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= The study and practice of the production and allocation of non-scarce goods.


Robert Levin:

" technological change continues to occur, in part because competing organizations often need the competitive advantage which new technology can provide. So we can be certain that, over time, more and more basic goods will become less and less scarce. With these changes, it becomes increasingly important to understand how human beings allocate non-scarce goods. Indeed, a sort of "economics" of non-scarcity becomes an important study. But economics is the study of the allocation of scarce goods. We need a new paradigm, and a new field of study. What we need is agalmics.

The behavior of agalmias gives us useful information about the ways that societies can change and grow. Open source and free software communities provide us with excellent modern day agalmias for study, as does the Internet itself. But long term trends in technology suggest that material scarcity will likely become less common, and agalmic behavior more common. In studying the behavior of agalmias we can see intimations of our technological future." (


agalmics (uh-GAL-miks), n. [Gr. "agalma", "a pleasing gift"]: The study and practice of the production and allocation of non-scarce goods.

agalmic actor, n.: An individual or organization engaged in agalmic activity.

agalmic software, n.: Computer software written and distributed as an agalmic activity.

agalmia, n.: The sum of the agalmic activity in a particular region or sphere. Analogous to an "economy" in economic theory.


Robert Levin:

"To understand human behavior, we must find clear examples to study. Agalmic behavior involves the exchange of non-scarce goods, goods which can be found in the modern free software community. As we examine agalmic behavior, we'll frequently use examples involving free software. We can observe the following characteristics of agalmic activity:

1. It is transfinite. Economic trade is finite; when I give you a dollar I have one less than I did. Agalmic activity involves goods which are not scarce, so I can give you one without appreciably diminishing my supply.

2. It is cooperative. Economic activity often involves competition. Buyers must allocate their limited funds to the supplier who best meets their needs. Since it doesn't involve scarce resources, agalmic activity rarely involves competition. Efficient agalmic actors know how to encourage cooperation and benefit from the results.

3. It is self-interested. Agalmic activity advances personal goals, which may be charitable or profit-oriented, individual or organizational. An agalmia typically contains both individuals and organizations, with a broad mix of charitable and profit-oriented goals. Agalmic profit is measured in such things as knowledge, satisfaction, recognition and often in indirect economic benefit.

4. It is self-stimulating. Examples can be seen in free software communities, in which new programmers, documenters and debuggers come from the ranks of free software users.

5. It is self-directing. Free software users provide feedback to developers in the form of bug reports, patches and requests for new features. Software projects can be forked by users when an existing developer group is not responsive to their needs. Maintainers are then free to adopt the new work or go their own way.

6. It is decentralized and non-authoritarian. In a free software community, developer groups maintain their positions only as long as they are responsive to their user bases. No one is forced to participate in a project, and the projects people participate in are the ones in which they are interested. Involuntary activity places limits on exchange and creates scarcities. As such, it is non-agalmic. A particular agalmic group may be organized in a top-down fashion, and non-agalmic groups may act agalmicly. But alternatives are available and participation is voluntary. Authoritarian systems remove personal incentives for agalmic behavior.

7. It is positive-sum. In games theory, a 'zero-sum game' is one in which one player's gain is another player's loss. Conventional economics often describes zero-sum games. When two suppliers compete for the dollars of a single customer, or when two government agencies compete with each other for fixed budget dollars, a zero sum game is played. A 'positive-sum game' is one in which players can gain by behavior which enhances the gains of others. Efficient agalmics is a positive-sum game. For example, when a free software programmer gives his source code away, he gains a large population of users to report bugs; the users gain the use of his programs. By awarding the other players points, the player gains points.

8. It is not new. Gift cultures have existed during much of human history, and other, non-gift cultures have clear agalmic influences. Religious communities have engaged in agalmic behavior, as have governments, businesses and individuals. Charities, standards organizations and trade associations often act agalmicly. It may be argued convincingly that civilization itself is an agalmic activity." (