Gift economy

thinking about products financed via donations, quoting Fully Automated Luxury Communism

Is the future of capitalism getting stuff for free and only paying in donations? You know, paying just because you feel morally obliged to, not because you get any extra value. It certainly seems like that with music, news or software. Pic related

Bandcamp screenshot
  1. Let me make my previous question more precise and also sketch an idea I came up with after spending too much money on Bandcamp and listening to some British guys talk on the internet.

  2. It seems that gift economy might work for music, journalism and free software. But could it also work for other non-rival goods?

  3. Aaron Bastani, the author of Fully Automated Luxury Communism, says1 that more products will soon become non-rival (consuming such a product doesn't take it away from someone else, because there is an abundance of it, like breathing air, since there is enough air for everyone).

  4. The abundance will be a result of a massive reduction of marginal costs (costs to create more copies of the products). Examples are lab-grown meat or curing diseases using gene editing. Keyword: post-scarsity society.

  5. Bastani says that we don't want a few people to own patents for these technologies and sell the products for high prices (collect rent), but we want everyone to enjoy the free luxury. To achieve that, we could nationalize the research and fund it from national investment banks.

  6. Music, news & free software are products that already have zero marginal cost and people are enjoying for free (despite patent=copyright enforcement efforts in case of music). The difference from Luxury Comm is that it's not nationalization but the gift economy who saves the day.

  7. So what if we don't nationalize synthetic biology and gene editing research but rather finance it from donations. Manufacturers could then compete by presenting the most moral and altruistic business (much like brands already compete in their support of social justice).

  8. Next episode: How moralizing also saves the planet.

To further clarify: What I have in mind is the particular music, news and software that is free and ad-free and is financed by voluntary gifts. That's of course minority of music, news and software, but it seem to be on the rise and seems to be (close to) working for everyone (the creators, the platform, the consumers). Examples are Bandcamp (compare to Spotify that indeed has the VC-funded, exploitative, predatory pricing business model), The Guardian, Wikipedia, Patreon-sponsored independent writers/podcasters, and all open-source software.

If such a financing is viable in the long term is of course a question, but I have some hope in it, because I think consumers are increasingly willing to spend a considerable part of a price (maybe even 100%) for moral value. For instance when taking a 150€ train instead of a 20€ flight or switching to an environmentally friendly electricity provider.


Jakub Valenta

July 27, 2020