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There is no such thing as money in a community

Page history last edited by Peter Verity 7 years, 10 months ago

 There is no such thing as money in a community.


The economy of a community is a gift economy. People share what they have, from each according to their means, to each according to their needs. Wealth has no status in a community, even although in a healthy community there will be a wide range of incomes and abilities. In fact, in a community the wealthiest person is the one with the most debt to the community. There is no obligation to pay back, so there is no stigma attached to debt. So debt is what ties you to your community, so the more indebted you feel to your friends and neighbours, the more you feel part of the community. When someone is forced to move away you often hear them say: “It's so hard to leave; everyone has been so good to me, I owe you all so much”. Whilst everyone else is encouraging them to go and make a new life for themselves, and saying there will always be a place for them to stay when they come back and visit.


However, individualism makes gift-giving problematic. Our first response is to want to pay it back as soon as possible. Worse still, we work out the gift's money value and pay back something to the same value. This breaks the bonds of community before they have barely had a chance to form. To build community, gifts must be accepted graciously, asked for when necessity arises, and freely given as opportunity arises. We need not worry that our neighbour is out of pocket or inconvenienced, for they too will be doing the same and will be receiving gifts from other neighbours, even as they give to us. What goes around comes around.


An important distinction that needs to be made, is that gift giving is not the same as bartering. Bartering is a contractual arrangement, where there is an expectation of pay back with some form of economic equivalence. Many people think that schemes such as LETS (Local Exchange Trading Systems) are a part of community. In fact LETS is a way of localising the economy, a very important social function to counter the ill effects of globalisation. LETS may or may not facilitate community, and in fact, if people think they have arrived by setting up a LETS, it could positively hinder community. A LETS is for the community, and the community is through LETS. The Quaker philosopher John Macmurray says:

“A society may also be a community. But this is not necessarily so; and even where both principles [common purpose and common life] are effective in the same group, they may be effective in very different degrees.” (Conditions of Freedom, p 35)



Gordon Ferguson, from an address to the John Macmurray Fellowship, Oct 2010.


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