Capitalism, Gift Economy, and Prices That Are Too Damn High


I no longer have any clue what capitalism means. And it seems that some people desperately need to talk about it. And when they talk about it, it seems that the thing they need to say is “capitalism is bad”. Then they try to say “why” and that stuff seriously confuses me. By their standards I guess I am just too stupid to understand obvious truths and should just go along with what they say.

My feeble understanding of capitalism is that I can work super hard for a year, save up all my money and then live without working for several years. That’s probably not what capitalism really is, but …. I guess for the most part I don’t give a shit.

And when people try to tell me that capitalism is bad, I kinda get the impression that what they are really saying is that other people have stuff that they want. And rather than work to get that stuff, they want to simply have that stuff without all that work. I’m not sure why I get this impression. Probably that stupid thing again.

Photo courtesy of MorgueFile

Photo courtesy of MorgueFile

Then there is the “gift economy.” The idea is that there is a society where the goal is to have the least stuff. The people with the most stuff are icky. The people with the least stuff are cool. And the people that generate the most stuff and give away the most stuff are the very coolest. A dozen times, very passionate people have told me this and then point to what I am doing and say that I need to give it away in a different way. Apparently, the way I am already giving stuff away is not the right way (usually something about copyright). And when I talk about how a farmer could make more money with permaculture rather than using herbicides, I’m told that that is also wrong (my impression is that they think the farmer should give food away).

Photo Courtesy of morgueFile

Photo Courtesy of morgueFile

I do have this to say about “the gift economy“: I think it is a very real thing. I’ve given a lot of stuff away for free. It has been a lot of work and even a lot of expense. But there have been hundreds of people that have given me things that I never would have received if I had not started by giving things away. Plus, there is heaps of stuff all over the internet that’s there because people gave it away for free. So I do think that while it might not be “the” gift economy that some folks talk about, we do have “a” gift economy that is seriously cool.

I have three points to wrap up on gift economy:

1) I get the impression that the folks that are telling me about “the” gift economy want gifts. But I’m not seeing where these folks are giving much away. One time I did find out that they were giving away some YouTube videos, but they didn’t seem very good (and they had something like ten views each).

2) I’ve given a lot of stuff away, and I think 98% of the support for my kickstarters is BECAUSE OF all the stuff I’ve given away in the past. The people that come to to volunteer, it is 100% because of the stuff I have given away. For example, this video I gave away for free and it has nearly 1,000,000 views so far!!

The people that help out at, or for other parts of the empire, they do it because of this…. I think a person could label it all as “gift economy”. And I didn’t plan on it, but this does seem to be working out the way the gift economy is designed to work out. It isn’t replacing capitalism, but happily intertwined within capitalism. Spiffy!

3) If you tell somebody they have to give something away, it stops becoming a gift. If you take something away from somebody, that is not “gift economy”, that is theft. If you demand that somebody create things and give it away, that’s not “gift economy”, that’s slavery.

And finally, I hear a lot of people say, “That is unreasonably expensive”. I think if a person tries to sell a thing and the price is “too high” then few people (or nobody) will buy it. And that person might choose to keep the price high – which is their right as the content owner. I have told some people that I thought the price they were asking for something was too high and then was shocked when a huge number of people paid the “too high” price. Wow.

Selling stuff is always a gamble. Is it better to price it high, or price it low? Might it be smarter to give it away? Might it be smarter to put a freakishly high price on something?

I set the price for a single deck of cards at $20 and was told “nobody would ever pay that much for a deck of cards.” 357 people did. And since then, about a hundred people paid $21.95.

And, finally, I get the impression that the person with “this is unreasonably expensive” on their lips is actually saying “I will buy it for a much lower price”.

All of these things really boil down to:

A) respect the person that created stuff.

B) do not attempt to shame a creator (or anybody) into …. anything

C) if you want something to be free/cheap, then maybe you should create something similar and “be the change you wish to see”.

Discuss this more in a thread dedicated to this blog


See the entire Paul Wheaton archive.

paul-wheaton-bioPaul Wheaton is the tyrannical dictator of, the largest permaculture forum on the web. As a certified master gardener and permaculture designer, he’s built an empire around what he calls, ‘infecting brains with permaculture’. His forums are full of rich information, and there are a number of great free resources, guides, and articles that can be found on his sister site, as well.

Most recently, he has worked with rocket mass heater experts Ernie and Erica in developing a DVD set on making your own rocket mass heater, and has produced another video series on permaculture gardening, which detail how to use hugelkultur, swales, and natural ponds to capture and utilize water without irrigation. His recent work with natural buildings based on Mike Oehler’s designs have resulted in the creation of the Wofati, a semi underground natural home design.

Crowned the Duke of Permaculture by Geoff Lawton and the Bad Boy of Permaculture by the Occupy Monsanto movement, Paul continues to educate and inspire at his property – dubbed Wheaton Labs – in western Montana, where he conducts experiments in permaculture and natural building, hosts workshops, and entertains the curious passerby. More information on stays at the property can be found here.