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Prompted by Mathew Taylor's recent blog on the cultural life of the London Underground, I remembered an aspiring musician who told me that she always gave money to good buskers, because as a matter of principle we should support what we value, and because she feared she might be in the same position some day (she is now a vet).

Prompted by Mathew Taylor's recent blog on the cultural life of the London Underground, I remembered an aspiring musician who told me that she always gave money to good buskers, because as a matter of principle we should support what we value, and because she feared she might be in the same position some day (she is now a vet).

But what do you do when you really like a busker's music, want to support their endeavour, but find that you are genuinely out of change? A quick ask around the office led to 'a kiss' and 'a smile' as the main suggestions, while many spiritual traditions would suggest offering a prayer, or simply a heartfelt positive thought for the person's wellbeing, which is surely worthwhile. But man cannot live on smiles, kisses and good vibes alone.  There ought to be a more tangible non-monetary expression of regard.

What if you were to offer some nourishing thoughts or advice? You could write them your favourite quotation on a piece of paper and drop it in alongside the twenty pence pieces, or perhaps advise them on where to have lunch (Mooli's would be my suggestion).

Sounds wildly unrealistic and impractical? Perhaps.  But now imagine you walk past the same musician every day for several weeks so that you effectively enjoy hours of the fruits of their skill and time. How could you pay that back in kind? Perhaps you could help them improve their second language, fix a leaky tap, or cook some lemon rice.

Maybe. But at the end of the day, surely people want money - universal vouchers that give you the freedom to get whatever you want, rather than relying on the relatively limited set of whatever skills or products people around you can give?

Certainly money is the preferred form of exchanging value, but many argue that something vital about human meaning-making and social connectivity has been lost in the process. By mediating human contact, money lubricates the free exchange of skills and products, but also contaminates it.

A few years ago a friend hired a van and helped me to move flat in london, and in return I gave him some chess tuition. We didn't haggle too much about the relative time, skill or value of what we exchanged, and seemed to sense it implicitly. On a large scale, you cannot build an economy on this sort of model, but at a local level, especially when money is tight, we need to consider ways of reviving this form of exchange.

Some communities are already doing so with the idea of time banking, and the classic expression of related forms of exchange is Avner Offer's paper Between the Gift and the Market: The Economy of Regard, which is far too rich a tapeastry of ideas to summarise here, but one signature quotation of Offer's might whet your appetite:

"Affluence breeds impatience, and impatience undermines wellbeing."

So the next time you pass a busker doing their job well but don't feel like reaching for your wallet, be patient, and consider what you might be able to offer each other.

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