Jean Baudrillard developed his analysis of symbolic exchange from a critical reading of Mauss, John K. Galbraith and Thorstein Veblen. Symbolic exchange for Baudrillard was a way to escape the consumer society and the political economy of the sign.
He demonstrated in his early writings how the code of consumption and the system of needs had completed the system of production. The use value of the commodity provided an ‘‘alibi’’ to exchange value.
Consumers were even more alienated in their private lives than they were at work. They were unconscious of the process of semiosis that led through their acts of consumption of commodities with their coded differences to the reproduction of the capitalist mode of production.
The only way out of this system was a return to symbolic exchange where the accumulation of wealth and power was impossible and where exchanges were reciprocal and reversible.
Baudrillard, J. (1988) Symbolic Exchange and Death.