guess I'd better go find it myself!)
 
Andrew Farmer
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There seems to be a lot of confusion about what "capitalism" is. I highly recommend David Graeber's 'Debt: The First 5000 Years' to get a reasonable background in the history of human economies and the origins of money.
 
Steven Kovacs
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Andrew Farmer wrote:There seems to be a lot of confusion about what "capitalism" is. I highly recommend David Graeber's 'Debt: The First 5000 Years' to get a reasonable background in the history of human economies and the origins of money.


Graeber is fascinating, but the book contains a whopper of an error that makes me wonder what other errors or misrepresentations the book might contain.
 
Andrew Farmer
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I don't have it with me, but I'll check that nex time I'm out to the farm. I doubt it's as significant as all that. I know it has been through more than one printing with some corrections and additions. In a large book with an enormous amount of material I expect a certain(small) number of errors, and I expect the author to address them when they are discovered.
 
Chadwick Holmes
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Here is the thing though, I want to pay you as little as I can, but when I am doing something I deserve as much as I can get.......so that's cleared up right!!!

Hahahaha hahahaha

Both of these thoughts should not be able to exist together, yet somehow they still do, and it amazes me that 90% of folks believe them both to apply, if one or the other was accepted as "rule" then everything would "should" run smoothly........however smoothly doesn't seem to be our thing these days.....

I would think at some point the man that wants everything cheap would give the lowest price for his goods, and I would think that at some point the man who wants the highest price for his goods would pay his fellows the same, you know on the ideal that we all deserve the same respect and treatment. Yet so many are both guys at the same time without realizing that so are his fellows......the irony and humor are palpable.

I'm not in charge of right or wrong, but I think I have a handle on funny when I see it!
 
John Wolfram
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Chadwick Holmes wrote:Here is the thing though, I want to pay you as little as I can, but when I am doing something I deserve as much as I can get.......so that's cleared up right!!!


I would say these two points definitely can coexist, but the important limitations of the other players in the market need to be added. Here's how I would rewrite that statement:

Chadwick Holmes wrote:Here is the thing though, I want to pay you as little as I can and use the provider who would rather charge a higher price but is willing to accept the lowest price for the good or service, but when I am doing something I deserve as much as I can get so I charge as much as I can, but am limited by what others are willing to accept for the same services.......so that's cleared up right!!!

 
Steven Kovacs
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Andrew Farmer wrote:I don't have it with me, but I'll check that nex time I'm out to the farm. I doubt it's as significant as all that. I know it has been through more than one printing with some corrections and additions. In a large book with an enormous amount of material I expect a certain(small) number of errors, and I expect the author to address them when they are discovered.


Sure, I expect some errors too. But consider:
- It is a major error, given that the book is about debt. The stock/flow distinction is absolutely critical when talking about debt. National debt is a stock, the budget (and deficits) are annual flows. It's like comparing your paycheck to your bank account - if you get a 5% raise each year, the balance in your account doesn't necessarily increase 5% each year. For a lay person to make that error is understandable; for someone aiming to write a groundbreaking book on debt itself, it's lazy at best. Moreover, the defense budget is only one contributor to the national debt (albeit a large one) - what about other expenditures (mostly Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid) and tax revenues, all of which change over time? The chart makes a fundamentally dishonest argument, IMO. Which is sad, because the defense budget really does contribute substantially to the debt over time, and Graeber could have made his point honestly with a little more effort.
- I don't have the book on hand now, but according to this review of the book there are only 4 charts in the entire book. So 1/4 of his charts are badly wrong.
- Graeber saw fit to post responses (and responses to responses) to many of the critical Amazon reviews of the book, but ignored this one. If he's so concerned about how people view his book, shouldn't he be interested in fixing errors?

All that being said, it is a fascinating book; I'm just not sure which parts of it to trust.
 
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