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Buy Your Friend A Beer

Some of these ideas around alternative economics can seem overwhelming, but here's one most people can get their head around. You're at a bar, and someone buys you a beer. Lucky you! You've just entered a gift economy.

The interesting thing about gift economies is implied trust. If someone buys you a beer, there are usually some unspoken strings attached. Either you are expected to reciprocate and buy the person a beer later that night or later in the week. Or there are unspoken expectations that you will repay the gift in other ways like a ride to the airport, helping the giver move into a new apartment, or less tangible things like personal attention or support. The exchange is implicit.

If the exchange isn't completed, meaning in our example you do not buy your friend a beer later that night, or do not return the phone call when your friend asks for a ride to the airport, there are consequences. You may feel guilty, you may gain a reputation as a flake amongst your friends, and worse yet, your friend may never buy you a beer again.

In this way, rather than "getting something for free," gift economies encourage and strengthen trust between those involved.


The results of 'gifting' often depend on the relationship between the two people prior to the exchange. Buying a beer is a good example. Buying a beer for a stranger or new friend is a much different act than buying a beer for a close friend or family. Relationships and connections (trust) are often a variable before the exchange takes place and therefore have much different results. This post reminds me to buy my friends beer more often.

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