A gift economy is an economy where exchanges occur through the form of gift-giving, without contracts or agreements for immediate rewards. Gift exchange occurs in religious, kin, or political institutions and is therefore not equivalent to the other types of economic systems¹. Many ideas about gift economies assert that gift-giving is not done to receive a gift in exchange. This type of economic system has a larger social variable than other systems because gifts are a more personal transfer of property rights, and property is seen as a relationship between people and items². However, in some views, the exchange of goods between individuals has the objective of receiving a gift in return for equal or greater value².
The non-market exchange of goods or property, or gift-giving, can be seen as an the act of reciprocity because a relationship is likely to be established from an exchange, and a gift will be given back. This makes the act of gift-giving between two parties a continued process due to the act of reciprocating and re-gifting. Compared to transactions in market economies that are usually made in a single, one-time exchange, transactions in gift economies are continued.
Gift economies are opposite to economic systems, such as barter economies and capitalism, because goods are given, not exchanged, and labour is not sold for money. We can see in western societies today that economies function through commercial methods, like paid work, as well as gifts, such as charity or volunteer work.
1. Gregory, Chris (1982). Gifts and Commodities. London: Academic Press.
2. Sider, Gerald M. (1980). "The Ties That Bind: Culture and Agriculture, Property and Propriety in the Newfoundland Village Fishery". Social History.