I have been thinking a lot about barter lately. I do a fair bit of it. Honey is swapped for syrup, eggs for clothing repair. It’s a tit for tat, informal operation. It can lead to some issues if one isn’t careful, a few of which I’ve run into.
1. I give someone something and they agree to give me something in return but never do.
2. Someone offers a trade but the value of any given item is not certain. Do we go for market value or what it’s worth to us? Is pork more or less valuable than chicken?
3. Someone wants to trade but I have serious doubts about the quality or cleanliness of what they have to offer. Do I want food from a dirty kitchen?
4. I have lots of something that someone wants but they don’t have anything I need. Do we go to a money purchase or just make a gift out of it?
I read an essay recently written by someone in Egypt. They were reporting that the big barter items during the riots were alcohol and cigarettes. Now I don’t smoke and wouldn’t trade cigarettes to anyone, even if I found a pallet of them in my backyard. It would be against my moral code to offer something that I know to be unhealthy. But what about a bottle of wine? That can be a problem too. It gets into tricky moral and ethical ground.
One of the things I do is keep a supply of things on hand for charity and barter. Things like 5 pound (opps-I mean 4 pound) sacks of sugar or cartons of salt are cheap and useful. I have quite a lot of canned food that I hope I never get hungry enough to eat-can you say canned green beans? Cans of soup and stew, boxed pudding and powdered milk are not things we eat very often but I do have a couple of cases on hand and give them out at food drives. I can think of lots of other things that would make good barter items like diaper pins and shoe laces. The problem I have is that if someone was in need of something like diaper pins and I have them to spare, I can’t imagine not just handing them out. The same goes for salt or sugar or milk. I guess it comes down to ethics again. Would I ever want a crisis to become an opportunity for me. Of course not. Barter must be the equal trade of goods between people that leaves both parties feeling they got the better end of the deal. It can’t be about profit.
You might have noticed that I have begun posting at night. In the morning, I have to post from my laptop. It’s a pain as the cursor isn’t reliable and my brain cells haven’t generally kicked into high gear at 5:30AM. If I post at night, I can use the desk top. It’s a much faster machine and I use far fewer nasty words while typing.