This proposed match-up can free needy people from their dependence upon self-interested bankers, the Altruists state. But to call this a gift economy seems to deny the fact that even when no money exchanges hands, there is always some sort of an exchange of value. The giver may wish to gain some sort of power over the recipient, may want to get a tax deduction, or at the very least, the giver desires to enhance his or her self-esteem. Even tribal gift exchanges served a political purpose. Moreover, although this type of gift economy may encourage some philanthropists to give without strings attached, it is unlikely many people will give, without some assurance of some sort of return. Even online, the spirit of altruism is hardly universal and has its limits. Few people can afford to be so generous.
The Altruists would counter that the Internet itself began as a gift-giving exchange of information. In 1961, during first germination of the Internet, a network joining four universities known as ARPANET was created at the Stanford Research Institute near Palo Alto: “university students and scientists, struggling to share information faster” created a computer-based information system. “Beyond the pragmatism behind their motivations, lay a philosophical and political conviction: the free exchange of information would have to be embedded in the Internet culture that would emerge, otherwise it made no sense!” (Suarez 2009).
However, the public-spirited nature of the origins of the Internet does not mean that it can exist in a purely free, gift-based mode on a wide scale. Today, advertising is almost everywhere online, and is required to support most high-quality websites. The quality of information generated on a free blog that is gifted to the viewer does not usually have the reliability of a professional website, with paid reporters and supported by advertising. The reliability of funds from altruistic donors will never have parity with the donor capacity of a bank. Personal giving is capricious in nature, and usually deals in smaller sums. Altruism and the gift economy cannot replace capitalist exchanges. It is unlikely that a pure gift economy ever existed, at least the kind of gift economy where something was truly given for nothing.
“The Internet Gift Economy.” Altruists International. October 29, 2009
Suarez, Maria. “Athanor: Gift giving in the net.” The Gift Economy. 2001. October 29, 2009