Between the gift and the market: the economy of regard

Jan 1996 | 003

Authors: Avner Offer

The Great Transformation’ from customary exchange to impersonal markets has not been completed. Reciprocal exchange pervades modern societies. It takes the form of ‘gifts’ which are reciprocated without certainty. It is driven by the pursuit of ‘regard’: the approbation of others. The idea is found in Adam Smith. Money is avoided in regard exchanges, because it is impersonal. Instead, the regard signal is embodied in goods, services or time (attention). The personalisation of gifts authenticates the signal. Large-scale reciprocal exchange persists in family formation and in inter-generational transfers. It features in labour markets, in agriculture, the professions, in marketing, entrepreneurship, and also in corruption and crime. Reciprocal exchange is constrained by time and psychic energy, but is likely to persist as a preferred source of regard.

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