The gift and the market: alternative economic relations in the Comox Valley local exchange trading system




Blacklock, Brayden

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The Comox Valley Local Exchange Trading System (LETSystem) was a complementary community monetary system active in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island during the 1980s and 1990s. Drawing on archival sources and ethnographic interviews, I argue that the LETSystem combined the individualized economic rationality of liberalism with the communalism and social embeddedness typically associated with non-monetary gift exchange. As a complementary system of money, the LETSystem was an economic alternative that did not seek to replace conventional money, but instead sought to carve out a distinctive space that was separate but still compatible. In so doing, it was exemplary of illiberal money in the sense that it conforms with key liberal principles such as market exchange, individualism, and the division of labour, while also consciously formulating a critique of liberal money in its rejection of the profit-generating capacity of money as well as the scarcity and competition that it can elicit. Illiberal money produces a specific morality where users encouraged one another to act according to an individually defined vision of responsible behaviour where one was expected to first contribute something before spending money. This act led to the perception of a greater degree of interpersonal connection than is typical of liberal markets while still allowing for the pursuit of individual gains, and therefore problematized the dichotomy between the gift and the market.



Economic Anthropology, Money, Exchange, Gift, Liberalism