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.
Especially prior to the Christmas holiday season, a gift and craft exchange can take the pinch out of your budget. Contact people within your network and arrange a day where people exchange homemade holiday decorations. You may not find everything you’re looking for, but you will likely find at least a few stocking stuffers – and the perfect price.
Business-to-business barter often includes merchandise or services in exchange for advertising. A company may supply promotional items or a service for a TV, radio station or newspaper, and in return receive a set amount of airtime or a certain number of print ads. Other examples include trading advice for goods, or trading merchandise or services for stock.
As Orlove noted, barter may occur in commercial economies, usually during periods of monetary crisis. During such a crisis, currency may be in short supply, or highly devalued through hyperinflation. In such cases, money ceases to be the universal medium of exchange or standard of value. Money may be in such short supply that it becomes an item of barter itself rather than the means of exchange. Barter may also occur when people cannot afford to keep money (as when hyperinflation quickly devalues it).
Many prepper fiction novels eventually get to a point where there is a barter economy or the characters visit a Trading Post. For instance, a trading post plays a prominent role in Mark Goodwin’s series, Seven Cows, Ugly and Gaunt: A Post-Apocalyptic Saga of America’s Worst Nightmare. In the novel, the characters use silver to purchase the necessary items to survive and make life easier. Goodwin’s novel is a post-apocalyptic EMP story. The poop has really hit the fan in this one!
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.
While the original idea for Rehash was to design clothing out of recycled clothes, it eventually evolved into a site for trading clothes with other users. Members can trade their unwanted stuff (clothing and accessories) with others who are looking for new items for their wardrobe, and vice-versa. Rehash also acts as a social community where users can get green living advice, read articles, request items, and attend swap events. Membership is free to interested parties.
Then again, it’s one thing to keep a community alive and well when everyone’s camping in a forest and they’ve all opted in to that vision. It’s quite another to imagine a gift economy enabling humans to build skyscrapers, invent iPhones, put air conditioners in every house, and explore space. (The same goes for collecting taxes and running large businesses.) Not that it’s an all-or-nothing situation: We already have gift economies among friends and family. Perhaps expanding that within small communities is possible; it’s certainly desirable.
For $75 per year, Capital Bike Share gives members access to inexpensive bike rentals around the Washington, D.C. area. Bike stations filled with 1,100 bikes are located all over the district and nearby towns, and a single membership key grants you access to use and return any of them wherever you are. The first 30 minutes are free, and each additional half hour costs a few bucks. Members can also use the SpotCycle app for the iPhone, Blackberry, and Android device to locate the closest available bike. You can also try a limited plan, like a 30-day pass for $25.
An online community in which you can either share free stuff or rent items for a fee, NeighborhoodGoods bills itself as a “social inventory,” enabling members to save money and resources by borrowing what they need to use. While joining is free of charge, you can create private sharing groups for your business or neighborhood for a small fee: $36 for six months.
While some people may balk at an online community for finding babysitters, I know several parents who say it’s actually very difficult to find a sitter they can trust. BabysitterExchange started in 2000 as a babysitting co-op, and it has since expanded to the point that members use it to reserve time when they just have some errands run, need help tutoring their kids, or want a temporary house-sitter.
Bartering is the trading of one product or service for another. Usually there is no exchange of cash. Barter may take place on an informal one-on-one basis between individuals and businesses, or it can take place on a third party basis through a barter exchange company. A barter exchange is any person or organization with members or clients that contract with each other (or with the barter exchange) to jointly trade or barter property or services. The term does not include arrangements that provide solely for the informal exchange of similar services on a noncommercial basis.
While one-to-one bartering is practiced between individuals and businesses on an informal basis, organized barter exchanges have developed to conduct third party bartering which helps overcome some of the limitations of barter. A barter exchange operates as a broker and bank in which each participating member has an account that is debited when purchases are made, and credited when sales are made.
I wish I came up with this fantastic idea. SharedEarth is a free site that connects landowners with gardeners and farmers in need of space to grow crops (i.e. starting a home vegetable garden). You can find free access to land in exchange for sharing a little bit of produce with the landowner. In a time of a strong and growing local food movement and concerns about food safety, SharedEarth might just be the most important sharing site of all!