Everyone knows the Taker economy works, but they find it hard to believe that the Leaver economy works too. This is because Taker wealth is so much more visible than Leaver wealth. Products can be photographed, packaged, and put in store windows, but support can’t. There are many other striking differences between these two kinds of wealth.
Taker wealth can be put under lock and key, but Leaver wealth can’t. For this reason, Taker wealth is inherently divisive. Behind the locked doors of my house are my furniture, my appliances, my television sets, my radios, my computers, my clothes, my records, my books. I’ve worked for them, I’ve earned them, and no one else in the world has worked for them or earned them — and this is the dividing line between them and me, between theirs and mine. The law of every Taker nation in the world confirms all this. Leaver wealth, by contrast, is not divisive but inherently unitive.
Taker and Leaver economies are mirror images of each other. Takers are rich in products but poor in human support; Leavers are rich in human support but poor in products. But note this: Takers complain noisily and endlessly over the shortcomings of their economic system, but anthropologists find that Leavers (until their cultures are undermined by Taker contact) seem remarkably content with theirs.
Ever wish you were as secure as a baboon?
The experience of Leavers is one of cradle-to-grave security. This security is not the result of utopian design or nobility of character. It’s the result of eons of evolutionary shaping of their communities. In brief, community structures that did not provide cradle-to-grave security for their members did not survive. The structures we know are the ones that survived. They’re like the species we know: They survived because they worked.
Many readers may wonder if this “cradle-to-grave security” isn’t an exaggeration I indulge in for the sake of making a point. Not so, I assure you. In fact, there’s little reason to be surprised that Leaver peoples should enjoy such security. After all, among our neighbors in the community of life, the very same security is enjoyed in every species whose members form communities. Ducks, sea lions, deer, giraffes, wolves, wasps, monkeys, and gorillas (to name just a few species out of millions) enjoy such security. It has to be assumed that the members of Homo habilis enjoyed such security — or how would they have survived? Is there any reason to doubt that the members of Homo erectus enjoyed such security or that they conferred it upon their descendants, Homo sapiens?
No, as a species, we came into being in communities in which cradle-to-grave security was the rule, and the same rule has been followed throughout the development of Homo sapiens right up to the present moment — in Leaver societies. It’s only in Taker societies that cradle-to-grave security has become a rarity, a special blessing of the privileged few.
In Taker societies, needed support is provided by paid ”professional classes” of support-givers. If your mother becomes ill, for example, your community doesn’t rally round to share the burden of her care. You have to pay people to do that, and the more you spend, the better your mother is cared for and the less heavy your personal burden is. The same is true of any condition that could be alleviated by human support. In Leaver societies, this support is available to everyone in the community, automatically, free of charge. In Taker societies, you pay for it or you don’t get it. And, my oh my, do we ever pay for it!
I haven’t the time or inclination for such research, but it would be fascinating to know how much it costs us to get all the support that is free in Leaver societies. Virtually all services for which we pay taxes are provided for free by members of Leaver societies as an ordinary part of belonging to the community, and they don’t find it especially burdensome to provide them. ”Professional classes” of support-givers are nonexistent or very small; most shamans, for example, do not ”make their living” by healing or by performing religious ceremonies, and most tribal chiefs do not ”make their living” as political leaders.
People sometimes ask if it wouldn’t be possible to achieve the Leaver lifestyle simply by leaping out of the Taker lifestyle into nothing. The answer is no, because the Leaver lifestyle isn’t nothing, it’s an economy — an economy based on a different sort of wealth and on a different sort of economic transaction: not products for products but support for support.
If you’d like to explore the possibility of moving toward a Leaver lifestyle in your community, don’t concentrate on giving up Taker things. To concentrate on giving up Taker things is to concentrate on a negative. The Leaver lifestyle isn’t an absence of Taker things, it’s a presence of something else, and that presence is support.
I’ve conjectured that we can reinvent Leaver-style support systems for ourselves incrementally, bit by bit, by working within our own communities and building on each other’s successes the way inventors of the Industrial Revolution built on each other’s successes. I’ve received a lot of encouragement for this idea, but as yet no one has reported trying it. I suspect the idea of offering any kind of support to anyone makes people very nervous. That’s fine. Don’t start by offering anything. Start by bringing out into the open the fears and reservations you have about the whole idea. That’s progress, because it’s a start.