Wednesday, March 25, 2009

On Microcosmic Fair Trade, part one

I received a package in the mail yesterday...

The package contained a couple of books I'd bought online. I perused the first one, but that's the extent of it's involvement in this saga. Our story really begins with the second book.

The second book was supposed to be an instructional DIY course on how to build a catapult.

I'd bought it as a lark, figuring it'd be good for a laugh or two, and would have my coworkers (further) questioning my sanity... and Hell, I'd be well equipped should I ever have to lob boulders, flaming pitch, appliances, or small vehicles in defense of my home and neighbourhood. Unfortunately, they sent me the wrong book. No, I didn't get my catapult book, but what I received could prove to be equally devastating at medium-long range...

It was a book on barter.

After getting over my initial disappointment, I thumbed through the book (Survival Bartering, by Duncan Long) and ultimately decided to keep it. I emailed the seller to let her know the situation, just in case they'd sent my catapult book to someone wanting the book on barter. She asked if I wanted to send the book back in exchange for the one I'd paid for, and I told her I'd keep this one if she'd refund me the difference, as the catapult book was five bucks more than the book on barter. She acquiesced and all was well. Five bucks ahead, and I hadn't even read the book through yet!

I took the book with me to work this morning, so I'd have something to do on my lunch hour. One of the guys saw me and asked me what kind of "hippie bullshit" I was reading this time, so I enlightened him.

"What the Hell kind of commie crap is that?" he asked (he's not too bright).

"Ok, here we go," I thought to myself... but instead of berating him with words that have far too many syllables for his brain to process, I opted to explain the concept of barter to him.

Barter, as I see it, can be explained thus: You're trading something of value to someone in exchange for something else of value. He seemed to catch on, so I elaborated.

"Even working is a form of barter," I explained, "You're trading your time and effort to your employer in exchange for money. Then you turn around and trade your money for other goods and services."

"Oh," he said, "I get it."

"Good!", I smiled, "But that's an oversimplified explanation. It gets more and more complicated, but that's a story for another lunch hour."

Now, I've been bartering for years. I had a home-based "business" for ages (trading old video games), and in recent years have been bartering my computer skills in exchange for other goods and services (but never money). I have fixed more personal computers over the years than I'd care to count, but never made a cent doing it. Instead, I'd exchange my skills for other things like old computer hardware, alcohol, artwork, tools, and the like. I made it absolutely clear that I didn't want money.

When asked why, I always explained, "Because money is the only thing that can cheapen something of value". Most people understood that the "something of value" was our friendship, other times I had to explain.

Of course, not everyone thinks in the same sentimental manner as I. The barter system is alive and well on the fringes of society, too, with an underground economy that is flourishing. People are routinely exchanging stolen goods for guns, drugs for sex, guns for hostages, sex for money or drugs, etc. It's also alive and kicking in the flea market/farmer's market circuit as well...

But more on that later.

I'm about a quarter of the way through the book, and it's been an interesting read so far.

Will post my final thoughts on the book once I'm done, and explore a few ideas I've just had on how bartering can help me in my goal of living minimal.