Gift economy

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Gift economy is a system based around getting people what they need (and want), without the use of money. Instead of a bartering system, where 10 eggs could buy you a kilo of flour, the idea is to give freely to everyone and anyone, and others will do the same for you, so that no one is left out. When and if you need something, just ask, and it will be provided. In turn, you give what you can to the next person who needs it. No money is exchanged, but the gift of goods flows to everybody.

Just like anarchic and consensus decision making systems, gift economies work best when people can see their own individual part in relationship to the whole. For instance, people need to see what their needs are as well as what they have to offer and what other people's needs are. Without a grander view of needs/wants outside of self and friends and family, people tend to be a little more selfish. Creating this larger view also allows people to gift in accordance to what they have to offer. For example, someone who has lots of material wealth can gift any number of goods, whereas someone who has very little material wealth may have a service to offer. Value in a gift economy is not based on a dollar system, but rather in some combination of time, intention, community betterment, and perhaps environmental sensitivity.

Best used in a big community, with a lot of people. And of course, there's always the 'drain-bows' who bring nothing and get everything, but they're generally few and far between. Again, however, as more people become aware of their relationship to the whole, the less drainbows there will be.

To many, the idea of an economy not based on direct exchange, but on mutual giving may seem naive, even idealistic. However, this is just a reflection of the spirit of these times. Gift economies can and do work - in fact, they are alive and well in the institution closest to most people's hearts, the family, and have been the traditional social system of man since time immemorial.


Burning Man Festival, in Nevada, United States, is a temporary city that practices gift economy. The Rainbow communities also use a gift economy.

Hospitality exchange networks such as BeWelcome are a form of gift economy.

Just like hitchhiking, dumpster diving is probably not a direct form of gift economy, but it's quite related.

External links


  • The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property by Lewis Hyde
  • Essai sur le don. Forme et raison de l’échange dans les sociétés archaïques by the french sociologist Marcel Mauss - a starting point for much of the study of gift economy over the past 80 years.