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.
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).
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.
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Some businesses that may not directly barter with customers may swap goods or services through membership-based trading exchanges such as ITEX or International Monetary Systems (IMS). By joining a trading network (which often charges fees), members can trade with other members for barter "dollars." Each transaction is subject to a minimal fee; the exchange facilitates the swap and manages the tax components of bartering such as issuing 1099-B forms to participating members. You may find a nearby exchange through the International Reciprocal Trade Association (IRTA) Membership Directory. Before you sign up and pay for a membership, however, make sure that members offer the types of goods and services you need. Otherwise, you may find yourself with barter money or credit that you cannot use.
Can you teach a skill like canning or cooking from scratch? Food staples will be more readily available than the processed food many are used to buying at the grocery store and fast food. And although many in the preparedness community know how to can and cook from scratch, your common everyday American doesn’t. They wouldn’t know what to do with flour, eggs, and a little oil.
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!
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.
“Economic theory has always got to be historically bounded,” Beggs says. “I think it’s a mistake to think you’ll find the workings of modern money by going back to the origins of money.” He does point out that, while barter may not have been widespread, it’s possible that it happened somewhere and led to money, just given how much is unknown about such a large period of time.
At least at for my children, all of the little league sports are sponsored by different local businesses. They usually pay the cost of uniforms and donate a certain amount of snacks and such. In return, they get their company name on the jersey. The school often have fundraiser auctions and things, too, that are sponsored by the booster club. A lot of places donate laptops or other items in exchange for them mentioning that their company donated the product.
As Orlove noted, barter may occur in commercial economies, usually during periods of monetary crisis. During such a crisis, currency may be in short supply, or highly devalued through hyperinflation. In such cases, money ceases to be the universal medium of exchange or standard of value. Money may be in such short supply that it becomes an item of barter itself rather than the means of exchange. Barter may also occur when people cannot afford to keep money (as when hyperinflation quickly devalues it).
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.
The man who arguably founded modern economic theory, the 18th-century Scottish philosopher Adam Smith, popularized the idea that barter was a precursor to money. In The Wealth of Nations, he describes an imaginary scenario in which a baker living before the invention of money wanted a butcher’s meat but had nothing the butcher wanted.“No exchange can, in this case, be made between them,” Smith wrote.
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.
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.
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."