Monday, 22 May 2017

On gift boxes, little libraries and anti austerity movements - a new economy is coming?


Change takes a long time and lasting change rarely comes all at once, never without struggle. The appearance in recent years, particularly after the financial collapse of 2008, of alternative to mainstream economic forms, be they "sharing" or giving, or swapping, are signs of a groundswell of change in some attitudes, ideas and behaviours arising from the now pretty universally acknowledged inequality of our times. Gift boxes and little free libraries arise from the awareness of those who recognize more or less consciously the existence of a polar degree of inequality in today's society - Occupy's 1%-99% divide. That such initiatives are tiny gestures, rather than serious endeavours to prevent poverty does not diminish their significance as a symptom of unease in the population, specifically that portion of the population that are culturally prepared and experienced enough to make change if they wished to. Some portions of the middle class are barometers of the stresses felt much more savagely and regularly by the poor. It was the case in the previous millennium of world wars and revolutions and the pattern's consequences could repeat in the absence of hindsight.

Symptom recognition is a necessary preliminary for remedial action but symptom recognition is not solution. As a recent article in the Journal of Radical Librarianship pointed out, most free libraries appear in relatively affluent neighbourhoods. The same is likely true for "Gift Boxes" too. They represent a liberal response to the fact of radical inequality that lacks the muscle to turn back the force of right-wing populism fuelling further class-based economic warfare of the kind the US president has been engaged in. The only serious response that will produce change must be political and structural. So far the necessary political movement for economic equality has not emerged but the ground is shifting and while insufficient in themselves enough logs can make an economic fire that will, in the words of the poet, change things utterly.

Little free libraries and give boxes will solve little in themselves but they are clues to a future world, that other, better world that is possible and actual sometimes, somewheres.        

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