Eli Gothill explores the limitations to scalability of gift economies, and also explains how introduction of practically any kind of incentive ends up devolving gifts into priced commodities.
I don’t think the gift economy is necessarily an extrapolation of the existing consumerist phenomenon of birthday presents and the like. For one thing, the first question, as I see it, when blueprinting new kinds of economies, is how to assure the provision of necessities. Necessity goods as birthday or Christmas or other Hallmark holiday presents, if anything, somehow seem in bad form, by the logic of existing consumer culture. Instead of gifts to individuals, I suggest gifts to the world at large (like free software) or more locally, gifts to the nearest “free store” or the equivalent. Instead of inventing a reputation currency, consider implementing a policy of transparency for the free store, in which all transactions of materials in or out of the store, no matter how small, are in the public record. To partially preserve the notion of gift from evisceration by some form of keeping score, there might be an option for transfers of items into the store to be anonymous—the gift itself being on record, but not the identity of the giver. The general idea is extreme meticulousness and transparency of recordkeeping, but limiting ourselves to qualitative accounts of the items being tracked. The deliverables to the public domain are a description of the contents of the inventory, not an estimation of its value.
The article mentions that it would strike us as strange if a couple kept a ledger of household duties performed. Yet it is not at all uncommon for people to give gifts (especially anniversary gifts) to their beloved in the form of coupons good for the performance of some chore or another. These, I suppose, are technically fungible, probably not transferable (but what if the writing on the slip contains words such as ‘bearer?’) but not currency denominated. Something like this might be appropriate as a gift to a free store. A person could issue them in quantities consistent with their capacity for volunteering such services, perhaps with expiration dates so as to avoid having to fulfill a lot of them at once.
Scalability? Don’t know. Maybe it can’t be done. Maybe that’s where a sort of federalism comes in; gifts between free stores. One rather small scale unit is the family, and the article describes the internal economics of family life as almost all gift paradigm and almost no exchange paradigm—to a point:
The most obvious example is the family: goods and services flow between the members of a family, but not according to the logic of the market. Such exchanges are best regarded as gifts: a parent’s ‘services’ to a child can be regarded as largely one-directional gifts with little explicit quid-pro-quo. As the child grows older, the expectation of reciprocation, however informal, becomes more apparent. In the same way, partners expect each other to ‘do their fair share’ in the distribution of tasks and chores that go with running a household.
This paints a picture of a gift economy existing as an island within a market economy. The economic inputs and outputs of the family are most likely mediated through markets, but within the family the gift paradigm is the norm. This may be analogous to my take on angel economics, in which there is no direct attempt to challenge the existing market economy, but linkages to it, being the inputs and outputs of the economic system under construction, are minimized as a shared goal of participants.