Marcel Mauss' "The Gift" Social Insurance Legislation

599 words - 2 pages

In Marcel Mauss’ The Gift the author shows us the ancient tradition of gift giving and receiving. He also explains the fundamental process that lies, surreptitiously below the surface of this basic human trait – if it can be referred to as such. Mauss shows that there is something inherent and intangible within the giving of the actual gift. There is a sort of spirit within the actual gift itself and that spirit or hau, as it is called, must be returned to the original giver by way of a return gift.The hau of a gift is the driving force behind the feelings of reciprocity one has when giving or receiving said gift, any gift. If the hau is not returned to its rightful owner then there is a loss of honor and a sense of shame takes over. This works in the minutia and also on macro levels, from giving a child a birthday present to social insurance legislation.Social insurance legislation is the body of laws that doles out such things as Social Security and Medicare to our elderly, unemployment checks to the unemployed, and things like health insurance. They are the collective rights to social protections against sickness, old age, unemployment, and death.Mauss believes that these things are inspired by one thing, “the worker has given his life and his labour, on one had to the collectivity, and on the other hand, to his employers.”(p.67) The worker is paid wages to compensate for his “gift” of labor and that is the return of that hau. Social insurance legislation comes into play here because simply paying wages is not enough. The worker has actually given more than just his labor to the job, the workplace, the employer. He has given a grand portion of his...

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