What Is a Fair Trade?

By James Harvey Stout (deceased). This material is now in the public domain. The complete collection of Mr. Stout's writing is now at http://stout.mybravenet.com/public_html/h/ >


Trading is a good way to get things when we don't have enough money. But there are dangers. Be careful!

In the story of Rumpelstiltskin, we find a lesson about bartering. The lesson is that some people who barter are dishonest. We have to beware of them; they will try to cheat us. In the fairy tale, Rumpelstiltskin cheated Mistress Miller. First, he gave the girl some gold; that was wonderful! But then the girl had to give something in return. Rumpelstiltskin said that she owed him a necklace, a ring, and the first child which the girl would have!

A careful trader is careful from the start. Sometimes it is a good idea to ask our parents whether we can trade. There are many things which they do not want us to barter -- like our new shoes, our school books, and our little sister!

Our parents can also tell us whether a swap is fair. "I am happy to help my son when he is bartering," said Mrs. Mildred Skolton of Barterburg. "He is a good trader most of the time. But once he traded a new shirt for a Spiderman comic book. He didn't know how much that blue flannel shirt was worth. Anyway, we had a long talk about it. Now he only trades things which are ready to be thrown out, like the old jeans which don't fit him. And he can barter his own things -- the things which he bought with cash or by trading."

While we make the deal, we can ask ourselves: Do I really want this? Whether it's a basketball, a delicious red cherry pie, or someone to fix our 10-speed bike, we have to know how strongly we want it. A 14-year-old boy in Barterburg said, "I might be willing to trade away twice as much stuff to get something, if I really crave it. But I don't cheat myself. I wouldn't trade away more than the thing is worth."

We can ask ourselves: How much is it worth? That can be difficult to answer, because it's a matter of opinion. We might think that our bicycle is worth $50. (It cost $100 when it was new, but now it's 3 years old.) But Jack says that our bike is worth only $20. It's his opinion against ours.

At times like this, there is another way to agree on an answer. It's not a $100 bike any longer (since it has been used for 3 years). And it's not a $50 bike or a $20 bike either. It's just a bike. And it is worth something to Jackie. We can create our own values.

Jackie has an item which is valuable to us. It is a portable TV set. He will trade it for the bike. If we want his TV, and he wants our bike, we can make the trade. The TV might have cost $120 when it was new, and the bike cost $100. But if we are both pleased, it was probably a fair trade. We are both happy now, and that's important.

But that's not all that counts. We might be unhappy the next day, if we learn that we have made a lousy deal. "I had a Yamaha guitar which I knew I could sell for $75 cash," said tall, brown-eyed Gerald Primson in Barterburg. "But I didn't sell it. I traded it for a tape recorder. I thought that it was a great deal. But later, I went to a store, to buy some cassettes for my tape recorder. In the store, I saw the same kind of tape recorder, and it was $50. I was mad! I should have sold the guitar for $75. Then I could have paid $50 for a new tape recorder. And I would have had $25 left over."

This is one way to protect ourselves from a bad deal: Before we trade, we can check the "store prices" of things. If we are bartering for a chess game, we can go to a toy store (or call the store), and ask for the price of the game. (For example, the price might be $15.95.)

But a "store price" is not the real value of the game; this game is second-hand, and it has scratches on it. So it is worth less than the store's price of $15.95. Maybe the boy thinks that his game is worth $3.00. He expects $3.00 worth of stuff in return.

As you see, store prices can help us to know whether a deal is fair. But, said a red-haired girl in Barterburg, "I wanted to trade for my friend's hair drier, so I went to a drug store, to see how much the store was charging for that same brand. The store didn't have the brand. Another place had the right brand, but not the same model. If I don't know the store price of her hair drier, how can I know whether it's a good deal?" she asked. Here is an answer:

We can look for the item in a catalog. A catalog might have the type of hair drier which we want (to put the perfect curl into your hair). These catalogs tell the prices of many new things. But the second-hand value will be less. How much less? You and your barter partner will decide that.

When we are talking about the values of items, we are "haggling." Haggling is almost like arguing, but it can be friendly and fun. It is a game, as we try to get a fair deal.

Here is an example of haggling: We say that our metal hamster cage is worth 30 of Ronnie's pens. (Those pens cost him 50 cents each, and they're good-as-new.) He says that he saw a hamster cage at Sam's Pet Store, and its price was only $12.00. He offers to give us 10 pens (worth $5.00). We tell him that it is a really good hamster cage, and it used to have a really good hamster in it. We offer to trade the cage for 15 pens (worth $7.50). He reaches into his pocket, and pulls out 12 plastic pens. We say, "No. My cage is worth more than that." The next day, we will see Ronnie again, and we decide that we want those pens; we trade our cage for 11 of them. We have an opinion of how much the pens and cage are worth. But we can change our opinion. A deal that sounds bad today might sound better tomorrow.

That's one reason why haggling should be friendly. We could change our mind about the deal, and want to do it. We did change our mind with Ronnie. Or we might want to trade something else later on. Maybe we will barter our soccer ball for his BB rifle. Besides, friendly trading is more fun.

Sometimes we will trade chores, not things. The chores might be fence-painting, or tutoring someone in the first grade, or mowing Mr. Stalt's bright green grass. There are many chores which we can do.

"I'm a babysitter who barters," said Olivia Jones, who has lived in Barterburg all of her life. "I charge the same price that other babysitters charge; that's $2.00 an hour. But I am bartering, so I don't get $2.00 cash. Instead of cash, I get $2.00 worth of something. Once I got a box of oatmeal cookies which had been baked by the mother of a kid I was watching. That sounds like a fair trade to me. Little Bonnie's parents promised to drive me to Riverside Park twice in exchange for my 3 hours of babysitting."

In that example, Olivia knew how much to charge, because she knew how much the other babysitters charge. But at other times, there is no example to follow. Maybe Mrs. Greenlee -- your first-grade teacher -- wants us to clean her parakeet's cage every Monday and Thursday. She will give us some home-made caramel in trade. What does a bird-cage cleaner charge for his or her work?

There is no easy answer. But we can compare it to other jobs. Other people our age might charge $2.50 per hour for cleaning houses and cleaning yards -- raking the pine needles, and pulling up yellow dandelions. Cleaning a bird cage is a similar job, so we can say that our time is worth $2.50 per hour.

Then we decide how much of Mrs. Greenlee's caramel candy we should get, at $2.50 per hour. We can compare it to the caramel candy which is sold by Mayfair Treats Store on Elm Avenue. For that $2.50, maybe we should get as much candy from Mrs. Greenlee as we would get from the store.

But there are other factors to consider. Is her fresh, homemade candy worth more to us than the store-bought kind? (It might taste sweeter.) Doesn't Mrs. Greenlee bring candy to us sometimes, just because she is nice, even when we haven't done anything for her? Then maybe we should be generous when we clean the cage. After all, she is generous.

These are some things to remember, when we are deciding whether a trade is a good one. If we are careful, we will have more fun while we are bartering. And when we are finished, we will have more fun with the terrific things which we have received.