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/ >
Jump to the following topics:
We already barter. Whenever we take our turn driving in a car pool, every time we trade in our car for a new one, every night when we babysit the kids of the woman who sometimes babysits ours -- even when we give away three railroads to get a monopoly at Boardwalk and Park Place -- we are bartering. Bartering means having fun at a swap shop, or trading my Mickey Mantle baseball card for your Reggie Jackson, or sharing our food at a pot-luck dinner, or letting you use a part of my garden in exchange for some of the vegetables that you'll grow. Bartering is Jack trading his cow for a handful of beans, and then climbing up that beanstalk for the adventure of his life. This book can broaden the adventure that we are already having, and show us a barter way of life. As Adam Smith said, "The propensity to truck, barter, and exchange is common to all men." And to all women and all children.
Bartering is not a new phenomenon. It began many years ago, BC (Before Cash), when people traded arrowheads or mastodon meat -- all practical things that have obvious value. Then someone invented money (which is an abstraction of that value) to make trading easier. After all, a one-to-one deal is possible only if I have a stone ax that you need, and you have the maize that I need; if you only have baskets to trade, then the exchange doesn't work out -- and I go hungry for lack of maize while you get eaten by a bear because you don't have an ax with which to defend yourself. Money was probably invented by a surviving relative of someone who had been eaten by a bear. Or, more likely, by a smart prehistoric businessperson who wanted a better way with which to keep track of trades. Barter was there in 1492 when Queen Isabella gave Columbus three ships and he gave her information about America. And it participated in 1626, when Peter Minuet is said to have traded $24 worth of beads, knives, and kettles for Manhattan Island. Later in our history, the pioneers traded with the Native Americans and with one another -- when community barn-raisings and work parties were a way of life and business. During the Great Depression, barter was popular for a while, but it faded as our economy recovered. The most-recent back-to-barter renaissance started in the severe recession of the early 1980s.
We can all achieve rewards from age-old, good-as-gold bartering. We can:
We -- the people -- are the world's most valuable resource. Instead of reaching for our wallet every time, we might offer a part of ourselves: our skills, our time, our talent, our under-used possessions. Bartering helps us to utilize more of those resources to meet our needs. Bartering is a wonderful "self-help program"; the "help" is coming from parts of ourselves which we have not seen before. When we recognize these assets, we develop ways in which we can make our life better through barter. And when we start sharing these assets to get what we want, the pleasant side-effects of bartering might make us realize that while the best things in life might not be free, sometimes they feel that way.