What’s Fair in Bartering?

Amanda Warren
Activist Post

I have a difficult question and I’d like your help. Admittedly, I am no economist – I know what sounds good and I dream of Atlantis utopias, but I’m downright ignorant with macro economics. I guess bartering is more micro and it comes easy because all you have to do is think about your skills, talents and goods and work up a trade agreement with another party and everyone is happy. Right?

When I talked to a small business owner I worked for, she had nothing but sour sentiments for talk of blossoming barter economies. Greece is using it out of necessity and with encouraging results. Others are going out of their way to choose it for personal reasons. The news vid below, favorably shows New York businesses bartering, and says there are over 1500 bartering websites.

Her business was sinking for many reasons, and she needed good PR, so I suggested barter. Instead of pure cash or credit, she had consumable items that weren’t moving which she paid wholesale for – why not trade some to a beginning social media relations expert for a service that would normally cost a lot of dough?

The practice sounds perfect to me because I dislike banking, managing money, exorbitant fees, and paying for inflation while I continue to trade hours for stationary wages. I like sideswipes and life hacks. I’ve already bartered using my skill set with friends. Her utopia involves government handouts, small business bailouts, and universal health care.

In my mind, she is constantly miserable because she is waiting for what she feels is owed to her, forgetting that it’s hers and everyone else’s hourly wages that would go to her slice of pie and slices to many, many others.

She asked:

How is a barter society FAIR when I have to trade my GOODS that I PAY cash for wholesale prices for something that other people can do for FREE? A BARBER or HAIR STYLIST for instance, can do their work for FREE as many times as they WANT. But I have GOODS. A barter society can NEVER work!

I mentioned that a hair stylist:

  • Paid for their education.
  • Rents their booth if they do work inside a business, or perhaps they own their shop – utilities, mortgage, loans.
  • Constantly purchases supplies that only last so long: scissors, hair dryers, combs, disinfecting liquids.
  • Must use consumable products like shampoo, conditioner, gels, hair sprays, dyes, perm solution, etc.
  • Must stand on their feet for the whole service duration (and many must buy orthopedics and pay for chiropractic and foot work).
  • Must trade a certain amount of time for each service rendered – so it’s unreasonable to think that they can work for free goods as many times as they want. There’s a limit to time and energy.

What she also missed during this discussion:

  • She has an education and a decade of experience.
  • She has educational skills that she can offer to others like consulting – both with her products and business experience.
  • She has networking connections, very valuable.
  • She’s written some instructive books.
  • She has control over what she decides in regards of value and trade.

But if I want a bag of groceries or a hair style, I’m trading goods that I paid for, she said. I’ve seen this problem arise in a real-life example. A relative who is a painter bartered painting services for dental and doctor visits for his family. But that left nothing much for groceries in the following weeks, as it would take a week or two to complete some of the work. And he had to buy the paint and supplies. Sometimes he trades with a local farm for fresh goods but still has difficulty with gaining other grocery goods when he’s trading paint service.

How is this conundrum solved? Are these birthing pains since our modern society currently isn’t immersed in barter and cannot be fully transitioned? Would it be different if the economy completely flunked – would some people and their skills be left in the cold? Is it really just for those doing the trade to work out, going through trial and error?

I think perception of fairness is better left to positive people who choose to initiate these interactions. Now, how do you like to respond to the argument above? For me, it’s the feeling one gets when expressing how great it would be to go back to no income tax and already knows the first words out of their mouths … And the third-eyelid starts to droop …

Please share your thoughts below.

This video (a few years old) shows some New York businesses helping each other out of economic slumps with bartering. Even though they are giving something away, they join forces in trade to pull the other up. They express happiness and gratitude for the trade.

This woman, now in her 70s, hasn’t spent money in over 15 years:

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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