You may have heard earlier this month of “Free Money Day” (freemoneyday.org). The organizers of this event were promoting a day where people world-wide were encouraged to give away money to complete strangers to promote something called a “sharing economy.” Although not directly related to barter, I’ve run into the concept of a “sharing economy” multiple times in my life and think it’s very interesting. The concept is to give away products/services with no expectation of receiving anything in return. For example, participants of Burning Man are encouraged to provide products/services to each other free of charge during the event. Not only is cash strongly discouraged, but barter is as well.** Before you dismiss this as a Utopian hippy-dippy idea, there are some practical applications of this approach in the real world.
In my life I participate in a sharing economy with people that I have the closest relationships with. For example, I will often do things for (or give things to) friends or family without expectation of reciprocation. I also partner in business with a consultant where we often do things for each other in business with little expectation of receiving something in return. There is something interesting going on here physiologically because it’s easier for me to give freely to people who are close to me that I feel will not take advantage of me. This really doesn’t add up because if you are truly giving without expectation of return then it’s impossible for anyone to take advantage of you.
I think also it’s important to differentiate between a true sharing economy and a loose barter arrangement. It is very common for people to barter with each other without tracking the details of who did what for whom. Because there is a general expectation that everything needs to “come out in the wash” in those situations, it really doesn’t qualify as giving w/o expectation of return.
You can learn more about the sharing economy in that most-dependable-of-all-resources, wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sharing_economy
** I’ve been told the only things that are allowed to be sold at Burning Man are ice and coffee (the necessities of life there).