OP: Your feelings are certainly admirable, I honestly feel that way.
However, yours is not really a defence of the Ward system. What you are really defending is a lack of any real economy. That in itself is telling. You mention that AHs are faceless, but retainers are stony at best. How is buying an item from an offline player's retainer different from buying an offline player's auction?
If SE implemented a neutered AH that was as handicapped as the current ward system, you would find the exact same behaviour from players you are experiencing now. The source of that camaraderie is not inherent in the Ward system, but inherent in an ineffective economy.
It should become quite clear that if players took all the initiative to carve out an economy from nothing, then SE would not even need a Ward system, or indeed any economic system at all. Everything would be driven by those hard working, salt of the earth people you mentioned.
Trade would be conducted by /shout and player maintained forums. SE would not even have to lift a finger. You would meet tons more of those hard working people. However, those would be in real short supply, as hard working people usually have real jobs.
It is well and fine to work hard at a game you love. However, there should be a limit to the amount of effort needed to function as an effective economic entity so that casual gamers who only have enough time to play on weekends can participate.
Players who put in as much effort as you do should be at the top of the heap. However, it seems you are doing that much just to be able to function. This is not defensible imo.
Edited, Dec 22nd 2010 6:52pm by obsothoth