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.
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.
Could you imagine having to barter for food and medicine for your kids? This is something that most Americans today can’t even wrap their heads around. Many will say that “it couldn’t happen here.” I highlighted some of the pain that Venezuelan’s were going through in this article, “This is Why We Prep! This is Why We Stay Aware!.” Make sure you watch the embedded video. That video is heart-wrenching! If you have kids, it will be enough to get you to rethink your preps!
Identify your resources. What items do you have that you could easily part with? Use a critical eye to go through your home, and consider possessions you may have in storage or that another family member or friend is currently using. If you would prefer to offer services, honestly assess what you could provide for others that they would otherwise pay a professional to do. It could be a skill or a talent or hobby such as photography.
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).
Zipcar has been renting cars by the hour or day for years now, and they keep adding to their list of participating cities. You can pay different membership and rental rates, depending on how frequently you think you’ll need a Zipcar. Though the process varies, you basically sign up in your city, pay the application fee of $25 and any annual fees (ranging from $0 to $60, depending on the plan), and voila – you can now borrow a Zipcar for an hourly rate or daily charge. The rental includes gasoline, auto insurance, and 180 free miles, which is usually plenty.
Whether or not one agrees with such broad claims, it’s worth noting that monetary debt, a byproduct of currency, has regularly been used to by some groups to manipulate others. Thomas Jefferson, for instance, suggested that the government encourage Native Americans to purchase goods on credit so they’d fall into debt and be forced to sell their lands. Today, black neighborhoods are disproportionately plagued by debt-collection lawsuits. Even after taking income into account, debt collection suits are twice as common in black neighborhoods as in white ones. $34 million was seized from residents of St. Louis’ mostly black neighborhoods in suits filed between 2008 and 2012, much of which was seized from debtors’ paychecks. In Jennings, a St. Louis suburb, there was one suit for every four residents during those years.
Stop lugging around old books you won’t read again and trade them for some new reading material instead. Bookmooch uses a points system, so you’ll enter the books you want to give away, get requests from members who want your books, ship from home, get points, and then spend the points on the books you need. While membership is free, you’ll receive .10 points for every book you make available and 1 point for every book you successfully give away. To remain in good standing, you need to give away one book for every two you receive.
Bartering is the process of obtaining goods or services by direct exchange without the use of currency. In times of economic instability or currency devaluation, it can be a great way to ensure the flow of necessary items and services into your household without using precious funds. Historically, face-to-face exchanges between familiar parties were most common, but the Internet has opened up a new medium for bartering opportunities for both person-to-person exchanges and third-party facilitated transactions.
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.