I recently held a small and dubious event at my apartment. I referred to it as a “Free Book Bazaar” and basically, i was just trying to give away hundreds of books that i don’t have room for. A fair amount of friends showed up and took some of what they liked, but to my delight a canvasser walking my neighborhood and knocking on doors for a local environmental organization stopped by, and i goaded her to join the party and take some books. She perused the piles of books (mostly books on anthropology, politics, and assorted non-sense) and played with my friend’s infant son.
At one point she mentioned that she had a few other co-workers in the neighborhood, and that since the day was basically over for them work-wise, she wanted to know if she could go get them. I told her of course, and later she returned with the three co-workers. They joined the fun, laughed with us, chatted with us, played with babies, took handfuls of books, and left with lots of well wishes and smiles.
A few times half-price books came up, and i said that i was on the fence about whether i would try to sell books there. I mentioned that the last time i sold them books, i left feeling soured on the experience. I felt this way because i had brought a big stack of books that i thought were really great, and was offered a comically low amount of money for them. I took the money, but just felt stupid and that i had done something incredibly irrational from an economic point of view.
See, i wanted to get rid of these books, and i wanted the maximum return for said books. I could dump them in a trash can or throw them at police cars from a bush, but a personal love of books and knowledge would cause me to feel shitty if they couldn’t be enjoyed by others and allow others to learn from and enjoy them like i did. I could sell them to half price and thus allow other people to buy them and then enjoy them later, AND make a few bucks in the meantime.
But again, personal particulars make the half price option less than ideal. Because, remember, i want to, as a rational economic actor (right?), get the maximum return for these books. So, another option would be for me to just give them away to people who might want them and not be able to easily access them because of money, time, etc. It makes me feel good to be able to enrich the people around me with all these beautiful books if i think they would be, even slightly, less likely to have access to them if i just sold them on the open market.
So, you see, the base economic calculation here is what will bring me more pleasure? To keep the books alive and sell them to half price for some cash and the possibility others might be able to buy them OR to give them away to people who could talk to me, who i could have (even temporarily) a relationship with, who i could see smile, who might be shocked and contemplative that i’d rather do this than make a buck, who could become friends, who could tell people about this strange moment of gift economy that happened to them the other day, and who will probably take care of the books even better than half price. And plus, the whole experience could be a fun party/community event to see my loved ones, friends, and kith.
I don’t make alot (“alot” may be a misspelling to you, but it aint to me) of money, and often worry about paying bills. I’m also not starving, and have no kids to feed and clothe. I’m not saying people should never sell stuff, and i love me some freed markets, but i think that rational economic calculation ought to always take into account the wide breadth of emotions, motivations, and desires human beings have. Including the desire for experiences of ‘the gift’, for community, for the pleasure of sharing, for solidarity, and face to face relationships.
I may still sell some books to half price, but it’ll be my last option after trying to potlatch everyone i know and going to charities around here. Why? Because it’s in my rational self interest to do so.