Personally, I see relationships as the fundamental unit of economics, and have always been a little shocked that they don’t seem to seem to come up explicitly in economic theory.
Say I have some bacon (mmm…. bacon.) In order for anyone else to get access to my bacon, the two of us have to form a relationship. There are tons of ways that this could happen: a family member could have free access to my bacon, a friend could ask to borrow my bacon, I could invest my bacon in a corporation and use it for some project, I could sell my bacon or someone could use a gun as leverage to take my bacon. Though they generally aren’t talked about in economics (that I’ve seen) there are rules to how these sorts of relationships are formed. In order for a relationship (friend, business partner, buyer/seller) to form, there has to be a model for that relationship which is known by both parties. The two of them then have to negotiate the application of that model to the situation they’re in (if you’re figuring out how to be married this is hard, if you’re figuring out how to be a buyer and seller it is sometimes easy), then build trust, then finally start exchanging your bacon.
I like this model because it expands economics outside of the marketplace, and points out the ridiculousness of a free market system. A free market is really just saying that to keep things simple everyone should form the exact same kind of relationship. (A particular nuance of buyer/seller developed by some rich fuddy duddys.) This makes about as much sense as telling everyone to exchange goods exclusively through heterosexual nuclear families. Relationships are, by their very nature, diverse. They step in and out of marketplaces with ease, and insisting that they don’t requires extraordinary sacrifices in our relationships with our communities and our planet.
This kind of relational economics also suggests a strategy for creating sustainable social change. Remember, in order to form a relationship there first has to be a model for that relationship known by both parties. That means that by constructing new, useful relationship models and making them widely known you can radically alter the way that economic activity takes place.
(This model gets even crazier when you say that you don’t actually HAVE the bacon, you just have a relationship with the bacon, and that relationship is also subject to new models and change.)