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.
Other countries, though, do not have the reporting requirement that the U.S. does concerning proceeds from barter transactions, but taxation is handled the same way as a cash transaction. If one barters for a profit, one pays the appropriate tax; if one generates a loss in the transaction, they have a loss. Bartering for business is also taxed accordingly as business income or business expense. Many barter exchanges require that one register as a business.
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.
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.
Some businesses that may not directly barter with customers may swap goods or services through membership-based trading exchanges such as ITEX or International Monetary Systems (IMS). By joining a trading network (which often charges fees), members can trade with other members for barter "dollars." Each transaction is subject to a minimal fee; the exchange facilitates the swap and manages the tax components of bartering such as issuing 1099-B forms to participating members. You may find a nearby exchange through the International Reciprocal Trade Association (IRTA) Membership Directory. Before you sign up and pay for a membership, however, make sure that members offer the types of goods and services you need. Otherwise, you may find yourself with barter money or credit that you cannot use.
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.
Companies may want to barter their products for other products because they do not have the credit or cash to buy those goods. It is an efficient way to trade because the risks of foreign exchange are eliminated. The most common contemporary example of business-to-business barter transactions is an exchange of advertising time or space; it is typical for smaller firms to trade the rights to advertise on each others' business spaces. Bartering also occurs among companies and individuals. For example, an accounting firm can provide an accounting report for an electrician in exchange for having its offices rewired by the electrician.
The Internet provides a new medium for the barter exchange industry. Pure Internet-based barter companies differ from traditional, organized trade exchanges in that they do not have a physical office. In modern Internet barter exchanges, there is an agreement or process in place to value goods and services exchanged, which is facilitated by the barter exchange for a fee. A barter exchange functions primarily as the organizer of a marketplace where members buy and sell products and services among themselves.
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.