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The Economy of The Alley: Harbinger of Enlightenment or Certain Doom? [Updated]

by poemless Wed Sep 26th, 2007 at 04:41:55 AM EST

Update

"You get what you pay for."   "There is no such thing as a free lunch."

Philosophically these little gems of wisdom may have some merit.  Economically, I think they may be Capitalist propaganda.  Little mind worms that subtly alter our expectations of one another.  Then there is really blatant Capitalist propaganda, like saying spending our tax dollars at Wal-Mart will defeat the terrorists.

My President George W. Bush told me that the best thing I could do to defeat the terrorists was to go spend $300 on something.  So he dipped into the money I gave him for roads and sent me $300.  I believe I spent it on student loans.  Ha!  I could hear the Al Qaeda plant in the next apartment over cry out in agony as I slowly, systematically, wrote the check.  "Uncle!"  How do I know he was an Al Qaeda plant?  I witnessed his unusual behavior, AT&T gave the gov't. his phone records, he let someone else hold his carryon at the airport, there was a white powdery substance in the box of baking soda in his fridge and he voted for John Kerry.  Pretty obvious...

What if I had not spent the 300?  What if NO ONE had?  This is very hypothetical, since the first thing any thinking person would do with 300 free dollars from the President to fight the evildoers is buy 300 bags of pretzels from Wal-Mart and send them to George as a token of your appreciation.  But let's pretend Wal-Mart doesn't exist.

Much to chew on about society and economics — diary rescue by Migeru


I pretend Wal-Mart does not exist.  I only see them when I'm visiting my family is the boonies.  (Boonies being anywhere that requires going to Wal-Mart for bananas or shoes.)  So it is easy to pretend they don't exist.  It's why I can't get worked up about it.  Because where I live is so boutiqued-out to the max that getting basic things like bananas or shoes is kinda a pain in the ass.  Or requires a credit card.  Or 300 dollars from George.  I'll kick the terrists in the balls with my fabulous new pumps...   And this is basically the state of America: those who can only afford to shop at Wal-Mart and have only a Wal-Mart to shop at, or those who can afford boutique shoes and bananas and have only boutiques to shop at.   But there are a number of people who can actually only afford to shop at Wal-Mart but refuse to live where they'd be forced to do that, or the less lucky but more disciplined who have to live near one but refuse to patronize it.  What are they doing?  How do they get stuff?

[editor's note, by Migeru] One paragraph moved below the fold for the Front Page.

One way they do this is They don't pay for it.  They don't steal.  They just get stuff for free.  Any number of ways.  Most of which involve an alley.  I used to think this was the stuff of college.  Like the time some guy left stacks and stacks of hundreds of vinyl records -all good stuff: Beatles, Stones, Joplin, Pink Floyd...- behind our building.  It was so great, it was kind of scary.  A house meeting was called to discuss the karmic implications of taking all of them.  Then we did.  The 90's were also when the fad of "dumpster diving" came to the attention of mainstream media.  Kids jumping in dumpsters to stick it to the man.  I don't think they were really doing it for shoes and bananas, like, say, the homeless.  They were doing it because society said it was taboo.  And because they were the type of people who don't care if they small bad.  And because they were stoned.  (I am here referring to a very specific craze, and not the broader concept of just anyone looking in dumpster for stuff.)

Now I'm grown up and ... the alley is still an acceptable place to get stuff.  Not bananas.  For that I have to go to the store.  Fortunately I don't have to go to a store that also sells shoes.  Or live at the zoo.  But shoes.  A friend brought me 2 pair of brand new, unworn New Balance she found in the alley.  A shame, because I only run when being chased by something.  And to be honest, alley-spawned running shoes are a little creepy.  

But all over the place, one person's trash is becoming another's treasure.  Here are some things that have shown up on my radar in the past few years:

Freecycle

The Freecycle NetworkTM is made up of 4,109 groups with 3,864,000 members across the globe. It's a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (& getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It's all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills. Each local group is moderated by a local volunteer (them's good people). Membership is free.

Logan Square Book Exchange

The exchange is the creation of Ryan Duggan, a Logan Square resident and graphic designer who's a year out of Columbia College. "I kind of got the idea in my sleep," he says. "One day I just woke up and thought, if I took one of those boxes and repainted it, I could fit a lot of books in there. Everyone has books worth reading that they're not going to reread." A free book exchange might get those books into the hands of people who would read them, Duggan thought. As the box says, "You give, you take, everyone reads!"

Gleaning

Soft French accents and yellow subtitles. Another late night movie on the TV. But no, it wasn't one of `those' movies. This was the classic "The Gleaners and I". Gleaning refers to the collecting of items discarded by others. This documentary looks at the debris created by modern society and how what most might consider waste, is in reality of value to someone. Food left behind in fields after a harvest, or following street markets, through to household goods left on the street destined for landfill. Gleaners, Scavengers, Dumpster Divers: the human vultures, the carrion of our cities. And like their brethren of the savannah, what might seem like ugly, dirty work is actually an essential service. Cleaning up the places where we live. And that stuff sure does have value!

Freegans

Freeganism was born out of environmental justice and anti-globalization movements dating to the 1980s. The concept was inspired in part by groups like "Food Not Bombs," an international organization that feeds the homeless with surplus food that's often donated by businesses.

Freegans are often college-educated people from middle-class families.

Adam Weissman, whose New York group Freegan.info has been around for about four years, lives with his father, a pediatrician, and mother, a teacher. The 29-year-old is unemployed by choice, taking care of his elderly grandparents daily and working odd jobs when he needs to. The rest of his time is spent furthering the freegan cause, he said, which is "about opting out of capitalism in any way that we can."

Freegans troll curbsides for discarded clothes and ratty or broken furniture, which they repair to furnish their homes. They trade goods at flea markets. Some live as squatters in abandoned buildings, or in low-rent apartments on the edges of the city, or with family and friends.

The Church of Stop Shopping

Statement of Belief :: Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Gospel Choir believe that Consumerism is overwhelming our lives. The corporations want us to have experiences only through their products. Our neighborhoods, "commons" places like stoops and parks and streets and libraries, are disappearing into the corporatized world of big boxes and chain stores. But if we "back away from the product" - even a little bit, well then we Put The Odd Back In God! The supermodels fly away and we're left with our original sensuality. So we are singing and preaching for local economies and real - not mediated through products -- experience. We like independent shops where you know the person behind the counter or at least - you like them enough to share a story.We ask that local activists who are defending themselves against supermalls, nuke plants, gentrification -- call us and we'll come and put on our "Fabulous Worship!" Remember children... Love is a Gift Economy! -- The Rev

The Magic Dumpsters

I don't have a link, but this was mentioned years ago in an article in the Chicago Reader and refers to the dumpsters located behind one shopping mall in an nice neighborhood where local residents go to for free stuff from Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel and other mall-class stuff.  

My Recent Moving Experience

We had lots of things we did not want when I was packing to move.  We discussed the Salvation Army and Freecycle.  Then we chided ourselves for not having our act together enough to do either of those things in time.  So we threw everything away.  I felt terrible, so wasteful.  But poof!, moments after we took things out to the dumpster (alley etiquette dictates that you don't ever put anything not trash in the dumpster but rather on or near it) they were gone!  So I can only assume they're being reused.  Or there is a black hole in the alley.  

Yard Sale

There was recently a block-wide yard sale in my neighborhood.  Everything they couldn't sell was put in the alleys with a big sign, "Free!  Please Take!"

~~~~~

I should emphasize that I am talking about a phenomenon in which people who can afford to go buy running shoes get them from the alley instead.  So we're not talking about not exchanging assets that were never in the system to begin with.  We're talking about people whose jobs are good enough that the stuff their neighbors throw out is often desirable.  Maybe we are also talking about the destitute.  But let's say, the whole getting stuff from the alley transcends, in fact, subverts the institution of social class.  I'm talking about people willfully doing what society tells them is shameful.  Which is the news here.  The desperate have been scavenging since the beginning of time.

I'm really excited about this underground trading post phenomenon.  It's like Communism, only people are free to opt into or out of it, on a whim.  It does not discriminate according to income or wealth.  It makes the Earth more inhabitable.  We live in an extremely wasteful society, and the Earth is suffocating under the weight of our stuff.  So reusing things, it's good.  There is also an enlightened mindset that accompanies this phenomenon in which there is no animosity nor expectations between the leavers and the getters.  The only thing the leaver wants in return is to get rid of their stuff and the only thing the getter wants is stuff.  No money changes hands.  No gifts are exchanged.  No tit for tat.  Sometimes there is bitterness toward the people who get to it first, but since things in the alley are not things you have made any effort to get, nothing is lost if you don't get it.  The whole American attitude of "If you want a TV set go get a job and pay for one like I did" is rejected.  That is a petty and spiteful and insecure attitude, so it should benefit society when people drop it.  The stigma disappears (I think this is because the people getting stuff know they could pay for it if they needed it, so they don't feel inadequate, just lucky.)  Also, the stuff is free.  There is no buyer's remorse.  Or bureaucracy.  Or budgeting.  Or any of the sleazy feeling of asking for money.  I have friends who suggest "sell it" all the time.  One even suggested I charge Jerome to stay in my spare bedroom during YKC.  LOL.  I was like, "Are you going to charge me when I come to NY and stay at your place?!"  Who does that?  Capitalists.  I don't really care about this stuff.  I am a kind of Communist.  Not in the "no hot water between 9 and 5" way, but in the way that I am not compelled to make a profit off water, let alone be under the impression I have the right to do so.

I have some questions for you.  

1.  Is this kind of behavior truly damaging to our economy?

Is there a nugget of truth to the assertion that if people stop buying things then the wheels grind to a halt and we all end up with food rations and foreclosures?  In order not to appear disingenuous, I should make it clear that I think our economy is an illusion and yet truly inhumane.  So I think it should go.  But what are the actual implications of opting out of it before it is replaced with another, better, more universal, less DIY system?  How do taxes and public investment play into it?  Seems like they are the first to suffer.  The rich don't care if I get running shoes from the alley.  They don't care if I get bananas from the alley.  They will still be rich.  Probably precisely because a certain number of people get stuff from the alley.  An intolerable number of whom have no other choice.  But the public schools.  Art gets cut when the economy falters.  I can't have that on my conscious.  If everyone began reusing, sharing, giving away...  not shopping.  What happens?

2.  Can this type of anti-economy or gift-economy be sustained, developed, and even attain mainstream acceptance?

Because of supply and demand and obsolescence, I don't foresee this replacing any official economic system.  But does it have the potential to have an impact on it in such a way that the official economic system is forced to adapt to the fact?  What would that entail?

And, perhaps the most important question:  

3.  Is this a sign that we are becoming more progressive (environmentally responsible, consumerally responsible - I know that's not a word-, less judgmental, nicer) ... or that we are becoming more desperate ("just in case" randomly gathering found resources, subconsciously preparing for apocalyptic economic crash which forces us all into scavenging, throwing all dignity out the window)?

This movement simultaneously fills me with hope and fear.

~~~~~

Some things I have gotten from the alley:  TV stand table thing.  Wine rack.  Office chair.  Boxes for moving.  Running shoes.  Weird little wreath made of many many silk roses.  

Tip:  I never finish a meal, so I always have leftovers.  I have them wrapped and leave them in a well-lighted area where someone looking for food can easily find this.

So.  Do you know of or are you involved in organizations, initiatives, etc. that promote the free exchange of goods or a scavenger economy that I have not mentioned?  Do share.

Display:
Hi everyone in the Recent Comments.  I have a new diary up.  Stop fiddling around in the OT and come read it.

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.
by poemless on Thu Sep 20th, 2007 at 02:32:29 PM EST
You don't beat around the bush, do you?

This is excellent stuff, thanks. Now I have to ruminate some...

Oye, vatos, dees English sink todos mi ships, chinga sus madres, so escuche: el fleet es ahora refloated, OK? — The War Nerd

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Sep 20th, 2007 at 03:02:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Not many people on the OT and neither are they here...
Great diary tho, but like Migeru, I need to chew over it before I can give any remotely useful/thought through comment. I have a bowl of (non dairy) ice cream to aid the process though.
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Thu Sep 20th, 2007 at 03:52:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And now I realise that was a thoughtless comment given the topic of the diary. argh
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Thu Sep 20th, 2007 at 03:55:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't get it.

I've also never seen a diary with comments only saying they'll be back to comment. LOL.  It that in your new job description?  "Must leave comment in every new diary even if you have no comment."  Or are you just overeager newbies...?  

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Thu Sep 20th, 2007 at 04:14:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Take these comments for stuff people left in the alley.

I'll come back and make a comment later. ;)

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Sep 20th, 2007 at 04:18:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It was a good diary and I wanted to say so, especially since it hasn't had many comments yet.  But I don't really have anything to say yet, since I am thinking it over.  It's a general rule of mine not to say anything unless I have something to say and clearly I should stick to it!!
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Thu Sep 20th, 2007 at 04:22:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You've already said so much!  But so little...  lol

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.
by poemless on Thu Sep 20th, 2007 at 05:07:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's not the first time I have left a comment acknowledging the quality of a diary and saying I'll be back later when I have an answer to the entirety of it. This one is long and meaty, and touches on a lot of issues I've been thinking about lately.

But hey, I can hide my comment if you think it's daft.

Oye, vatos, dees English sink todos mi ships, chinga sus madres, so escuche: el fleet es ahora refloated, OK? — The War Nerd

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Sep 20th, 2007 at 06:34:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]

I have some old comments that could I could recycle here - wait a minute while I think about them :-)

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Thu Sep 27th, 2007 at 07:11:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Fast answers..w ell youa lready know..

regarding the first question.. it ahs an answer and I woudl say it is yes.. it really amtters... Look a th the preface made by Krugman on the classic book of Keynnes.. youc an find it easily in google.. incredible well-written.a. nd addresses your point.: A lack of demand can indeed create an awful nigthmare.. specially when interests rates are low...(of course. this is int he capilastic system).

02.. Of course an absolute gift-economy can be sustained.. no doubt.. in small low -technology societies it requires easy acces to food.... With present technology we would ahve very easya cces to food and shelter ... for all human beings... that's all it is needed...

03 You know what I think.. the capitalsitic world is quite sustainable enviromental with some fixes.. but mostly fixes at the scale of Keynnes.. that mean really a technicality.. to introduce externalities into taxes and price.. that would be a good way to make it sustainalble.. and jsut think all the world living with the level of Portugal will be sustainable..a ccordign to Earth Watch and other Washington institutions.. (human foot print.. and all that stuff). It is not completely relaible.. but we woudl probably here without problems for 500 years... at least...with Portugal average use of resources.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Thu Sep 20th, 2007 at 04:52:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Here is the link: Introduction by Paul Krugman to The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, by John Maynard Keynes

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Fri Sep 21st, 2007 at 04:48:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A lot of what you suggest - stop consuming, recycle, use stuff people throw away - was common thinking in the counter-culture of the late '60s, early '70s. We weren't going to buy stuff, we would just use and transform "straight" society's cast-offs, and the consumer society would end. Did we change anything much? Er...

We didn't bring the consumer society to a halt, anyway. Today's consumer society is an order of magnitude greater than that of back then. People just have so much more stuff. So that may help find things more easily and run parallel circuits. But I'm afraid it's all relative. If you can find new shoes, it's because there are so many shoes. Because China is making them cheap by the boatload?

One thing is sure here in France, anything conceivably re-usable left on the pavement disappears quickly. There are a lot of sharp-eyed people about. This spontaneous recycling is a very good thing, imo.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Sep 20th, 2007 at 04:40:58 PM EST
I have loved jumping into dumpsters since my first dive, at seven or eight years old. A friend and I recovered a large quantity of very nice marbles and some other toys from a dumpster in front of a moving family's home. How wonderful! Great stuff for free!

At MIT there is the well known 'reuse' email list, where everything and anything free is posted. In particular, it is usually possible to obtain some very nice, over-sized ancient capacitors, and the like. There is nothing quite like the twinkle in the eye of a young first year student picking up their first totally useless, but oh so very awesome, piece of electronic junk, having difficulties comprehending how exactly such a desirable object could be offered for free! Eventually, of course, it is time to graduate, and the stuff is offered back to the community, for the next generation to enjoy. The list is supported by the university, and deactivated, non-sellable, property is often offered to the list. Once, when they were finally bringing down the legendary Building 20, the whole building was posted to reuse. Some frenzy ensued as geeks descended to take everything not nailed down, and quite a lot of stuff nailed down as well! (I think a few other buildings were posted at other times as well. I remember a bathroom door in a student dwelling that was one of those large walk-in bio-freezer thingie doors.)

For a while I lived in a warehouse in Boston where most of the furniture consisted of electronic junk, or other discarded items. Tables made of old mainframes or large capacitors supporting glass sheets. It was da bomb, to be sure.

I knew some people who were graduates of MIT that tried to live without buying anything, and with no income. There are a number of nooks and crannies where one might set up a place to sleep, a number of ways to get free food, and no lack of free furniture and clothes available, all discarded by others.

I met a few people in the catacombs in Paris who were living down there, at least temporarily. They had hammocks strung in some of the higher and drier places, and seemed to have quite a nice setup, with stuff I assume was obtained from the 'trash'. I didn't get a good sense of how they consider themselves and their place of residence, poor with the French as I am. Seems like the type of thing that would be done voluntarily, rather than out of necessity, though. Cool stuff, definitely.

Why would one not want great stuff free? Scavenging looses me no dignity!

by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Fri Sep 21st, 2007 at 03:43:13 AM EST
That reminds me of many days I spent with friends trawling through scrapyards, pulling fuses out of cars, and finding other random interesting items.  We didn't get much for free though.  I'd have loved to get free reign on a disused building!

However, years of student living and having no home to go to in vacations meant that my hoarding tendancies had to be stopped.

There's no real alley/exchange culture in the UK (that I've come across).  You see loads of fly tipping around the place and items in there (usually kids toys) that are still usable or fixable and could have been given to charity shops etc.  Any old clothes of mine end up in the clothing banks for the Salvation Army. Stuff goes to charity. In my apartment block a full set of bedroom furniture was left in the basement, chest of drawers and bedside drawers. One drawer was broken and easy to mend. If I'd had any space I'd have taken the set with me. Instead, it is going to go out with the next skip. Such a waste.

What do people do with broken electrical goods?  Some councils have special areas where electrical items can be dumped but I know that so much is probably fixable and is a waste of plastic and metal to just throw. Some electrical stores will take your old TV/appliance/whatever when you buy a new one. Don't know what they do with them though, or what incentives exist to encourage them to take old stuff back for fixing or recycling.

One thing that struck me massively in Thailand is that nothing seems to go to waste. When it is beyond repair for it's original use, it is creatively turned into something else. I imagine that largely stems from poverty but it was very interesting to observe.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sat Sep 22nd, 2007 at 07:34:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Here are the opening paragraphs from a book on the history of windpower in the US (California), "Reaping the Wind," by Peter Asmus, Island Press, 2001.  I don't have permission, but as the excerpt is short, and it is about me, and Peter's a friend, i'm assuming it's totally OK.

"I hear the day is this coming Monday," blurted somebody into my phone answering machine, the surly voice edged with a New York jeer.  "It's dumpster diving time," he sang as if reciting lyrics to some popular rap tune.  It was Randy Tinkerman, I quickly surmised.  A short man with a long salt-and-pepper pony tail, Tinkerman had really big ideas about energy that were shaped by the 1970's, a time when an individual really seemed to be able to make a difference in the world.  There was revolution in the air, and Tinkerman was one among the warriors seeking to alter dramatically the way we power society.

His phone message referred to his unrelenting search for documents that might prove valuable in courts asked to pass judgement on some pretty wild promises of profits to be made from the wind.  The target of inquiry was Kenetech, formally known as U.S. Windpower.  Tinkerman calls it "Wind Potato," a moniker reflecting his profound lack of respect for what had been America's largest wind farmer.  Monday was the day Kenetech was going to make it official.  It was going out of business, yet another company to go under while trying to strike it rich, and purportedly trying to save this precious planet.

***

i actually did go out to both the engineering offices and windpark site buildings figuring there would be docs thrown out.  There were, including power production figures which made the case that the company was fudging its numbers.  The real reason behind my activism against Wind Potato was that they were the darling of the green investment community, and I knew the entire wind industry would get a black eye from Kenetech.   I tried to alert the investment community to what was about to happen, but most kept investing.  But by preparing for the bankruptcy, the most serious damage was averted.

The story of the design of the KVS-33, billed as the 5-cent machine, is the perfect example of what happens when the bean-counters run the engineering shop.  Thankfully, only one project was built in Europe, in the Netherlands, where the machines may still be running at half load or less.  The shit machines in Tarifa, Spain also come from Kenetech, as a monument to how far the technology has progressed.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin

by Crazy Horse on Wed Sep 26th, 2007 at 07:14:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What if I had not spent the 300?  What if NO ONE had?  This is very hypothetical, since the first thing any thinking person would do with 300 free dollars from the President to fight the evildoers is buy 300 bags of pretzels from Wal-Mart and send them to George as a token of your appreciation.  But let's pretend Wal-Mart doesn't exist.
I just found a page claiming that there were 130M tax returns filed in 2003, which is a good proxy for the number of $300 tax rebates that Bush gave out. That comes up to about $40 billion. Is that the cost of Bush's rebate? Does anyone have a link to an estimate?

Now, the US (nominal) GDP was about 13 trillion in 2006. Scale back by, say, 5% per year to 2003 and you get about 11 trillion. So the tax rebate, assuming it was immediately spent, amounted to 0.35% of GDP. But there is a "multiplier" effect in that when that money is spent it increases the revenue of businesses by the same amount, and they can spend it in their turn, and so on. I suppose there are two ways to estimate the multiplier. One is to use the ratio of GDP to consumer spending, and the other is to compare the ratio of GDP to the M1 money supply (as that's where the Bush rebate was applied).

So the effect of the Bush rebate was not negligible.

I am not an economist, nor do I play one on TV, but I do have a syndicated column on a blog ;-)

Oye, vatos, dees English sink todos mi ships, chinga sus madres, so escuche: el fleet es ahora refloated, OK? — The War Nerd

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Sep 26th, 2007 at 05:57:17 AM EST
The multiplier effect also brings up the interesting possibility that boycotts could have a much stronger effect than most peple give them credit for. If the average return on investment is between 3 and 6 percent, then it would seem that a boycott that diminished economic activity by only a small percentage would have a devastating effect on the powers that be. Or am I wrong?
by bil on Wed Sep 26th, 2007 at 10:14:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The trash cans and dumpsters put out on the street by the Refuse Dept of my local city all have a sticker on them that reads NO SCAVENGING.  I kid you not.  The City asserts ownership of all contents of all City trashcans and dumpsters and it is an "offence" to dig into them for goodies.

Just shows to go ya, how incredibly greedy, mean, uncharitable and petty a society can get.  We are also I believe the first culture to have a speciality niche for designers who design public benches cleverly made impossible to sleep or lounge on, so that the homeless cannot catch a few winks.

I have been Freecycling quite a bit as I prepare to relocate, and my observation is that (a) some of the participants are junk resellers, grabbing resaleable stuff for free, but (b) since responses are confidential one can weed these people out and hand off goodies preferentially to charities or ordinary individuals.  The nice thing about Freecycle is that it's an email list, you can do it bit by bit, and people will come by and take things away from the
yard or front porch.  Hardly any effort required for the harried, slightly demented person in the midst of a major move :-)

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Wed Sep 26th, 2007 at 05:20:22 PM EST
I suspect the city I live in is far too large to provide enough resources to enforce possible scavenging laws.  In fact, I suspect they are happy to have residents dispose of their own stuff by finding it a new home rather than the city having to deal with it.  

There was a clause in my lease that said we were not allowed to leave large items (like a couch) in the alley, because the city will charge the building owners for its removal.  But EVERYONE does it.  And unless it rains or snows before people find them, such items are inevitably carted off by others.  But then, most people in Chicago have a summer lease.  

It really works out for everyone.  

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Wed Sep 26th, 2007 at 05:30:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
needless to say, I liked this diary :-)

and since finance capitalism is bringing us Doom(TM) at a steadily accelerating rate anyway, any alternative is worth exploring.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Wed Sep 26th, 2007 at 05:21:37 PM EST
Thanks!

agreed.

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Wed Sep 26th, 2007 at 05:22:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is a super diary, poemless. And thanks to Migeru for having front-paged it.

I don't have the expertise to comment on the economic aspects of the 'gift economy', and its potential dangers to GDPs, but I would like to bring up an aspect that I've not seen mentioned here, yet: aesthetics.

I live in an abode that's furnished primarily with stuff I've found on the streets of Paris, not so much out of need but because I enjoy the idea that these objects have had a previous life. I look at the 30s-style fauteuil [probably discarded hotel furniture] I recuperated and renovated, and think of the variety of bums it must have known: criminals, lovers, tourists...

In a sense, my home is full of past, perhaps unresolved, mysteries and stories, no doubt some of them beautiful, others less so. Y'know, real, life-like matters.

Ikea doesn't give you that. :-)

by Loefing on Thu Sep 27th, 2007 at 06:34:55 AM EST
Yes, I am that way with resale shops.  (Which fit the recycle theme but my diary was really about giving things away for free.)  I love vintage clothes, handbags, furniture because 1) they are beautiful - they just don't put the detail into things like they used to and 2) I like to imagine who wore, used these things before me.

I have a studio, and my one real centerpiece of furniture is a large antique dresser with a huge mirror.  I acquired it not from an alley, but for free from an elderly neighbor who was having a yard sale and had this thing sitting out by the street,  I asked her how much she wanted for it, and she said, "That old thing?  I was going to have it sent to the junk yard.  You can take it if you want it."  It's obviously handmade, not factory made, but is in great condition.  I've never actually seen another one like it.  

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Thu Sep 27th, 2007 at 10:59:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But all over the place, one person's trash is becoming another's treasure.
But that has always been the case, hasn't it?

I vaguely remember a fable of some sort from when I was young. So vaguely, in fact, that I can only give you the moral of the story, which was that there's always someone poorer than yourself. Basically it involved some wise ut impoverished travelling sage or hermit who was lamenting his own poverty and the fact that he had to beg and scavenge a living, only to discovered that there was someone else following his footsteps and scavenging what he discarded.

This story may have originated decades or centuries ago in India, where if I'm not mistaken it is largely the case that there are many layers of people living off the previous layer's rubbish.

But I guess you know about this, which is the point of

Maybe we are also talking about the destitute.  But let's say, the whole getting stuff from the alley transcends, in fact, subverts the institution of social class.  I'm talking about people willfully doing what society tells them is shameful.  Which is the news here.  The desperate have been scavenging since the beginning of time.


We have met the enemy, and it is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Sep 27th, 2007 at 11:42:00 AM EST
I have friends who suggest "sell it" all the time.  One even suggested I charge Jerome to stay in my spare bedroom during YKC.  LOL.  I was like, "Are you going to charge me when I come to NY and stay at your place?!"  Who does that?  Capitalists.
Yikes, that's not the kind of friend I want to have.

We have met the enemy, and it is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Sep 27th, 2007 at 11:44:11 AM EST
To be fair, I was in a financial bind at the time, and she may have been trying to help??  She's been an amazing friend for a very long time.  I love her dearly, so please don't judge her on that statement alone.  She's practically saved my life too many times to count.  Surely she should get some credit for that!  ;)

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.
by poemless on Thu Sep 27th, 2007 at 12:47:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
she should get some credit for that

How much?

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Thu Sep 27th, 2007 at 04:42:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Alas, that is for you to decide.  I understand my worth varies from person to person around here...

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.
by poemless on Thu Sep 27th, 2007 at 05:16:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But you are priceless...

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Fri Sep 28th, 2007 at 03:57:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, by the way, to the friends that "suggest 'sell it' all the time", I would say that it's more work than it's worth. I have considering putting stuff on e-bay before but I'm just too lazy for it.

We have met the enemy, and it is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Sep 28th, 2007 at 07:06:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
European Tribune - The Economy of The Alley: Harbinger of Enlightenment or Certain Doom?

1.  Is this kind of behavior truly damaging to our economy?

Is there a nugget of truth to the assertion that if people stop buying things then the wheels grind to a halt and we all end up with food rations and foreclosures? ... If everyone began reusing, sharing, giving away...  not shopping.  What happens?

First off, I have to endorse kcurie's recommendation of Krugman's introductory article on Keynes' General Theory (Melanchton provided a link). Here's how I understand the causal chain.

If people scavenge instead of going and buying stuff, they spend less than they otherwise would. The aggregate spending is the consumer demand that you may see mentioned in the press sometimes. The trends in consumer demand are presumably used by businesses in their planning. A lower expectation of consumer demand will lead business to plan reductions in their output. This reduction in the output will lead to a forecast of reduced revenue and profit. The busines may try to also reduce costs in order to compensate for that and maintain their profit. This means layoffs or at any rate a lower amount spent on payrolls. With lower payrolls and incresed unemployment, condumer demand will sag even more. This is a vicious circle.

However, this doesn't really take into account personal debt, easy credit, and the possibility that people won't consume less but simply use the money they save by scavenging to purchase other things. In that case, it is possible that there will be less waste; and consumer demand doesn't drop, just shifts, changing its share of different kinds of products, or alternatively consumer demand does drop but debt doesn't increase as it otherwise would.

So an increase in scavenging doesn't have to lead to a recession.

We have met the enemy, and it is us — Pogo

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Sep 27th, 2007 at 06:03:14 PM EST
European Tribune - The Economy of The Alley: Harbinger of Enlightenment or Certain Doom?

2.  Can this type of anti-economy or gift-economy be sustained, developed, and even attain mainstream acceptance?

Well, of course a gift economy can achieve mainstream acceptance. The Potlach cultures of the Pacific Northwest had to have their gift economy actively suppressed (though the adoption of modern money through contact with the colonizing Western culture also played a role). Also, in The Cathedral and the Bazaar the Open Source movement is analysed as a gift economy in which Hackers (not to be confused with Crackers) accord each other status on the basis of how much free, high-quality software they have contributed to the community. People like Linus Torvalds (Linux), Larry Wall (Perl) and Richard Stallman (Emacs) enjoy among the highest status in the community because of the incredibly useful gifts they have bestowed on the community. Google seems to also enjoy high status among the general public particularly because it gifts useful, well-engineered web applications to the community. (On that, see rg's diary is Google Evil?)

However, I think we should be under no illusion that the entire economy can be run as a gift economy. The gifts have to come from somewhere, that is, people still have to work the fields and hunt and forage and herd cattle and mine and craft manufacture the items that then get exchanged as gifts. That is, a gift economy can play an important role in exchange and distribution of a society's product, but not in production. In more primitive societies living in a rich environment where sufficient food can be foraged you can have a gift economy even for the bare essentials. Maybe the voluntary scavenging by affluent people poemless describes indicates at least parts of the US now find themselves living in a situation where one can "forage" for cheap Chinese-made gadgets or even sports shoes, and then gift them to others by leaving them by the dumpster. A gift economy is a sign of relative abundance.

Access to "the means of production" (capital! credit!) as a way to give people choice about their role in the productive economy remains a key issue whether you have a gift economy or a market economy as a mechanism for exchange and distribution.

We have met the enemy, and it is us — Pogo

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Sep 28th, 2007 at 06:19:39 AM EST
Malinovski's Trobrian islanders seemed to use a gift / traditional repartition method wherein they had to give the food they cultivated to their step family.

Gift economies don't mean the gifts aren't the result of work.

Also, workers in the traditional "firm" structure where their careers might not have depended on the literal productivity of their work but rather on its perceived value, can be described as behaving in a gift economy.

What is hard is making people clean the toilets, and other such thankless jobs, in a gift economy.

Maybe such tasks shouldn't be dissociated as jobs, but simply done by everyone...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Fri Sep 28th, 2007 at 07:42:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Very well put.

What is hard is making people clean the toilets, and other such thankless jobs, in a gift economy.

Exactly.

We have met the enemy, and it is us — Pogo

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Sep 28th, 2007 at 07:48:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As I said, I don't ever expect a gift economy to replace the current system.  I also would not call what I am talking about a gift economy, because that seems to imply an intent and social contract that is only one aspect of the larger phenomenon I'm talking about.  What I mean is this: currently we have an economy which seems to depend on 1) the exchange of money for goods and 2) a stigma attached to reusing things. I cannot tell you how obsessed we are with having everything in the latest model, shiny and new, even if everything we own is in perfectly fine working condition.  If a certain percent of the population rejected these norms, could we make a significant impact on our society's obsession with profit and status?  And would that force some kind of readjustment of the current economic system, which relies on greed and wastefulness?  

As for those cleaning the toilets, I'm not suggesting people should work for free.  So, in order to get paid, someone has to be making a profit to cover the payrolls.  And if people stop purchasing goods at the current rate, theoretically, this could lead to job loss.  So that's the concern.  Freakin' house of cards.

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Fri Sep 28th, 2007 at 11:03:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And if people stop purchasing goods at the current rate, theoretically, this could lead to job loss.  So that's the concern.
No, not necessarily. We just have to normalise the economy to a new productivity level. As in, if the needs and wants can be met by a smaller number of total hours of labour, the each person should just have to work for less hours. Of course, 'the enemy' (neoliberal assholes) will insist on among other things productivity growth, the profit of which must not be realised in terms of reduced labour of the worker, but in greater monetary profit of the capitalist, which requires ever higher consumptive patterns on the part of the masses, etc, etc, etc. The problem is not the need to make a profit in order to cover the payrolls, the problems is the 'need' to make ever increasing profits ('growth') in order to placate the insatiable craving for more of Capital.
by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Fri Sep 28th, 2007 at 11:18:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Freakin' house of cards.

Yup. You'd have to get rid of the Protestant Work Ethic in order for the house of cards not to collapse. I think this is related to someone's suggestion of settling the economic system at a lower "productivity" level, but we won't know whether we're all thinking about the same thing until I write my diary on redistribution and the work ethic.

We have met the enemy, and it is us — Pogo

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Oct 1st, 2007 at 05:31:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It has a name!

Best weekend shopping development

"Free-kea"

In neighborhoods with high turnovers in rentals, the last weekend of every month, and especially before May 1 and October 1, when the largest number of leases expire, the alleys far and wide are filled with decent, affordable design for free: IKEA`s so cheap hardly anyone even bothers anymore to throw it in the back of a van. While shelves and other sleek-yet-delicate units will almost certainly fall apart if you try to disassemble them, and they`ll get crunched in the back of the U-Haul, dragging them half a block and up the stairs leaves only the slightest of scuff.




"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.
by poemless on Fri Sep 28th, 2007 at 04:45:09 PM EST


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