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Life in the Open Economy

By Christine Margaret / freeworlder.com
Feb 5, 2017
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Life in the Open Economy

The open economy, or freeworld, isn’t just an idea – it exists.

Ten years ago, I gave away unwanted stuff to friends, friends-of-friends or charity shops, not expecting free stuff in return. I just couldn’t be bothered with the hassle of monetarist-bargaining. It was a boring, time-consuming game for me. I’d rather just give stuff away that I no longer needed if someone else could use it. But that was just me. The open economy wasn’t a noticeable part of our culture, back then. Charity shops, yes – but that was cheap stuff, not free stuff. A lot has changed in just ten years!

Necessity drives invention and changes cultural norms and social behaviours. After the economic crisis of 2008, scarcity meant that some people couldn’t afford even cheap stuff and needed free stuff. In the old paradigm, free stuff was stigmatised – free stuff was for beggars, layabouts or poor wee souls worthy of pity. The old paradigm told stories about the deserving and the undeserving poor. While traces of this stigma remains in the establishment and is echoed in statements such as, “if I have to pay, why shouldn’t everyone else?” it has been undermined in communities and cities in a very real sense by the exponential growth of freesharing groups and activities.

While necessity is the mother of invention, its father is ideas. Freeworlding ideas, expressed through a multiplicity of global internet forums and growth in the practice of these ideas in our communities, have encouraged a cultural change towards valuing free-sharing, rather than stigmatising it. It’s no longer just a case of, “the rich giving to the poor wee souls” as fostered by religious ideology. It’s not charity, but rather an economic model in which everyone can participate both as givers and takers, regardless of personal monetarist wealth. Engaging in it, we become aware that our personal wealth is greater than money, and exists in things such as our health, the time we can share with others and our knowledge and skills acquired beyond schools and workplaces, as much as within them. When we exchange on this basis, it’s relaxing, stress-free (because there’s no monetarist bargaining or waiting 3 weeks until you get a paycheque) and allows us to be creative and our authentic selves. So we shift from being priced, to being valued. To feel valued in an emotional sense is probably the greatest wealth any human being can enjoy.

Ten years on, I now don’t know anyone who doesn’t value freesharing. Getting something for free is no longer just the preserve of the poor. It’s nice to receive a gift; it’s nice to give a gift. It always was. But now, this gift-sharing has expanded beyond friends/family networks. Isn’t it wonderful to receive a gift from a stranger? And since you can’t return the favour to that individual, then pass it to another stranger?

If you’re stuck in the moneychasing of a fulltime job and paying bills and that’s where all your attention and energy goes, then you’re unlikely to hear about the plethora of freeworld projects in your community. And I’m not talking about the Trussell Trust’s foodbanks where a red ticket signed by a local government official became just another voucher in place of money; yet another Victorian outlook of ‘deserving vs non-deserving poor’. Once you participate in just one freeworld project, you get to know about the rest! Freesharing projects tend to be less interested in talking about doing, as they are in just doing.

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While the traditional monetarist economy is ongoing, the black market and open economy runs alongside it. Legislators busy themselves trying to close down black markets, so the open economy is usually left to thrive. There are some exceptions with some US states making it illegal to give a homeless person free food or clothes, but these instances have provoked outrage and it’s difficult to argue against the kindness of giving, even in a court of law. So by and large, the open economy has been left alone to thrive, which is perhaps another reason why community freeworld projects don’t shout too loud about their achievements… so they can keep going without interference.

The capitalist paradigm has contained a persistent tension between free trade versus government regulation (legislation/agreements/tariffs/taxes). So while monetarist exchange became normalised, so too did the common belief that if something wasn’t government-sanctioned, then it wouldn’t last long. This is best expressed by, “It’s a great idea, but I doubt the government/corporations will allow it!”

This is a false belief, because the combination of necessity and culture is more powerful than government in creating new economic and social behaviours, as well as normalising them. That’s also why changing governments never really changes anything fundamentally, and you may as well just be changing socks.

A test of the extent to which belief or behaviour has become normalised is, “Does it happen, habitually, without needing to be organised, planned or discussed?” Freesharing happens in this way in the UK city in which I live, where people place unwanted things outside their homes, or on windowsills, with a note saying, “please take, for free”. This didn’t happen until recycling became fashionable and commonplace. So you can see how one idea of re-using stuff (eg, the council/charity will collect it) leads to another idea (eg, why wait for the council/charity to collect it when it will be uplifted directly from people in the community without the need for third-party distribution).

Yes, the Open Economy is a great idea, but it’s more than that. It’s a verb. Right now, it’s a largely unchallenged verb. No white army in the streets insisting you can’t share free stuff. No commissars required to uphold or persuade you to a new ideology. No requirement for 5-or-50-year-plans. It’s here, people thrive on it, and if it’s to grow naturally, it will do so in sometimes unexpected and unpredictable ways. So if the open economy grew to become the primary economy of a region, it’s difficult to say exactly what it would LOOK like and who’d do what… In any case, that’s less important than what it FEELS like. Does it feel free? Are people accessing the resources they need? Is society more relaxed and creative? Does it cause social problems like splitting up families? Are we stagnating or thriving? Any freeworld project that isn’t used by the community just disappears and is replaced by different ones. The ones that are used last as long as is necessary. A community’s needs changes over time, as the population changes. And so the open economy is change-responsive in a way that the capitalist economy is not, because capitalist economies are now run by large institutions, rather than communities themselves.

If you’re anything like me – and I reckon you are – in the sense of being able to grow and learn more through experience rather than argument/persuasion, then I ask you to participate in a local community open free sharing of goods and services, either as a taker, giver or both, and then assess the Open Economy and its potential, not just as an idea, but as a practice.

This won’t require you to not get the job, the car and save for a rainy day. And you already know how stressful it is to keep up with that game and how it never alleviates your fundamental sense of insecurity, but rather, perpetuates it. But you don’t have to let go of any of that to participate in the open economy which I guarantee you is far less stressful and more fulfilling.

I write this in the knowledge that you can lead a horse to water, but it may not drink it. Well, maybe the horse just isn’t thirsty, at that time. But all horses and people need water every day. So I don’t reckon on everyone rushing out to discover their local open economy, particularly if they’ve no friends or family encouraging that. That’s why this Freeworld community online was established – so that no matter where you live, we’ll help you connect with like-minded others in your local area, and you can have fun with friends while you enjoy the open economy in its infancy. Babies are beautiful – and this one’s healthy and walking.