Economics

TechShares Symposium

On December 8th, my students will showcase their capstone projects on collaborative consumption, a rising movement in consumer culture that promotes community, sustainability, and economy, defined by Rachel Botsman in What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption.

I asked students to bring collaborative consumption to Georgia Tech’s campus. The college campus is fertile ground for collaborative consumption, and it is a market that has yet to be tapped. Here are a few of their ideas:

  • Nexus Connections: a campus transportation system consisting of solar-powered carts with zipcar-style access (don’t miss the video!)
  • Buzz2Buzz: a campus network for buying, selling, and trading goods
  • Buzz Bikes: a bike-sharing program built from a repository of pre-owned bikes
  • Food for the Forgotten: a volunteer program that redistributes leftover food from GT dining to the homeless population
  • Tech Hubs: collaborative work spaces designed to facilitate group projects (see especially the Google Sketch-Up rendition)

A Community Exchange

In the basement of my apartment building, there is a square yellow folding table. It stands next to the door exiting to the parking lot. On this table are random objects:

  • a porcelain doll in a blue velvet dress
  • a small white ceramic teapot with a wicker handle
  • a miniature birdhouse
  • a black ceramic lamp shaped into a dancer

Since moving here a year ago, my eyes have been constantly drawn to the offerings on the table. Could it really be that these items were free for the taking?

There’s no sign with instructions. Nothing says free on it. The basement otherwise serves as a repository for resident storage–usually bicycles, grills, extra furniture.

But the table is different. The items are loose, random, and clearly unwanted. Occasionally there’d be something I was interested in, but didn’t take.

  • a small wicker basket
  • a wooden candlestick lamp
  • a round white laundry basket

Nothing spectacular. Until I saw a pair of charming wooden snack bowls. They were small and I could discreetly carry them upstairs. I decided to take them.

It was a little strange taking something for free without explicit permission, and I almost felt as though I’d be caught stealing. I ended up being very happy with the bowls. Later I took the remaining large wooden bowl. Then I took a white oblong lampshade. Then a blue teapot.

By now I have taken so many items that hardly any remain. I realized then that I need to replenish the table.

In completing the circle of exchange, by donating items in addition to accepting them, I have officially joined the silent exchange table that is the yellow table in my basement.

Pickles Pig and Economics

“Pickles Pig,” a silly book for kids. What a sweet story. Or not.

Poor Pickles Pig doesn’t want to be sold by the farmer and get turned into crisp-fry bacon. He learns that he must be sold because it’s the only way the farmer can justify his expenditures on the pig’s food, like the horse who earns his food by plowing the fields or the cat who rids the farm of rodents.

Pickles Pig needs to find an alternative way to earn his keep if he doesn’t want to become crisp-fry bacon. In the meantime, he plays with the farmer’s daughter and discovers how to use a computer. He writes his life story on the keyboard, gets it published, gets paid, and turns flips of joy in front of his farmyard friends when he is saved from the slaughterhouse.

The lesson I have learned, and correct me if I’m way off, is that the value of a life can be determined by the economic returns it produces; however impossible, we are all capable of providing our owns means for sustenance, we just need to keep trying harder and soon we’ll discover that most unlikely mode of economic production, that is, if we don’t want to become someone else’s food…