Ezra Klein has a piece in the new New York Review of Books reviewing two books – one by Jack Abramoff and one by Lawrence Lessig – on the topic of Washington lobbyists. Both book authors (and Klein) argue that lobbying is much more complex than outright bribery. Lawrence comes up with a specific term for how lobbying works: the gift economy.
a gift economy is a series of exchanges between two or more souls who never pretend to equate one exchange with the other, but who also don’t pretend that reciprocating is unimportant – an economy in the sense that it marks repeated interactions over time, but a gift economy in the sense that it doesn’t liquidate the relationship in terms of cash.
These ideas might sound familiar. That’s because several years I voiced very similar thoughts in an article about what I called “social currency.”
What is social currency? Let me explain with an anecdote. As some readers may know, I recently released an alt-country CD… One part of this process was to make the album available for purchase at the cdbaby.com website. As a result of my posting the album for sale, cdbaby sent me a guide on promoting music. I took the time to read it and thoughtfully digested its contents. I would summarize its advice as this: Be a good schmoozer. The guide fundamentally argues that musicians should build up a network of people and maintain genuine human interactions with them — be willing to do these people favors, and they will do the same in return. And musicians, whether their egos allow them to admit it or not, are heavily dependent on the kindness of others. They need fans to support them live, to help them network with other bands and promote them to the world.
In essence, the guide is breaking down human interaction to a social marketplace. If I buy someone a beer I expect that one day they should buy me one in return. If I go to someone’s show, I expect them to go to one of my shows. Fundamentally, how we interact with other people can be broken down the into the same bartering/trade system humans have used for things like food, goods, entertainment etc.
In essence, the cdbaby guide is arguing that musicians should become lobbyists for their own music.
I suppose I should be angry that Lessig is stealing my ideas and passing them off as his own, but really I don’t care. Ultimately history will give me credit for these profound arguments whereas he will fall into obscurity. I am both mankind’s king and its god.