This sort of scenario was so undesirable that societies must have created money to facilitate trade, argues Smith. Aristotle had similar ideas, and they’re by now a fixture in just about every introductory economics textbook. “In simple, early economies, people engaged in barter,” reads one. (“The American Indian with a pony to dispose of had to wait until he met another Indian who wanted a pony and at the same time was able and willing to give for it a blanket or other commodity that he himself desired,” read an earlier one.)
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.
No academics I talked to were aware of any evidence that barter was actually the precursor to money, despite the story’s prevalence in economics textbooks and the public’s consciousness. Some argue that no one ever believed barter was real to begin with—the idea was a crude model used to simplify the context of modern economic systems, not a real theory about past ones.
Modern barter and trade has evolved considerably to become an effective method of increasing sales, conserving cash, moving inventory, and making use of excess production capacity for businesses around the world. Businesses in a barter earn trade credits (instead of cash) that are deposited into their account. They then have the ability to purchase goods and services from other members utilizing their trade credits – they are not obligated to purchase from those whom they sold to, and vice versa. The exchange plays an important role because they provide the record-keeping, brokering expertise and monthly statements to each member. Commercial exchanges make money by charging a commission on each transaction either all on the buy side, all on the sell side, or a combination of both. Transaction fees typically run between 8 and 15%.
Simmons learned how to ask after one Barter Babe, a veteran barterer, told her she needed to post a wish list. Following the advice, she eventually got not just one bike but two (one for her and one for Matt), a TTC pass, yoga lessons, a haircut and food she wanted to eat, among hundreds of other things. Simmons made exceptions for some unique trades, too, such as both circus performance training and butter churning lessons, the latter of which she now barters as a skill to others. She even worked up the nerve to approach local businesses in person, armed with a business case for barter. One café near her apartment traded a month’s worth of morning coffee for a financial session; a boutique hotel, Hotel Ocho at Queen and Spadina, took a financial seminar luncheon for its employees in return for an overnight stay for Simmons’s parents, who were celebrating their 35th anniversary.
The first 23 Barter Babes to join were friends and former PH&N co-workers who wanted to support Simmons. They mostly traded items and services to help out with the launch party: a lot of food, a press release, coat racks, silent auction items, courier services and social media consulting. Barter Babe No. 24, Grace Poon, was the first person to sign up for the project with whom Simmons had no prior connection. In exchange for Simmons’s financial advice, Poon provided graphic designs for an investment presentation (which Simmons still uses today). She remembers being excited, but also nervous: it was the first trade she’d made with someone who didn’t feel obligated to give her unconditional support. She needn’t have worried.
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.
Inevitably some people may feel like they were taken advantage of. One way to diminish inequities is to engage in dollar-for-dollar trades. For example, if you would like to trade your housecleaning service for someone’s couch, try to break down the goods and services to the dollar amount. If the two of you decide that the value of the couch is worth $200, why don’t you supply a gift certificate for $200 worth of housecleaning services? It’s a wise course and ensures all parties know what they are getting and what they are offering.
1.Jump up ^ O'Sullivan, Arthur; Steven M. Sheffrin (2003). Economics: Principles in Action. Pearson Prentice Hall. p. 243. ISBN 0-13-063085-3. 2.^ Jump up to: a b Graeber, David (2011). Debt: the first 5,000 years. New York: Melville House. pp. 21–41. 3.Jump up ^ Humphrey, Caroline (1985). "Barter and Economic Disintegration". Man 20 (1): 49. 4.^ Jump up to: a b Humphrey, Caroline (1985). "Barter and Economic Disintegration". Man 20 (1): 48. 5.Jump up ^ Humphrey, Carolyn and Stephen Hugh-Jones (ed.). Barter, Exchange and Value: An Anthropological Approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 3. 6.Jump up ^ Graeber, David (2001). Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of our Dreams. New York: Palgrave. p. 154. 7.Jump up ^ Graeber, David (2011). Debt: the first 5,000 years. New York: Melville House. pp. 40–41. 8.Jump up ^ Graeber, David (2001). Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value: The false coin of our own dreams. New York: Palgrave. pp. 153–4. 9.Jump up ^ Graeber, David (2011). Debt: The First 5,000 Years. Brooklyn, NY: Melville House. pp. 94–102. 10.Jump up ^ Robert E. Wright and Vincenzo Quadrini. Money and Banking.Chapter 3, Section 1: Of Love, Money, and Transactional Efficiency Accessed June 29, 2012 11.Jump up ^ Humphrey, Caroline (1985). "Barter and Economic Disintegration". Man 20 (1): 66–7. 12.Jump up ^ Plattner, Stuart (1989). Plattner, Stuart, ed. Economic Anthropology. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. p. 179. 13.Jump up ^ M. Bloch, J. Parry (1989). Money and the Morality of Exchange. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 10. 14.Jump up ^ Humphrey, Caroline (1985). "Barter and Economic Disintegration". Man 20 (1): 52. 15.Jump up ^ Polanyi, Karl (1957). Polanyi, Karl et al, ed. Trade and Market in Early Empires. Glencoe, Illinois: The Free Press. p. 14. 16.Jump up ^ Harrison, John (1969). Quest for the New Moral World: Robert Owen and the Owenites in Britain and America. New York: Charles Scibners Sons. p. 72. 17.Jump up ^ Harrison, John (1969). Quest for the New Moral World: Robert Owen and the Owenites in Britain and America. New York: Charles Scibners Sons. p. 73. 18.Jump up ^ Harrison, John (1969). Quest for the New Moral World: Robert Owen and the Owenites in Britain and America. New York: Charles Scibners Sons. pp. 202–4. 19.Jump up ^ Tadayuki Tsushima, Understanding “Labor Certificates” on the Basis of the Theory of Value, 1956 20.Jump up ^ Homenatge A Catalunya II (Motion Picture). Spain, Catalonia: IN3, Universita Oberta de Catalunya, Creative Commons Licence. 2010. Retrieved January–2011. "A documentary, a research, a story of stories about the construction of a sustainable, solidarity economics and decentralized weaving nets that overcome the individualization and the hierarchical division of the work, 2011." 21.Jump up ^ Barcelona's barter markets (from faircompanies.com. Accessed 2009-06-29.) 22.Jump up ^ "What is LETS?". AshevilleLETS. Retrieved December 9, 2008. 23.Jump up ^ TIMES, nov. 2009 24.Jump up ^ David M. Gross, ed. (2008). We Won’t Pay: A Tax Resistance Reader. pp. 437–440. 25.Jump up ^ Tax Topics - Topic 420 Bartering Income. United States Internal Revenue Service
Within the week, Simmons gave notice to her employer. By then, she’d been pining to leave for eight months and had diligently saved for the occasion. Her plan now was to barter her financial services with other women for one year. That would be enough time, she figured, to get the altruism out of her system, but not so much that she’d go broke. She would use $10,000 in savings to pay her cellphone bill and to parcel out $35 in emergency spending each week if and when bartering fell through on the basic necessities. That money would also help pay for most of the rent at the Dovercourt and Queen apartment she shared with her boyfriend, Matt, who was in the midst of changing careers. Everything else—food, clothing, haircuts, fitness, entertainment and transportation around the city—she would acquire through barter. Simmons figured she’d need to barter with 300 women to make it work. She gave the project a catchy name, Barter Babes, and started organizing a launch party.
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.
Even before visiting the Marquesas, I had heard from men who had touched at the group on former voyages some revolting stories in connection with these savages; and fresh in my remembrance was the adventure of the master of the Katherine, who only a few months previous, imprudently venturing into this bay in an armed boat for the purpose of barter, was seized by the natives, carried back a little distance into their valley, and was only saved from a cruel death by the intervention of a young girl, who facilitated his escape by night along the beach to Nukuheva.
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.