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Reply To: Exchanging thoughts on Patrick Solomon’s upcoming film: What is Money?””



We definitely mythologize money, as if it has some sort o value independent of human constructs.

I am intrigued with the concept of gift economies.

In 2012, I was invited, along with JCF President Robert Walter, to deliver presentations at the Voyage of Aloha conference in Hawaii. We had shipped over hundreds of dollars worth of Campbell titles (not cheap to send) to make available for attendees to purchase – but we sold only a couple, and did not relish the thought of packing the books up and paying to ship them all back to the mainland.

Then we heard a presentation on the final morning on gift economies. One example was a local chain of donut shops on the islands that, in indigenous neighborhoods, charged whatever people could afford! Some financially challenged customers paid only a few cents for donuts, ice cream, or coffee, while others actually paid more than the retail value – and the company was actually making a profit!

That triggered a sudden inspiration; I texted Bob, who was seated across the hall, and learned he had the same thought at the very same moment. I then announced to the crowd just before the morning break that JCF, as a result of that presentation, had decided to embrace the gift economy for the last hours of this conference – so all the books in our booth in the lobby were now available for whatever anyone wanted to pay – a function of the value they placed on the books, coupled with what they could or could not afford. We had the retail prices listed – but if someone could only afford to pay $10 instead of $25 for the hardbound revised edition of the Hero With A Thousand Faces – or $1, or zero dollars – that was alright, because we trusted that some who could afford to pay more than the listed retail price would be happy to do so.

The results were astounding. It took only fifteen minutes to completely clear our inventory! Several attendees paid a bit less than retail for a couple of books, and a handful did take a book for free (though none took more than one for free, and they were careful about choosing the title – didn’t want to abuse the opportunity), but many paid full retail plus a dollar or two more, and a few paid double! We not only broke even, but also didn’t have to ship books back to California.

Ironically most people paid full price or more (the same full price that we hadn’t been able to sell any books at the previous two days: the opportunity of helping those less fortunate proved the difference). I wish we had implemented that experiment at the beginning of the conference, though we might have needed to bring more books.

Definitely a learning experience that prompted me to re-think the value we place on money. There are several works that explore this concept, but one that might particularly appeal to Campbellophiles is Lewis Hyde’s The Gift: How the Creative Spirit Transforms the World.

(Hyde is the author of one of my favorite post-Campbell works, entitled Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth and Art )