The Economy of Giving

Martina at Naturellement

Food Store

Tonight, everywhere in the world, people are going to sleep wondering which presents will be waiting for them when they wake up. Like most holidays, Christmas has become commercialized.  A tug-of-war over the supply and demand of, well, a lot of stuff.

It couldn’t be more appropriate than to be in Auroville over Christmas studying sustainable development. The consumerism that has engulfed this holiday is directly at odds with the system of beliefs and values that Auroville was founded on.

Earlier today, we met with Jean-Yves, a long-time resident of Auroville and a member of its numerous Councils and Committees. He walked us through the complicatedly simple system that is Auroville’s economy. Auroville aims to simplify the economic part of life to the point where consumption does not influence the individual pursuit of happiness. Without the constant emphasis on money, and the incessant need to make more of it, Auroville’s residents can focus on progress at the individual and community levels. For example, everyone, regardless of their job, is given a monthly maintenance fee, similar to a salary. To put this in perspective, it is around 8,000 rupees per month, or roughly 135 euro. The idea is, if you’re basic needs (food, clothing, shelter) are provided (to an extent), then there is more time for the pursuit of “happiness.”

It seems to be working. Over the last week we have met people who are passionate and excited about the work that they are doing. Paul and Dave, with their backgrounds in traditional forestry, are re-building a virtually extinct sub-tropical evergreen forest. Martina’s original six-month project of providing Auroville with organic food products has turned into a twenty year sisterhood between her and the local Tamil women at Naturellement.

Instead of an economy of supply and demand, what we find in Auroville is an economy of need versus desire. Residents are asked to seriously evaluate what is a “necessity” and what is a “want” on a daily basis. Shops like Free Store and Nadini go against the paradigm of the traditional commercial system. At Nadini, a clothing and home goods shop, residents are allotted a flexible yearly budget. There is no “shopping” in Nadini. All of the items are behind a curtain. Instead of browsing, you describe what you need and a clerk brings you the item. Therefore, you only take what you need.

While I’m not certain that this economic system would work on a grand scale, it seems to be working in Auroville. Businesses are thriving, tourism is booming, and its residents are happy (or so they seem). At the core of its economic system, Auroville is very much about giving, with very little emphasis on receiving. Through self-reflection and self-realization (big ideas, I know) its residents seem to be finding a greater sense of purpose which they then and try carry on to the world outside of Auroville.

At Calve for Christmas eve dinner.

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