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.
Bartering does have its limitations. Many bigger (i.e., chain) businesses will not entertain the idea and even smaller organizations may limit the amount of goods or services for which they will barter (i.e., they may not agree to a 100% barter arrangement and instead require that you make at least partial payment). But in an economic crunch, bartering can be a great way to get the goods and services you need without having to pull money out of your pocket.
You can use bartering to cut costs with your small business or to reduce personal expenses. For example, a handyman can trade services with a hairstylist. Each person is still getting paid for their work, in a sense, and it can lead to referrals to cash-carrying customers without costing a penny. However, the essence of bartering is simply to trade something you have for something you want or need – and you can do this whether you are struggling financially or have a steady income.
Anthropologists have argued, in contrast, "that when something resembling barter does occur in stateless societies it is almost always between strangers." Barter occurred between strangers, not fellow villagers, and hence cannot be used to naturalistically explain the origin of money without the state. Since most people engaged in trade knew each other, exchange was fostered through the extension of credit. Marcel Mauss, author of 'The Gift', argued that the first economic contracts were to not act in one's economic self-interest, and that before money, exchange was fostered through the processes of reciprocity and redistribution, not barter. Everyday exchange relations in such societies are characterized by generalized reciprocity, or a non-calculative familial "communism" where each takes according to their needs, and gives as they have.
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).
For one thing, the barter myth “makes it possible to imagine a world that is nothing more than a series of cold-blooded calculations,” writes Graeber in Debt. This view is quite common now, even when behavioral economists have made a convincing case that humans are much more complicated—and less rational—than classical economic models would suggest.
So as you consider items to stockpile, you should think about items that are necessary, but might not take up a lot of space. Referring back to Mark Goodwin’s book mentioned above, one thing the main characters looked for were canning lids and rings. They don’t take up a lot of space and in a real collapse situation, they will be really worth it!
Anyone familiar with David Sedaris’s writing knows he pens a quirky brand of humor with unvarnished truth at its core. In Barter Theatre’s production of his The Santaland Diaries, adapted for the stage by Joe Mantello, his observations on how humans carry out their Christmas traditions are served up in distinctive Sedaris style. With biting satire and “truth stranger than fiction” fashion he shares his all too real experience working as a department store elf in Macy’s Santaland.
Bartering is the exchange of goods or services. A barter exchange is an organization whose members contract with each other (or with the barter exchange) to exchange property or services. The term doesn't include arrangements that provide solely for the informal exchange of similar services on a noncommercial basis. Usually there's no exchange of cash. An example of bartering is a plumber exchanging plumbing services for the dental services of a dentist.
Business to consumer barter may include things like free merchandise for a customer who is willing to provide sales leads. Person to person barter can include almost anything you can imagine. Auction sites are a good place to find others willing to trade for things you have. Classified ads, online or in print, are another handy way of conducting barter transactions, and so are barter clubs.