But the harm may go deeper than a mistaken view of human psychology. According to Graeber, once one assigns specific values to objects, as one does in a money-based economy, it becomes all too easy to assign value to people, perhaps not creating but at least enabling institutions such as slavery (in which people can be bought) and imperialism (which is made possible by a system that can feed and pay soldiers fighting far from their homes).
When two people each have items the other wants, both people can determine the values of the items and provide the amount that results in an optimal allocation of resources. Therefore, if an individual has 20 pounds of rice that he values at $10, he can exchange it with another individual who needs rice and who has something that the individual wants that's valued at $10. A person can also exchange an item for something that the individual does not need because there is a ready market to dispose of that item.
And, if you’ve been in the Preparedness community for any amount of time, you are familiar with Fernando “Ferfal” Aguirre. He wrote about his experiences of the economic collapse in Argentina in his very popular book, The Modern Survival Manual: Surviving the Economic Collapse. Argentina hasn’t really recovered from their collapse many years ago. This video discusses one Barter Market Club that is located in an abandoned textile factory.
Whether or not one agrees with such broad claims, it’s worth noting that monetary debt, a byproduct of currency, has regularly been used to by some groups to manipulate others. Thomas Jefferson, for instance, suggested that the government encourage Native Americans to purchase goods on credit so they’d fall into debt and be forced to sell their lands. Today, black neighborhoods are disproportionately plagued by debt-collection lawsuits. Even after taking income into account, debt collection suits are twice as common in black neighborhoods as in white ones. $34 million was seized from residents of St. Louis’ mostly black neighborhoods in suits filed between 2008 and 2012, much of which was seized from debtors’ paychecks. In Jennings, a St. Louis suburb, there was one suit for every four residents during those years.
If you need more than clothes, like baby bedding, baby furniture, or even sporting goods, you’ll be glad to find Zwaggle. It’s a network of parents who have joined together to share the expense of getting “new to your family” stuff in exchange for used or no-longer-needed items. You receive Zwaggle points for giving away your things, and you can use those points to get the things you want. Membership is free, and the community is powered by a points system rather than cash. The only money you have to spend is on shipping.
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For $75 per year, Capital Bike Share gives members access to inexpensive bike rentals around the Washington, D.C. area. Bike stations filled with 1,100 bikes are located all over the district and nearby towns, and a single membership key grants you access to use and return any of them wherever you are. The first 30 minutes are free, and each additional half hour costs a few bucks. Members can also use the SpotCycle app for the iPhone, Blackberry, and Android device to locate the closest available bike. You can also try a limited plan, like a 30-day pass for $25.
Zipcar has been renting cars by the hour or day for years now, and they keep adding to their list of participating cities. You can pay different membership and rental rates, depending on how frequently you think you’ll need a Zipcar. Though the process varies, you basically sign up in your city, pay the application fee of $25 and any annual fees (ranging from $0 to $60, depending on the plan), and voila – you can now borrow a Zipcar for an hourly rate or daily charge. The rental includes gasoline, auto insurance, and 180 free miles, which is usually plenty.
Barter exchanges have their own unit of exchange, usually known as barter or trade dollars. Trade dollars or barter dollars are valued in U.S. currency for the purposes of information returns. Trade dollars allow barter to take place between parties when one party may not have a simultaneous need or desire for the goods or services of the other members. Barter exchanges act as the bookkeeper for keeping track of trade dollars that participants accumulate. Earning trade or barter dollars through a barter exchange is considered taxable income, just as if your product or service was sold for cash.
Like in Venezuela, people are bartering for needs. The important things that are sought right now seem to be food and medicine. But at some point, people will be wanting a “taste” of their former life. They will want something that reminds them of the life they had. It could be as simple as a piece of chocolate or a nice new dress. The important thing here will be timing, security, and perception.
An online community in which you can either share free stuff or rent items for a fee, NeighborhoodGoods bills itself as a “social inventory,” enabling members to save money and resources by borrowing what they need to use. While joining is free of charge, you can create private sharing groups for your business or neighborhood for a small fee: $36 for six months.
A place to exchange your books with other members, Bookins says that they have “more available books than the largest Barnes & Noble.” Best of all, there are no membership charges or fees to speak of. Bookins arranges all the trades for its users, so members never have to contact each other at all to set up swaps. Sending items is free of charge, while receiving an item costs $4.49.
Make the deal. After you've found a barter partner, get the agreement in writing. Make sure you detail what services or goods will be involved, the date of the exchange (or work to be done) and any recourse if either party reneges on their part of the deal. If you are working through a membership-based bartering association, they will likely provide all the structure and paperwork you need for the deal.
Then again, it’s one thing to keep a community alive and well when everyone’s camping in a forest and they’ve all opted in to that vision. It’s quite another to imagine a gift economy enabling humans to build skyscrapers, invent iPhones, put air conditioners in every house, and explore space. (The same goes for collecting taxes and running large businesses.) Not that it’s an all-or-nothing situation: We already have gift economies among friends and family. Perhaps expanding that within small communities is possible; it’s certainly desirable.