Wild Economics - An Interview with Mark Boyle

Mark Wallace
Thursday, 26th September 2013

If we merge permaculture design and relocalisation with the concept of the gift economy, what do we get? Moneyless Man, Mark Boyle, suggests 'Wild Economics'.

Mark Boyle founded the worldwide 'Freeconomy' movement which now has local groups in over 170 countries. He is currently working on developing a permaculture-based gift economy in Ireland. In this interview he discusses the concept of Wild Economics, the subject of an exciting new course he'll be leading with Fergus Drennan and Charles Eisenstein at Schumacher College this November.

What is wild economics and why do we need it?

Wild economics is where the growing movement to localise our lives meets with the emerging desire of people across the world to relate to each other in a much more inspiring and uplifting way. It is a form of economy that replicates and draws its inspiration from Nature, where people can share their gifts with each other in a way that adds fertility to both the Earth and their local communities. It is devoid of the notions of debt and credit which riddle modern human culture and which are entirely absent from the wilderness.

"Wild economics is the convergence of permaculture principles with gift economics," says Mark.

Permaculture is an innovative and practical framework for developing ecologically harmonious, efficient and productive systems that can be used by anyone, anywhere and are tailored to local culture and landscape. The gift economy, the only tried-and-trusted human model of economy that has served us for the majority of our time on Earth, is commonly understood as a way of meeting our needs where materials, labour and skills are shared unconditionally and without any explicit agreement for immediate or future rewards.

Within the high technology world we live in today however, the gift economy is practiced with increasing regularity on a more global scale, mostly through web-based gift economies such as freeconomy (which I set up six years ago, and which now has local groups in over 170 countries), couchsurfing, freecycle and the like. Whilst this has many positive and worthwhile benefits in the transitionary phases we find ourselves, Wild Economics is a more purposeful move towards relocalising our economic habits. This strengthens our ties to local people and place, as opposed to increasing our dependence on an industrial infrastructure that is turning our beautiful world into a landfill of emptiness and meaninglessness.

Wild economics takes a conscious approach to the convergence of crises we face, merging our physical and spiritual needs into a much more holisitic way of life, and a new way of being human. Through the relocalising of our economies for all our needs - food, clothing, medicine, entertainment, booze, our dwellings and so on - mixed with a simplification of our lives, we restore the health and balance of the biosphere; through interacting and relating with each other in a more unconditional way, sharing the gifts we ourselves have been given with others for no other reason that we can benefit the life of another (in contrast to the 'what do I get in return' spirit of modern culture), we make each other feel good about the place in which we dwell, and in doing so start to heal many of the social ills we find ourselves immersed in today. 

Making radical changes to our lifestyles is not always easy or feasible. How do we incorporate the principles of Wild Economics into our everyday lives?

Many elements of Wild Economics are very easy to integrate, a few a little less so. The degree to which they can be integrated depends on factors such as where you live, your desire to live in greater connection to people and place and how much soil and Nature you have access to, amongst many others. 

In general, the gift economy side of things is mind-bogglingly easy to incorporate into the busiest of urban or rural lives, and many of its ideas and practical solutions are no-brainers for anyone remotely concerned about the health of the biosphere or their own personal economy. 

The localised living element can be a little bit more difficult for some people, but it all depends on circumstances and someone’s willingness to change their conditions in order to localise their lives. There will be many elements of this that anyone can integrate into their everyday lives, regardless of their situation. We have developed a concept that we've called the (Progression of Principles) POP model to help attendees make whatever transition is appropriate, desirable and possible for them.

This POP model is tailored by every individual person (though it can just as easily be utilised by community groups) for their own unique circumstances, providing a framework for anyone to clarify how close to their own value system they stand at any moment in time, before allowing them to set timeframes in which it is realistic for them to journey towards their own personal truth in every aspect of their lives. We ask our politicians to commit to targets that may give their electorate some hope of keeping the Earth habitable for human and much non-human life - the POP model encourages us to ask the same of ourselves, to set our own targets, and then gets us excited about meeting them.

You are currently working on developing a land-based gift economy in Ireland - could you describe your vision for this project?

The project we have started in Éire (Ireland) is called An Teach Saor, Gaeilge for The Free House and it will be the Wild Economy in living, breathing practice. We hope to illustrate how anyone can live fully and freely from the land under their feet, and how they can interact with people in their local area in a way that strengthens the fabric of that community. Our aim is to show that a different way of being human is possible, one that is holistically healthy and which simply replicates what happens in Wild Nature every moment of every day.

At An Teach Saor we aim to merge fossil-fuel free Permaculture methods and gift economics with wild food, forest gardening, freeskilling, education (free courses and workshops), home-brewing, Irish music and language, herbalism, perennials, natural building, no-dig annual veg production, freecycling, writing, storytelling, bushcraft, off-grid living (solar PV & thermal, spring water), events and much more into one holistic culture.

We have only started a couple of months ago, but already exciting possibilities are emerging and forming and the potential is huge, especially in a country such as Ireland where the financial economy is dying on its feet, and where the people are genuinely looking for new solutions.

What will be covered in your forthcoming course with Fergus Drennan and Charles Eisenstein and what do you hope participants will take away with them?

The week is going to be a fascinating exploration of the real possibilities that are out there. Fergus, Charles and I will cover a great deal during the week, starting with an anthropological/historical look at monetary and gift-based economies and the philosophical, spiritual and ecological reasons compelling us to move towards them. There will be workshops with Charles, a Deep Time walk with Stephan Harding, and a fireside chat with Satish Kumar - so the course really will combine head, heart and hands and we’ll show just how people can identify their needs before transitioning from the globalised monetary economy into a more localised gift economy.

Crucially we’ll show how to practically incorporate wild economics into every aspect of life, including: food, skills and labour, materials, land, clothing, home, off-grid living, education, health and hygiene, sex, holidays and travelling, work and leisure. We’ll teach practical skills such as making your own paper and ink from wild mushrooms, and how to create, promote and run gift circles in the local community. We’ll also help participants to identify that unique gift that each of us possesses and uncover the obstacles we may have from giving that gift to others to create a truly sustainable and holistically healthy livelihood for all.

Photo from Kim Aldis

There are many people who have been inspired by your work - what advice would you give to those who wish to embark on a similar journey?

I'd simply encourage people not to worry too much and to trust their intuitions and instincts, if that is what they are compelling you to do. Don't stress about not having all the skills you think you would need to live in a Wild Economy - if I can do it, believe me, anyone can. I came from a very conventional background with a minimum of practical skills when I started, and built on these slowly over the years. I still feel under-skilled for it all, and probably always will as there is no end of exciting avenues you can explore! By committing to it and giving yourself some ample time to prepare the basic foundations you may need, you'll find that a little bit of courage and enthusiasm are the only primary skills you really need. 

If it's not for you for now, then I'd equally encourage people to do whatever work makes them feel alive, as there is no end of positive work needed today. The only personally sustainable path is the one which makes you feel enthused and inspired as the sun rises. But there is so much that anyone can incorporate into their daily lives from Wild Economics that will complement whatever work they throw themselves into.

Mark Boyle lived completely without money for almost three years, an experience which formed the basis for his first book, The Moneyless ManHis second book, The Moneyless Manifesto, explores in-depth the philosophy and praxis of a non-monetary economy. He is also founder of Freeconomy, an alternative economy with local groups across 171 countries, and holds a degree in business.

Mark Boyle's latest book, Drinking Molotov Cocktails with Gandhi - a radical and uncompromising analysis of why our system is broken and our pathway to building a new civilisation - is out now!

To say it is 'revolutionary' would be to underestimate its depth. Mark's book does more than the simple revolving of a circle - the turning of the old world on its head - and that turning is in all dimensions. It charts the urgency of our collective mission to create a whole new civilisation. Are you in?

Further resources

Mark Boyle: A primitive approach to permaculture: can we close the loop?

Fergus Drennan: Could you live on 100% wild, foraged food for a year?

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permapoesis |
September 26, 2013 - 11:25pm
more on permaculture and gifting economies here: http://arena.org.au/gifting-economies/

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