Exchange

Exchange enables freedom because it allows me to negotiate with people and get things from them without entering a long-term relationship. I don’t have to become dependent on the person who owns something that I want, but I can offer a trade. In an exchange relationship, beginning and end are clearly defined.

The freedom to give exists only in societies which offer a choice between giving and exchanging. Reports of „gift-giving societies” tend to talk a lot about the obligation to give something (sometimes associated with strong moral pressure), but this seems to leave little room for free choice. In order to maintain the freedom that makes exchange and gift-giving possible, it is important to distinguish clearly between exchanges and gift-giving and the „rules” that apply in each domain.

If I choose to exchange, I can and should negotiate the best conditions for myself. I can demand that they have to be fulfilled, if necessary even with legal means, ergo with state coercion. If I do not like the product or service or if the agreed time was not met, I can demand repair or compensation. On the other hand, I can only ask for a gift, not demand it, especially not at a certain time or in a particular quality. In the context of giving, including volunteer work, criticism must therefore be handled with extreme caution.

During the act of exchange, I have to fulfill my part of the agreement on time, otherwise I can be forced to do so. Only when the contract is fulfilled, I am free again, without any further debts. In order to complete an act of gift-giving, it is sufficient to say „thank you,” which is a signal that the gift (as a gift) has been (well) recieved. If I fail to do that, or if I do not accept a gift, this may have negative effects on the relationship – I might not receive any further gifts, for instance – but nothing harmful will happen to me.

There are often manifestations of „exchanges” in the area of friendships or personal relationships that are in fact mutual gifts—for example to help someone moving into a new flat in exchange for a dinner invitation. But in such cases of „exchange” equivalency hardly matters, nor is it possible to criticize and demand punctual fulfillment or even to sue, as would be possible in an act of formal exchange.

Without gifts, at least „word gifts” or a smile, there are no good relationships. Nevertheless, when giving, I am free to decide in each situation anew, whether I want to give or not. On the other hand, the freedom of exchange appears in the decision with whom, what, and under what conditions I want to trade. However, most people do not yet have that freedom to exchange because they are forced to trade their labor for groceries. Only a guaranteed basic income would give all people the opportunity to take full advantage of the freedom offered by the act of exchange.

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