In recent years, barter has enjoyed a resurgence as a means of countering economic insecurity, unemployment and worker exploitation. The nature of modern-day work, the pervasiveness of the Internet and the rise of social networking have all contributed to its spread. Other examples of alternative economic systems include gift economies, sharing economies and time banks.
Bartering is the process of obtaining goods or services by direct exchange without the use of currency. In times of economic instability or currency devaluation, it can be a great way to ensure the flow of necessary items and services into your household without using precious funds. Historically, face-to-face exchanges between familiar parties were most common, but the Internet has opened up a new medium for bartering opportunities for both person-to-person exchanges and third-party facilitated transactions.
Many prepper fiction novels eventually get to a point where there is a barter economy or the characters visit a Trading Post. For instance, a trading post plays a prominent role in Mark Goodwin’s series, Seven Cows, Ugly and Gaunt: A Post-Apocalyptic Saga of America’s Worst Nightmare. In the novel, the characters use silver to purchase the necessary items to survive and make life easier. Goodwin’s novel is a post-apocalyptic EMP story. The poop has really hit the fan in this one!
Need a ride? Zimride is a ride share service which members use to set up private networks for sharing rides and saving money. Most cars fit four people, yet we usually commute by ourselves. Why not share the burden of car ownership and resource consumption? Centered around hundreds of colleges and universities, you can probably find a ride almost anywhere you need to go near campus.
But in real-world scenarios, like in Venezuela, Greece, and Argentina, the fabric of society is still intact. Society hasn’t unraveled like it did for Selco in Bosnia. In those countries, people still go to work (if they have a job), go to school and life goes on, although it really sucks! In these cases, bartering will be a little easier, safer and more readily available as society is intact.
Bartering is based on a simple concept: Two individuals negotiate to determine the relative value of their goods and services and offer them to one another in an even exchange. It is the oldest form of commerce, dating back to at time before hard currency even existed. (Learn more about how bartering evolved, read The History of Money: From Barter To Banknotes.)
When barter has appeared, it wasn’t as part of a purely barter economy, and money didn’t emerge from it—rather, it emerged from money. After Rome fell, for instance, Europeans used barter as a substitute for the Roman currency people had gotten used to. “In most of the cases we know about, [barter] takes place between people who are familiar with the use of money, but for one reason or another, don’t have a lot of it around,” explains David Graeber, an anthropology professor at the London School of Economics.
Check online swap markets and online auctions that have a bartering component such as Craigslist.com (check under "For Sale" for the Bartering category), Swapace.com, SwapThing.com, Barterquest.com, U-Exchange.com, Trashbank.com and Ourswaps.com. Check for local bartering clubs. Your local Chamber of Commerce may be able to provide you with information on similar clubs in your area.
In Spain (particularly the Catalonia region) there is a growing number of exchange markets. These barter markets or swap meets work without money. Participants bring things they do not need and exchange them for the unwanted goods of another participant. Swapping among three parties often helps satisfy tastes when trying to get around the rule that money is not allowed.
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.
Can you make home or vehicle repairs? Do you manufacture pieces that may be needed for repair? Can you grow fruit and vegetables and gather the seeds to sell? Do you sew, knit and repair clothing? Think through what you can do. Many skills that preppers have are taken for granted by others. The skills that you have that seem like common sense to you could keep you and your family fed in hard times.
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.
In his analysis of barter between coastal and inland villages in the Trobriand Islands, Keith Hart highlighted the difference between highly ceremonial gift exchange between community leaders, and the barter that occurs between individual households. The haggling that takes place between strangers is possible because of the larger temporary political order established by the gift exchanges of leaders. From this he concludes that barter is "an atomized interaction predicated upon the presence of society" (i.e. that social order established by gift exchange), and not typical between complete strangers.