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Bartering Coming of Age in the E-Century
Bartering is as old as man and has been around since the first caveman traded his animal pelts for a more efficient hunting weapon. Throughout most of man’s history, bartering has been the primary means of acquisition. Barter was, before currencies developed; and barter has always existed in one form or another as a parallel to monetary systems, even the Almighty US Dollar. Everyone has heard the stories of patients trading chickens for medical services from the local country doctors. Some may even wish that this was so today, but doctors are largely insulated from negotiating their bills by forming medical groups, with sometimes as many as three hundred doctors participating. [Aside, perhaps this is why today most patients are merely regarded as case-numbers by modern docs, rather than people with needs. Negotiating bills might have been a concrete means of identifying with people rather than case-numbers.]
Bartering was especially popular in the heyday of the Back-to-the-Land Movement of the 1970’s when many magazines such as Mother Earth News, Countryside and Small Stock Journal, Organic Farming and Gardening, all had great barter sub-categories in their classified section. Everything from caretaking farms for free room and board, to honey for chickens and eggs was fair game in these advertisements. Most bartering was successful because essentially it was an exchange of a need for a need by two (and sometimes more) individuals without the use of currency. The trouble was, and remains so, that bartering is a skill. Like any other skill it is refined, developed, and honed through practice. Since most people are used to dealing in known currencies with a relatively known and stable value recognized by all, the need to ascertain values is circumvented.
Barter on the other hand, is based on need; therefore the more one needs an item the dearer the value. So different people trading for the same item may put different values on the item, depending on need and the circumstances of the exchange, thus it is vital that those involved in the exchange have a similar notion of the value. This entails knowing the market and the item. With money, a known value, it is not necessary to any great degree to be aware of these things.
In my previous corporate life I was a Contract Negotiator among other things, and was therefore trained in the art of negotiations. Indeed, there was even some barter involved in many of these negotiations depending on the country. I once recall negotiating with the nation of Malta for the goods that country produced in exchange for coal and calcined petro coke. Unfortunately for Malta, there was not much demand for the goods they had available, after all, how could I have convinced my boss that net ton of coal was equivalent to a pallet of diapers … no joke. But I digress.
Now with uncertainties in the various economies of the world and the advancement of egalitarian communications such as the Internet I believe that conditions are poised for a resurgence of the Art of Barter. This is especially true where the so-called PIGS nations are concerned. Many of these nations are going through unprecedented austerities which have reduced them to acquiring the basic necessities of life. In these countries black-markets are rapidly developing and since the home-grown currencies are essentially worthless barter of goods and services is an integral part of daily life. Argentina, has since the late 1990’s, been in this situation and many of the citizens have become quite adept at trading.
Today, even in the West alternatives to cold cash are rapidly forming. The Bitcoin, though I admittedly know little of its mechanics, is becoming so popular that many governments are restricting it use, making it almost the tantamount to counterfeiting. In more popular venues, like EBay and Craigslist, there are sections which deal in trade and barter. Additionally, there are websites like these that specialize in items and services like: Elance to sell our skills; Freecycle to recycle unused items: and now there are new services that allow users to sublet their stuff: like AirBnB, which allows you to rent out a room in your house; Lyft for carpooling; or RelayRidesto rent out your car for an hour; or Snap Goodsto rent out idle tools or anything else. In modern parlance barter economies are also known as, peer-to-peer economies, or sharing economies and in Libertarian circles it is known as Agorism, although each of these include such concepts as local farmers markets, and various cooperatives.
As the economies slip and the banksters and governments are using nefarious means of absconding with the people’s hard-earned savings in the form of bail-ins and seizing of pensions and retirement accounts, popular alternatives like black-markets and barter are springing into place. Perhaps barter and trading are skills that preppers and homesteaders should begin to cultivate before times get too tough.
In the end the new grassroots economies forming are not really new but were and are encompassed within Distributism and the Catholic Social Teaching of Subsidiarity, that is, dealing on the most local level is the most efficient, as timely needs can be met as soon as they are apparent. Certainly, as we read the headlines this is definitely something to consider.
Richard of Danbury, D.S.G.