After the reactions from the private property entry last week, I decided going to draw out one of the hybrid discussions here. Andrew brought up gift economy as an alternative to versions of private and state-owned property paradigms.

There certainly are gift economies. Whether those exchanged goods/services are pure gifts depends on a number of things. For example, by gift economy do we simply mean ‘polite barter economy’? What gives me the right to give something away in the first place – doesn’t that assume private property? And when I give something away, am I expecting something in return? After all, if the premise of my gift is that I expect future gifts from you, this is really just a system of trade with built in assumptions about private property.

My first point is that gifts don’t exist without some broader, underlying notion of what ownership is. How can something be perceived as a gift at all if there is no sense of ownership? My second point is that gift economies cannot be imposed. By virtue of their being gifts, they cannot be imposed. So any gift economy is going to have to be purely voluntary before it could conceivably exchange the “pure gifts”. Even when a gift economy exists, and transcends conventional ownership rights, it has to exist within a broader structure, a default structure which allows individuals the opportunity to give gifts or not to give them.

One of the important points of Nozick’s Anarchy, State and Utopia is what happens to the individualist anarchist who does not want to be a part of any society. Murray Rothbard, who is an individualist anarcho-capitalist, said that the minimal state-like entities could under no circumstance coerce the individual to join up with their regime. Nozick said that in subtle ways the regimes could entice the individualist (whatever his or her sympathies) to join, and this wouldn’t count as forceful coercion. At any rate, the individualist could have many reasons for not wanting to join. He or she doesn’t have to be a greedy capitalist jerk because they want to be politically hermetic. But this poses problems for a pure gift economy that requires institutions of private property to be non-existent, since a non-consensual gift economy is a self-defeating concept.