Monthly Archives: May 2010

The Right of the Idiom continued, addendum

The relations between the gift, the informal, and the formal, capitalist economy can bear a bit more discussion. It is not quite right to call the informal economy a gift economy—transactions will be carried out regularly with money, often the currency used in the larger society, I would imagine, but there’s no need to assume informal exchanges would be restricted to that currency (other, currencies, maybe more secure international currencies might be used). There is also, probably, a good deal of barter and exchange of services. What is most important to de Sotos, though, is that what is possessed in the marginal, informal economy is legal title to possessions, many of which are held illegally, such as a house built without a title, violating zoning regulations, on state land. Not only can such possessions not be a source of capital—it can’t be used as collateral for a loan, for example—but the owner’s continued possession of them relies upon the personal knowledge of that owner by others in the community. Everyone knows who owns that house, those tools or stock of materials, who sets up shop on that corner, etc. It is this reliance upon reciprocal personal recognition that seems to me to root the informal economy in the gift economy. As a transitional, or hybrid, form, the informal economy could be seen, as I argued in the previous post, as exemplary of the need to root rights in idioms of local recognition. In order to give legal title to the vast wealth held in the informal economy, one would have to, as, indeed, de Sotos and his collaborators have done, go through the neighborhoods in question and not only note this house, this shop, this vehicle, but to speak with the inhabitants to find out who owns what, and therefore to gauge their reliability, assess their own conflicting interests, the norms, resentments and sense of justice; all of which would, in turn, be rooted in local histories and events within the memories of most witnesses. In turn, all that knowledge, all those resentments, those tacit norms, are articulated and made public, subject to a new kind of scrutiny which might both respect and alienate it as a set of idioms. And here we can see a bridge between the gift and money economies.