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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.)
Barter, also known as counter-trade, is an accepted practice that makes trading more convenient for nations that have difficulty with currency conversion, as well as for nations with fewer financial resources but sufficient commodities. For example, if a country produces plenty of rice, that country may exchange it with another nation to acquire another type of grain, or fruits and vegetables. On the other hand, one country might trade foodstuffs for textiles or oil.
But various anthropologists have pointed out that this barter economy has never been witnessed as researchers have traveled to undeveloped parts of the globe. “No example of a barter economy, pure and simple, has ever been described, let alone the emergence from it of money,” wrote the Cambridge anthropology professor Caroline Humphrey in a 1985 paper. “All available ethnography suggests that there never has been such a thing.”
While some people may balk at an online community for finding babysitters, I know several parents who say it’s actually very difficult to find a sitter they can trust. BabysitterExchange started in 2000 as a babysitting co-op, and it has since expanded to the point that members use it to reserve time when they just have some errands run, need help tutoring their kids, or want a temporary house-sitter.
Freegans are people who embrace community and sharing, in opposition to a society based on materialism and greed. Freegans avoid purchasing new products or food as much as possible. Instead, they spend a lot of time digging through trash and waste, looking for the things they need. Yes, it’s an extreme example of sharing and bartering, but they make the system work for them!
In England, about 30 to 40 cooperative societies sent their surplus goods to an "exchange bazaar" for direct barter in London, which later adopted a similar labour note. The British Association for Promoting Cooperative Knowledge established an "equitable labour exchange" in 1830. This was expanded as the National Equitable Labour Exchange in 1832 on Grays Inn Road in London. These efforts became the basis of the British cooperative movement of the 1840s. In 1848, the socialist and first self-designated anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon postulated a system of time chits. In 1875, Karl Marx wrote of "Labor Certificates" (Arbeitszertifikaten) in his Critique of the Gotha Program of a "certificate from society that [the labourer] has furnished such and such an amount of labour", which can be used to draw "from the social stock of means of consumption as much as costs the same amount of labour."
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.