For a few years now, the Preparedness Community has been pointing to the economic issues of Venezuela and asking the public to take a good hard look at what is going on. Our hearts go out to those who are suffering, and at the same time, our minds consider what we would do if we found ourselves in the same predicament. One thing that we can definitely learn is how the people have adapted and found ways to continue living. One major way that the people are surviving is through creating a barter economy.
Communities of Iroquois Native Americans, for instance, stockpiled their goods in longhouses. Female councils then allocated the goods, explains Graeber. Other indigenous communities relied on “gift economies,” which went something like this: If you were a baker who needed meat, you didn’t offer your bagels for the butcher’s steaks. Instead, you got your wife to hint to the butcher’s wife that you two were low on iron, and she’d say something like “Oh really? Have a hamburger, we’ve got plenty!” Down the line, the butcher might want a birthday cake, or help moving to a new apartment, and you’d help him out.
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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.
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.
In a small economy where individuals specialize in trades, they may find the process of setting up a centralized currency and maintaining it an unnecessary burden in order to trade. One option may be to use a commodity to exchange value between parties that want to trade goods or services and this is why gold and silver have been useful forms of currency in many cultures and times. Another option may be to use a barter system to trade.
Similar to Zipcar but owned by car rental company Hertz, Connect by Hertz focuses on car sharing services on or near college campuses around the world. Membership is free, and hourly rental rates start at $6.80, which includes gasoline and insurance. Again, for those of you who rarely need a car of your own, a car sharing service could save you a bundle over the costs of ownership.
An online swap meet of sorts, at Swap.com there is no bidding or money exchanged. Rather, you offer to trade the stuff you no longer want. You’ll then have the ability to choose from books, movies, CDs, and other items. The site doesn’t seem to have monthly charges, but you’ll be responsible for shipping costs associated with items you sell. Swap has its own free iPhone app for simple listing and searching.
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.
Economists since the times of Adam Smith (1723-1790), looking at non-specific pre-modern societies as examples, have used the inefficiency of barter to explain the emergence of money, of "the" economy, and hence of the discipline of economics itself. However, ethnographic studies have shown that no present or past society has used barter without any other medium of exchange or measurement, nor have anthropologists found evidence that money emerged from barter, instead finding that gift-giving (credit extended on a personal basis with an inter-personal balance maintained over the long term) was the most usual means of exchange of goods and services.
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.)
With 70,000 members posting items they would like to barter with or for, there is a good possibility you can find what you are looking for at U-Exchange. Listings are available from all over the world, and the search feature lets you narrow down your choices by keywords. There is no charge for membership or listings, as advertisers pay to sponsor the site.
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.”