The Potluck Economy

Imagine that instead of living in constant scarcity, we live in an economy of abundance. I see it happen all the time. All I need to do is invite people over for dinner!

When’s the last time you went to a potluck? The person who ‘won the potluck’ probably brought something ridiculously amazing and delicious, and there was lots left over.

Now, if rational economists hosted a potluck, each person would bring enough food for one. If seven people each bring enough food for one and split it up then they’ll have enough food for seven people, and it will be ‘optimally allocated.’ It’s an economist’s dream come true. Each person spends the least amount of money possible, and nothing goes to waste.  

But that would be a terrible potluck! People might squabble over the best meals, and although everyone has just enough to eat, no one feels particularly full at the end of the night. The person who ‘won’ the potluck is the person who brought the cheapest food (in terms of both money and time), and used their shrewdness to get the biggest portions. So lame.

In my experience, people usually bring enough food to feed 3 or 4 people (at least). If seven people each bring enough for just three people, then we end up with enough food for 21 people. We’ve created an economy of abundance! It’s no big deal even if there are a couple of free riders who don’t bring anything this time (silly Dave).

No one feels bad about bringing too much food to a potluck, in fact I often see people wearing a badge of honour if they bring the biggest or most delicious item to share.

So how do we get some more of that potluck magic into our economy?

We do it by sharing our working space at community hubs like the Centre for Social Innovation in Toronto.

We do it by borrowing and lending things at our local libraries. And it’s not just about books. Cool people are starting Tool Libraries and Kitchen Libraries all around us.

We do it by getting to know our neighbours and breaking bread (or stirring soup), because sharing food is one of the best ways to bring people together. 

We do it by giving a little bit more than our fair share, knowing that if enough other people do it too, we’ll get more than our fair share in return.

I’m hungry! Here’s a picture of a cake: 


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