The Barter Network Handbook last published in 1983, is described by Stewert Brand in The Whole Earth Catalog as “Another one of those slightly fusty do-gooder manuals, but the subject is one that, like open air farmers’ markets…can do alot to connect a community. Sometimes you barter goods, but mostly people barter services; either way, you leave the IRS out of it. Village economics in an urban world, self-rewarding”.
Although this book is listed as out of print on Amazon, the notion of bartering has made its way onto the internet in a wide array of forms and in a range of communities. From this Boston Globe article from April 2009 “Some indicators suggest the number of bartering exchanges is increasing. Earlier this month, a popular advertising website, Craigslist, announced that its barter listings increased by 100 percent during the past year. A bartering website, www.u-exchange.com, which reports 60,000 members in 82 countries, said its membership has nearly doubled over the same time”
These online sites usually work with a credit based system; you can list your goods or service and determine the amounts of credits they are worth, you are then linked to a network of other individuals and businesses who want to barter. This way, you don’t have to make direct exchanges to get what you want, rather you earn or lose credits within the network you are part of! An old studio mate of mine used to exchange her stained glass for dog food through Greenbarter. The benefits of the barter system are numerous in that it is a flexible and customizable way to meet all the participants needs, a great example of the innovation possible is written about in this 2002 Seattle Times article that describes barter systems being used at small private colleges. “Six families have swapped their swine for scholarship, trading hogs that are worth little on the open market for classes on Lindenwood’s tree-lined suburban campus. They have filled the cafeteria’s freezers with fresh-off-the-farm sausage, bacon — even whole pigs, which are smoked on an outdoor barbecue spit before home football games.” The article goes on to describe another campus that is providing students who volunteer on campus and in the community with tuition rebates. As the economy declines and structures dissolve, it begins to allow old models to become viable and regain credibility. And, with the ever expanding net of the inter-web the options for barter become expansive.
I have often thought it would be interesting to organize regions within the US to exchange goods via barter with other regions within our borders, promoting economic security and internal interdependence, it may also serve as a unifying paradigm for regions that tend towards political animosity. The Northwest trading Blackberries to the Southeast who trades peanut oil to New England who sends Maple Syrup to the Southwest who trades chilies to the Midwest who sends Corn to the Northwest. People interested could join co-op’s specializing in this kind of exchange to ensure users were getting what they needed and bartering their surplus. This type of exchange could also be a major boon to government and community organizations trying to feed and diversify the diets impoverished citizens living in a land with a bounty of growing climates and food resources. That may just be the “the fusty do-gooder” in me but I think a barter based economy can be a more legitimate economy then one based on Mortgages-backed securities and derivatives.