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.
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.
In trade, barter (derived from baretor) is a system of exchange where participants in a transaction directly exchange goods or services for other goods or services without using a medium of exchange, such as money. Economists distinguish barter from gift economies in many ways; barter, for example, features immediate reciprocal exchange, not delayed in time. Barter usually takes place on a bilateral basis, but may be multilateral (i.e., mediated through a trade exchange). In most developed countries, barter usually only exists parallel to monetary systems to a very limited extent. Market actors use barter as a replacement for money as the method of exchange in times of monetary crisis, such as when currency becomes unstable (e.g., hyperinflation or a deflationary spiral) or simply unavailable for conducting commerce.
Check online swap markets and online auctions that have a bartering component such as Craigslist.com (check under "For Sale" for the Bartering category), Swapace.com, SwapThing.com, Barterquest.com, U-Exchange.com, Trashbank.com and Ourswaps.com. Check for local bartering clubs. Your local Chamber of Commerce may be able to provide you with information on similar clubs in your area.
With 70,000 members posting items they would like to barter with or for, there is a good possibility you can find what you are looking for at U-Exchange. Listings are available from all over the world, and the search feature lets you narrow down your choices by keywords. There is no charge for membership or listings, as advertisers pay to sponsor the site.
BizXchange is for business-to-business barter, where members use “BizX dollars” to help each other save cash on expenses and find new ways to grow their businesses. BizX dollars are earned by (and can be spent on) selling products, services, or unused inventory to other members. Membership costs include a one-time initiation fee of $795, a $15 cash/$15 BizX monthly fee, and a 6% fee on each transaction with other members.
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!
If you need more than clothes, like baby bedding, baby furniture, or even sporting goods, you’ll be glad to find Zwaggle. It’s a network of parents who have joined together to share the expense of getting “new to your family” stuff in exchange for used or no-longer-needed items. You receive Zwaggle points for giving away your things, and you can use those points to get the things you want. Membership is free, and the community is powered by a points system rather than cash. The only money you have to spend is on shipping.
Kids sure do grow out of their clothes rather quickly, and that’s where ThredUP comes in. They set up a cool shop for parents to swap clothing and toys with other parents whose kids are different ages. You can pick up a box full of clothes or toys for just $5 plus shipping, or post your own child’s used clothing for other users to pick from. Membership is free for everyone.