Self-Interest: The Economic Drive?

Self-Interest: The Economic Drive?

Has bartering every really existed as a true economic system outside the debit-credit sort of system?  If so, what did it look like?  These are important questions to ask given the rise in popularity of ‘bartering’ as a new means of economic transaction (even a magazine like Real Simple has tips on how to barter).

The anthropologist David Graeber released a book last year related to debt and its five thousand years of history, and the folks over at Two Friars and a Fool have been working their way through the book.  In the most recent post, the issue of bartering and its relationship to global economics throughout history was addressed.  The author details how bartering was created not as a means of economic transaction, at least not on a large scale, but rather as a “thought experiment by economists trying to explain their discipline.”  In addition, the author notes how bartering throughout history has traditionally been undertaken as a self-interested act, where each side, in an effort to procure what they needed to serve, was looking out solely for themselves.

I’m thinking about this in relationship to the rise of the “sharing economy,” as well, and its insistence upon peer-to-peer engagement.  Many folks, including myself, have been lured by the possibility to be help in such things like a bartering, or sharing, economy.  However, what bolsters my hopefulness is the desire that these relationships are not about self-interest–which I see as the worst, and yet only, way capitalism works.

So, what do you think?  Can a bartering or sharing economy survive without human self-interest being its main motivator?  Or is self-interest simply the power that propels every functional economic system?


[If you interested in David Graeber’s book, here’s a link to the publisher.]