Wednesday, 18 February 2009


Before the economic collapse of the world as we knew it, there had been a little early freakshow interest and media coverage on the growing Freegan movement in the UK. Freegans are urban foragers who stalk the overflowing bins of supermarkets searching for tasty food just past its sell-by date.

Though they share some values, Freegans are not to be confused with Urban Foragers, who hunt through parks, gardens and roadsides for edible plants and berries to make a meal.

Sky Full of Bacon 07: Eat This City from Michael Gebert on Vimeo.

Once held up as radical examples of alternative lifestyles, they are now part of a growing movement of people seeking separation from the mainstream capitalist market economy. They join a growing group of people who are living a lifestyle based not on buy buy sell sell, but on barter and trade, on skill share, and on a currency of goodwill.

Called a Shareconomy, a Goodwill Economy, a Moneyless Economy, or Freeconomy, these people are forging a new way of living more communally or “off the grid”.

A Goodwill Economy can work in a number of ways. The simplest is through basic barter and exchange – I need a cake and I have a pair of shoes, you need some shoes and have a cake. We swap. We are happy. Hooray.

This is a long proven model that works in localized and engaged communities worldwide. In co-operatives and community farms food is often exchanged for physical labor. Between groups of friends clothing is pooled and exchanged to update wardrobes. What limits this as a more formal economic model is the direct relationship between the two parties – if our needs don’t align, then it doesn’t work.

As societies become larger and more complex, the model of barter and exchange limits expansion and growth. The introduction of a standard measurement or currency allows for greater scope for exchange of goods and services. Once we measured the worth of goods and services in gold weight – for example, a pair of shoes is worth so many grams in gold. Over time, this has evolved into our modern system of currency. Though modern paper money and coinage is, in itself, practically worthless, it is given value through the belief of that which is represents. So a five dollar bill is merely the idea of something given the value of five dollars.

What goodwill economists are experimenting with is changing the ideology of the currency. Instead of paying for a cake with dollars and cents, or trading it for a pair of shoes, the cake becomes worth a value of goodwill. This goodwill can be traded for other goods and services, or stored and accumulated for later use.

This still sounds like money right? Well it is, kind of. It performs the function of currency, but also has a collective effect of working to build social capital.

Robert Putnum, expert in social capital and author of Bowling Alone, writes about how more socially engaged communities perform acts of kindness and community action with a trusting belief that these gifts of goodwill will be returned at some undefined point in the future. Not valued in monetary terms, the act of giving time to community pursuits and taking part in communal activities are critical ways to sustain a more healthy and engaged community.

In a goodwill or share economy, these acts of kindness and generosity generate status for the individual, and contribute to a more efficient community. In a goodwill economy, wealth is redefined through active participation in your community, being rich means accumulating goodwill status through your engagement with others. These are communities defined by trust, participation status and personal experience.

Wikipedia works on the principles of a shareconomy rewarding the community as a whole for the input of individuals. Web based recommendation and rating models, as popularized by Amazon or Ebay, reward engaged users with higher status and build connection and trust among the community.

Goodwill economy websites have potential to combine similar status models with online banking hybrids to track personal progress. People are rewarded with greater opportunity the more they meaningfully participate, to create insular economies of highly engaged individuals on a broad and complex global scale.


The hub for international Freeconomists is – you go to the site to give and get given – build up goodwill, engage with a global community of like minded individuals, and feel good about spending up big! is a site that uses community status to generate an economy of sleepovers and short stay accommodation. Couchsurfing founder Joe Edelman has recently launched his new venture, a mobile tool designed to mobilize crowds with individual missions and messages. Joe has aims of using Groundcrew to create a new goodwill economy of mobile experiences generated by a community of engaged individuals. is a highly anticipated new site from the Portable Content crew that acts as
“an online fashion portal and brand that takes designers, stores and consumers online. As an entry level it allows style and eco-conscious people to upload their clothes and swap them with other people from around the world.”
Even the Freegans, early radical activists against over consumption and economic excess, are now touching a mainstream audience more broadly concerned with living a socially engaged and sustainable lifestyle.

Who would have thought that digging around in bins would be a precursor to a new age of social engagement and enlightenment!

No comments:

Post a Comment