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In praise of Freecycle and Buy Nothing groups

Summary:
One can see the waved - and clenched - fists, hear the whoops of joy, as the hippies and communalists get one over on us capitalists and free marketeers:There are 7,000 Buy Nothing groups with more than 5 million members worldwide. But their appeal goes beyond the chance to swap everything from nettles to power toolsSee? People freeing themselves from the confines of hyperconsumerism!…but what distinguishes the Buy Nothing project from Freecycle, Freegle, Olio and their ilk is that the emphasis is less on stuff, per se, and more on community. In what Buy Nothing describes as its “hyperlocal gift economies”, users are encouraged to let items “simmer” rather than giving them away to the first person who asks, perhaps suggesting they share a joke or provide a story explaining why they would

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One can see the waved - and clenched - fists, hear the whoops of joy, as the hippies and communalists get one over on us capitalists and free marketeers:

There are 7,000 Buy Nothing groups with more than 5 million members worldwide. But their appeal goes beyond the chance to swap everything from nettles to power tools

See? People freeing themselves from the confines of hyperconsumerism!

…but what distinguishes the Buy Nothing project from Freecycle, Freegle, Olio and their ilk is that the emphasis is less on stuff, per se, and more on community. In what Buy Nothing describes as its “hyperlocal gift economies”, users are encouraged to let items “simmer” rather than giving them away to the first person who asks, perhaps suggesting they share a joke or provide a story explaining why they would like the item.

This is Polanyi’s web of mutual community rather than the impersonal, monetised, transaction with a stranger.

However, it does need to be pointed out that this is entirely part of the plan, our plan.

Our aim in having an economy, a civilisation even, is in enabling folk to be as rich as they can be. As liberals we define that richness as being according to their own lights. Worth, value, these are always in the weighing of the consumer, no one else.

Some folk do value that recovery of something seemingly of no use to others. Some do value that communal feeling, that not transacting with someone a continent away. At which point, good for them.

We value global markets, capitalism even, simply because they are useful ways of producing that value that many do, umm, value. They are not reifications of some ideal, they’re simply useful tools. If value is created by not using those tools well, tant pis and so what? It’s the value creation which is the goal and who, really, cares how it is reached?

Or, more simply, by their own standards and evaluations people are being made richer through voluntary transactions. Why would we be against that?

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Tim Worstall
Tim Worstall is a British-born writer and Senior Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute. Worstall is a regular contributor to Forbes and the Register. He has also written for the Guardian, the New York Times, PandoDaily, the Daily Telegraph blogs, the Times, and The Wall Street Journal. In 2010 his blog was listed as one of the top 100 UK political blogs by Total Politics.

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