Free stores and free exhcange of services

I came across an interesting scheme a few days ago:

Its basically one of those LETs style barter schemes, dealing with services rather than goods, but with one crucial difference. Services are freely shared--not traded. Each member commits to provide their chosen service upon request, up to the weekly maximum she or he stipulated upon joining. There's no maximum applying to services used.

Could this be a good working structure for a working gift economy, at least at the level of local communes? If all productive facilities were considered the common property of the commune, then services that people offer could include "2 hours working on the common agricultural projects" or "3 hours helping build houses", and the product would go to the common store, for free consumption by those who fulfil their (self-chosen) commitment to provide services when requested up to their (self-stipulated) weekly minimum.

This system has many advantages. It deals well with the free loader problem, whilst allowing for individual freedom, as each person decides for themselves how much they will commit to working. However, social pressure will come to bear because everyone will know how much you have committed to do, and when you provide a service upon request, this will be recorded. Therefore the desire to be thought well of will provide a good incentive to commit a good amount of hours - harnessing the competitive instinct for socially positive purposes.

Also, it would help break down the division between workplace and community. It will not be a case of joining a workplace, so much as committing a certain amount of hours to one project, a certain amount to others, and maybe doing some work on your own on a "self employed" basis where possible.


Mar 3 2007 20:09

I'm the administrator of the skills pool about which you wrote, and I appreciate your observations.

In practice "social pressure" does not do much to keep member contributions high. Your assumption that "everyone will know how much you have committed to do, and when you provide a service upon request, this will be recorded' is not really accurate. Everyone does have a weekly maximum for contributions, and the amounts of these maximums are available to the other members, but they aren't published and members have never requested them. Publication of the maximums would serve no purpose, as what's important is not what a member could in theory give but what he/she actually gives. Also, there is usually no publication of individual contributions. This would require a degree of reporting by members that would be in practical terms impossible to enforce.

So it falls upon me as administrator to make sure that (1) initial offerings (upon registration) are reasonable generous, and (2) periodic contributions by every member are sufficient. Bearing in mind that a member cannot contribute if his service is not requested, I review annual questionnaires to see what services have been given and received, and it's at that point that I ask when appropriate for an increase in a member's offerings.

sam sanchez
Mar 7 2007 03:06


I wasn't really referring to this scheme under the current social system, but under another, with a much more communal spirit and structure. For example, where the local governing body is a general assembly of everyone in the neighbourhood, to which everyone can contribute, then it becomes important to individuals to be well thought of by their neighbours, as it will make others more likely to see things their way and vote in ways they would like.