It’s hard to answer that without actually seeing a modern gift economy in action. Luckily, modern gift economies actually do exist. On a small scale, they exist among friends, who might lend each other a vacuum or a cup of flour. There’s even an example of a gift economy on a much larger scale, albeit one that’s not always in operation: The Rainbow Gathering, an annual festival in which about 10,000 people gather for a month in the woods (it rotates among various national forests around the country each year) and agree not to bring any money. Groups of attendees set up “kitchens,” in which they prepare and serve food for thousands of people every day, all for free. Classical economists might guess that people would take advantage of such a system, but, sure enough, everyone is fed, and the people who don’t cook play music, set up trails, teach classes, gather firewood, and perform in plays, among other things.
GoSwap is a permanent house swapping site, meaning you list your house, look for a house you want, and then just swap away! Say you want to trade your beachfront home for a log cabin in the woods; maybe someone else on the site wants to swap their woodsy retreat for life at the beach. No more waiting to sell your place before buying your dream home, as you just have to find someone who wants what you have. Listing your home on the site costs anywhere between $9 and $270, but signing up and shopping around is free.
If you live in a major metropolitan area, chances are that you probably take public transportation to most of your destinations. You ditched your car long ago – eliminating parking, gas, and car insurance from your budget. But what if you need to get out of town for an hour-long meeting or pick up 25 bags of dirt from the landscaping store? Do you rent a car for the whole day even though you only need it for a few hours? Not if you have Zipcar nearby.
PaperBack Swap is exactly what it sounds like: a place to swap paperback books. Currently, more than half a billion books are available for trade on the site. Just list the books you don’t want anymore and other members will find them. When someone requests one of your books, you just mail it out and then choose any available book that you want to receive. Swapping is easy, and membership is free.
Barter exchanges have their own unit of exchange, usually known as barter or trade dollars. Trade dollars or barter dollars are valued in U.S. currency for the purposes of information returns. Trade dollars allow barter to take place between parties when one party may not have a simultaneous need or desire for the goods or services of the other members. Barter exchanges act as the bookkeeper for keeping track of trade dollars that participants accumulate. Earning trade or barter dollars through a barter exchange is considered taxable income, just as if your product or service was sold for cash.
When two people each have items the other wants, both people can determine the values of the items and provide the amount that results in an optimal allocation of resources. Therefore, if an individual has 20 pounds of rice that he values at $10, he can exchange it with another individual who needs rice and who has something that the individual wants that's valued at $10. A person can also exchange an item for something that the individual does not need because there is a ready market to dispose of that item.
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The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) considers bartering a form of revenue and something that must be reported as taxable income. Under U.S. generally accepted accounting principles, or GAAP, businesses are expected to estimate the fair market value of their bartered goods or services. This is done by referring to past cash transactions of similar goods or services and using that historical revenue as a reportable value. When it is not possible to accurately calculate the value, most bartered goods are reported based on their carrying value.
However, this isn’t always possible. For instance, you may have a $150 digital music player and want a small refrigerator worth $100. In this case, if both parties are certain of what they want and understand the difference in value, there should be no barterer’s remorse. Alternatively, you can ask for the mini-fridge plus $50 to make the trade – the worst anyone can say is “no.”
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In Spain (particularly the Catalonia region) there is a growing number of exchange markets. These barter markets or swap meets work without money. Participants bring things they do not need and exchange them for the unwanted goods of another participant. Swapping among three parties often helps satisfy tastes when trying to get around the rule that money is not allowed.
@matthewc23 - I love being able to barter for things. You mentioned that you don't really have any specialized skills, but you would be surprised. Depending on your profession, think about any special training you have that a normal person wouldn't have. Some people would be willing to trade for that service. Even things you wouldn't normally think of as being services could be useful to someone else.