Blogs >> Charles Eisenstein, The gift Economy and Schumacher College by Jonathan Dawson

Charles Eisenstein, The gift Economy and Schumacher College by Jonathan Dawson

Last week Charles Eisenstein lead a short course at Schumacher College on the theme of Ecology, Scarcity and the Gift Economy. His teaching is rooted in the insight that we are, by nature, a gift-giving species – that the giving of gifts has been central to the thriving of healthy communities throughout history, a truth that has been obscured by the emergence of markets and money as the mediators of most human interactions in recent decades. A negative consequence of this development is that money transactions do not involve a relationship between the parties to the transaction. The ‘debt’ is instantly paid off and the potential for gratitude and a growing reciprocity is largely eliminated.

On the penultimate day of his course, staff and volunteers at the College entered into a discussion with Charles to explore how his insights and teachings could inform the ethic and practice of the College. A major insight to emerge was that already the College continues to exist and thrive only on the basis of enormous generosity – on the part of volunteers, of staff working way beyond their paid hours, of the willingness of course participants to engage in the maintenance and smooth running of the College, of the bounteous and accommodating landscape and climate that holds and nurtures us. Beyond that, we explored how we could begin to move towards a business model based on inviting participants to pay on the basis of their gratitude for the gift of education received rather than marketing ‘educational products’ for sale, as we do at present. Numerous examples of the gift economy operating in mainstream society were cited, including that of a distinguished law firm in the US that enables clients to subtract from or add to their itemised bill on the basis of their experience of the quality of service. We also explored the possibility of developing reciprocal, other-than-cash exchanges for goods and services with local organisations and enterprises.

Lots of ideas to chew on. This dialogue represents the beginning of a process in which the College seeks to engage with the specificity of what each course and teacher has to bring. On the basis of this first experience, we will be hugely enriched by the experience.