Barter—It’s the Happening Scene

Sunni's picture

The headline—spotted at Strike the Root—says it all, but in true rambling-reptile fashion, I’ll say more. Boom times for barter, says the LA Times headline. Amid the stories the article is built around, some important insights can be found.

“I don’t think people realize the power of bartering,” Huggins said. “Sometimes we don’t value what we have in our services—because we put so much value on the tangible dollar.”

For avid swappers, cash-free transactions provide a sense of community and connection that money can’t always buy.

Of course people are turning to barter in these challenging economic conditions—that cycle is well established. But there are costs attached to the convenience of a dollar-based economy—the fickle and ultimately worthless nature of fiat currency being the largest elephant in that room—that tend to be unnoticed by many. And, as the bit quoted above states, relying on money can diminish some of the intangible elements of an exchange—but it doesn’t necessarily do so.

Perhaps wanting to avoid the appearance of being too sympathetic to alternatives to our corporatocracy, the article provides the obligatory cautions:

As a form of everyday currency, bartering has downsides. It’s far more time-consuming and tricky to negotiate the exchange of goods and services than it is to simply plunk down some bills. Sometimes prospective swappers flake out or try to rip off their trading partners. Transactions don’t always go smoothly.

Plus, there are potential tax liabilities. The Internal Revenue Service considers income from bartering taxable.

“Far more time-consuming”? My experiences to date don’t support that assertion. And of course trust is an important element of these exchanges—but it’s inherent in cash exchanges as well. We tend to trust that the bills received aren’t counterfeit, for example; and we also trust that the money will hold enough of its value to be exchanged for something else down the line. To me, our current situation highlights that blind faith in the value of the USSA FR– Sachson is a risky proposition.

And of course the gov has its hand out—but taxing such exchanges is much more difficult, primarily because tracking them can be challenging. How can one prove one didn’t buy supplies with cash to repair a garage door oneself and not keep the receipt(s), rather than bartering for the repair? What the IRS considers its realm and what it can prove are quite different reality-sets.

The conclusion is what most clearly highlights the educational opportunity we agorists have right now:

But people won't buck the cash economy when good times return, said Lawrence J. White, professor of economics at New York University’s Stern School of Business.

“Bartering waxes and wanes,” White said. “Money is really the most efficient mechanism.”

I do agree with White, that money is efficient. However, just like all transactions, the willingness to use money is built upon trust—and that trust must be met at several layers. If the money isn’t inherently valuable—as salt, cattle, shells, gold, and silver all have been or are still—then users trust that it is backed by something that does have value. Ultimately, they have trust in the issuing body not to cheat by shorting, or manipulating the money supply.

How much trust does the USSA government and the Federal Reserve deserve today?

Our society and markets today are packed with ancient assumptions about how they work and the character of the players. Banks—and corporations in general—are almost automatically accorded a level of trust, viz., that they will not cheat their customers. By and large—and in the main because they all engage in rent-seeking and rely on special favors granted them by the state—they have failed to be worthy of that trust.

Thus far, my calls for creating agorastrusted networks of exchange among pro-freedom individuals—seem to have brought no response. If the lack of evidence is truly due to lack of action, well, that’s disappointing but hardly surprising. Like humanity at large, we suffer no shortage of individuals willing to complain but not willing to act to improve things.

However, this is an educational opportunity that is too important to pass up. It’s long past time to unpack some of those assumptions, to show people how they’ve been betrayed by the fascist system in this country. We can encourage their awareness of some of the less obvious benefits of barter, as well as the fatal flaws in the current money monopoly scheme. Helping people see—and more accurately value—their goods and services without the dollar blinders on is a crucial step. Coupled with their positive experiences with bartering, our efforts could help see to it that future generations are less gullible and less vulnerable than recent ones have been.

Bartering with Metals

"Money" is still a trade item. It's just that FRNs are only worth anything because we are told they are. If you like using "money" to simplify barter, use silver or gold. I realize you still need to think about the relative values, but it is a habit I would like to get into anyway.

I would love to cultivate agoras around me, but I think I am a lone tumbleweed in a field of cotton. I keep calling out; maybe someone will eventually respond.

Isolation and Barter-Broke

I want very badly to barter...something. I just can't think of anything to offer. I'm neck deep in the trap of wage slavery. I feel I have no exchangeable skills or products and at the same time work too much to have any time to try and perform any kind of service.

As to not having anybody to trade with, I think this article is pointing out that this will soon change. Those people may not share the same political/philosophical motivations for the trade, but like Sunni has said, this is a great opportunity to teach (subtly, of course).

Now to just think of what I can barter with....

what to use for barter

I'd like to know also if anyone has a good idea of something worth investing in ahead for the time when we will need to barter. I'm thinking firewood or fake logs and also thinking peanut butter because it's very satisfying if you are hungry and has a long shelf life. Also, meal replacement powders that mix with water, and health supplements -- especially antibiotics like colloidal silver. If you think this seems extreme, then read what is going on with the formerly wealthy people of Argentina. I hope it's not a picture of things to come, but we are in for a world wide economic collapse. Anyone have any other ideas? Money in the bank could be useless if the funds are frozen as they have been in Argentina. We might as well put the money into something that is real and useful.


Probably the most important barter item you could have is small arms ammunition. Once you have your own food needs taken care of, I'd suggest investing in several common types of ammunition - both handgun and rifle.

.22LR could easily replace the dollar soon, with various other sizes and types of ammo roughly representing other denominations.

Other trade goods that would be both portable and store well are salt, spices - such as black pepper - and other things that will be true luxuries if trade with foreign countries is disrupted. The salt may well be worth its weight in gold at some point as it has been many times in the past. And it won't go bad ever if it is kept dry.

Lots and lots of great information here: SurvivalBlog

Learning curve

One of the most obvious challenges in agora efforts is that so many people are unwilling to put out the time and effort to actually think through the possibilities and choices, especially for everyday things.

I'm certainly not immune to this myself. If a price is not apparent on the shelf (or preferably on the product) in a store, I will simply not bother even looking further at it unless I'm desperate to buy one. It is just too much work to find a clerk, or the bar code reader in some stores, to discover the price. That, of course, is a marketing thing and I do the store a kindness if I complain - but I don't always bother with that either.

Another area for thought, perhaps, is the vague line between barter/trade and those things neighbors might just do for one another without keeping score or expecting return. Yet there has to be a sense of give and take even here or it breaks down eventually.

The agorist efforts by the little freedom community here are still pretty limited, but I have hopes for growth and more efficiency as time goes by... and times get harder. And they will inevitably grow as more and more people join us.

mommy barter

In the tradition of barter I have exchanged some really valuable services and items since my move to NoDak.
I joined two parenting support groups here and the ladies swap babysitting services, house-cleaning services for the same or for home-made dinners, special occasion confections, information in specific fields (for example I'm a source of info about brestfeeding and natural birthing), books, etc. Might sound like nothing but once you find a lady who out of the blue asks you "When was the last time you went on a date with your husband?" and "I'd love to babysit for you!" all sorts of possibilities for barter open up.

Maybe bartering baby steps are in order...

... I've often had the same train of thought that PintofStout has. What can I do or offer that's a needed service? I started with some moves that I call "bartering babysteps" to build my bartering confidence.

I first found a local freecycling group. This type of business may not meet many people's standard of bartering, but it's a start. You have something you do not need, and it may be of service to someone else.

With many freecycle groups you can post occasional wanted posts. For example, I wanted to send my daughter a hot pot, aka electric kettle, so she could boil water conveniently in her dorm room for coffee, tea and hot chocolate. Rather than plunk down frns at the local store as a first move, I placed a wanted post on my local freecycle to see if anyone had one they didn't use. A very nice lady replied and I picked up the hot pot the next evening and mailed it to my daughter.

What's nice about Freecycle is groups usually have a code of conduct that helps you build trust in the group. If someone agrees to pick something up, and he doesn't, you can report his conduct to the moderator and if it happens a certain number of times without a good explanation as to why, that member is barred from freecycling for a period of time. Knowing that clause up front reduces the amount of bogus trading.

A business networking group may also be a good place to locate bartering opportunities. I've found a few that way. You get to know the person you end up bartering with in a social/business atmosphere and trust builds when you watch how she handles referrals.

Also, look at Polka's reply. Not everyone knows how to make bread or a lovely dessert for company. So for a woman who doesn't but is a very competent and trustworthy babysitter, a turn watching your children while you take a few hours for a date night, in exchange for an apple pie for a meal with her in-laws, is a wonderful barter. Even skills that on the surface look too simple for barter may be of great interest to another person in need.

Good ideas

Just have to figure out how to adapt this to a bunch of people who are so danged self sufficient, not to mention spread out so far it's hard to connect in person.

But, where there is a will, there is a way. :)

Couldn’t’ve said it better myself.

Polka and lewlew, thanks so much for pointing out just a few of the many ways individuals can dip their toes into barter and barter-like exchanges. It’s also helpful to remember that one might barter successfully in situations where another has the skill necessary to complete some task, but lacks the time to see to it.


I did a double-take at that myself. Considering all the rents and tolls currently collected on transforming your labor directly into use-value, barter probably takes less time.

Plumbers, electricians, etc., generally make wages about a third of what you pay their company for their services. Plus the licensing monopolies and local "safety codes" criminalize production for exchange using spare capacity of ordinary household equipment, like commercially selling bread you baked in your little oven, or running a three-table restaurant in the front room with your regular kitchen range and dishwasher, and erect artificially high minimal capital outlays for doing business so that everybody has enormous unnecessary overhead.

So producing directly for barter should get you a great deal more use-value in exchange for your labor. I can probably get a lot more tomatoes for my bread by baking it and trading it directly for your produce, than by working for a bakery and using my wages to buy tomatoes at the supermarket. There are a lot fewer useless eaters to feed all around.

Mike Rogers on barter

Just a pointer here to an interesting article by Mike Rogers at Lew's place.

- NonE

the concept of gift shedding light on barter

currently reading a fascinating book called "the gift" by lewis hyde. hyde was featured in a recent ny times article. he explores the value of creativity (art) in a culture governed by money. i couldn't help but see certain parallels between a barter economy and the nature of a gift. the purpose of the gift is not to be hoarded or even used to increase wealth but rather to be passed on or consumed immediately.

with barter there is a tendancy to try and balance the transaction. with market economy the currency is the tally or balancer. painting for legal services may not equate in a monetary sense but may be a perfectly acceptable trade in a barter economy. where some would see an imbalance, the exchangers see a fair trade.

it would make sense then to come to grips with the potential imbalance of value by exploring the nature of gifts. lewis hyde does an excellent job of this and for me it really gave me a deeper insight into the possibilities of a barter economy and how to flesh it out.

as i'm still enjoying the book, i hate to draw parallels at this point. but as i read, i can't help think about the implications of taking insights on gifts to give a clearer, more holistic approach to barter.

sounds socialistic, i realize, but it goes deeper than that as it's not about balancing books as much as giving/receiving and letting the things of life flow through a community.

Thanks, both of you.

NonE and galacticmonk, I appreciate the pointers. I hope, gm, you’ll provide us with a followup when you do finish the book.

Interesting article on Barter

(Is a Barter one who draws children on "The Simpsons?" ... Sorry, couldn't help myself.)

Here's an interesting article on barter.

I know what you’re thinking: barter is useless. But you may be mistaken. Because an astonishingly large proportion of the global trade in goods and services is barter-based, to protect traders against alarming currency fluctuations.

In one of the most famous examples, Pepsi took profits from Soviet Russia in the form of vodka.

- NonE

Thanks, NonE.

I’ll try to get to the article today ... but I didn’t get everything done yesterday that I’d wanted, so I’m starting today a little behind. I gotta start catching up, or I may drown in work ...