Returning to a gift-based economy?

Categories: social, economy

What? Modern society tends to assume that today’s systems of monetary exchange grew out of an earlier system of barter. In fact, there is no evidence that barter – quid pro quo exchange – was a predecessor to money. According to anthropologist Caroline Humphrey, “no example of a barter economy, pure and simple, has ever been described; let alone the emergence from it of money.”  Instead, a wide variety of other methods of exchange took place. Many of these were centred on gift-giving in various forms, and did not involve assigning specific values to goods. 

So what? As the author points out, our current use of money and perception of barter as a central part of our shared history implies that humans have always had a quid pro quo exchange mentality. But, in considering that other systems existed, “…money starts to look like less of a natural outgrowth of human nature, and more of a choice.” As the sharing economy grows and the possibility of zero-marginal cost production increases, perhaps we will once again branch out to other forms of exchange.

Source: The Atlantic - The Myth of the Barter Economy

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Date modified

2017-03-29