Gift Economy

Business, Legal & Accounting Glossary

Definition: Gift Economy




Full Definition of Gift Economy


Gift economy is a social theory that describes giving of services and goods without any expressed desire for returning the favour. Gift economies are generally found in cultures that stress on intangible or social rewards for generosity and commonality. Gifts can also be circulated within a specific community. It is a type of reciprocal altruism.

Practical Examples Of Gift Economy

The concept of a gift economy is an old one. Earliest examples of this type of economy is portioning out of food in prehistoric hunter-gatherer societies. Some vestiges of this still exist in parts of the modern world. Native American potlatch ritual in the Pacific Northwest involves leaders of the community donating substantial amounts of commodities to their followers. This philanthropy helps to strengthen relations between groups.

Similar examples exist in the corporate world. A ‘favour network’ within a corporate organization can be classified as a gift economy. Another example of a gift economy in contemporary society is the open-source development of saleable services and goods. Linux software is such an example. Programmers make source code available to others in their peer group. This enables specific software to be modified and improved.

Some form of gift economies are essential for a modern human society. The blood bank system that exists in many countries provides no monetary payment or equivalent as reciprocal for persons who donate blood. Organ donors also generally do not expect something in return. Scientific research can also be cited as an example of a gift economy. Scientists publish research papers and give them away at scientific conferences. Sharing of information helps to expand its scope.

Marketing Ploy

A gift-based economy can exist in a highly consumer society. Many companies give away free gifts to their customers. This scheme is executed in order to attract first-time customers and also to ensure customer loyalty.

Against A Gift Economy

Critics of gift economy contend that the economy depends on a great degree of mutual knowledge, trust and reputation. It is thus limited to a small section of the population. Receiving gifts stifle production and innovation. Darker shades of the gift economy are classified as bribery and corruption.


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Definition Sources


Definitions for Gift Economy are sourced/syndicated and enhanced from:

  • A Dictionary of Economics (Oxford Quick Reference)
  • Oxford Dictionary Of Accounting
  • Oxford Dictionary Of Business & Management

This glossary post was last updated: 29th March, 2020 | 2 Views.