Nowinska says one of the biggest challenges Swapsity faces is that new barterers think they have nothing to offer. So they offer bad trades. Yet most people have hundreds of skills—from cooking to networking to scrapbooking. The trick is learning to recognize the value of your skills, your knowledge and your talent. Bartering attaches value to things that are not always recognized, or highly valued, in a cash economy—often hobbies that people can’t make a living on but love to do. One Barter Babe trades her homemade canned goods for gifts—mostly other crafted items—she can give away at Christmas. A Swapsity member has traded pounds of fiddleheads she picks at her mom’s house in the country for feng shui sessions.
During economic downturns, when there is a keenly felt shortage of jobs and cash, people have historically adopted barter systems. The world’s most established bartering-style system is Switzerland’s wir: the German word for “we” as well as the abbreviation of Wirtschaftsring, which translates loosely to “economic circle.” In 1934, the economy in Switzerland had tanked—as it had in much of the world. Two businessmen who were facing bankruptcy, Paul Enz and Werner Zimmermann, gathered 15 of their associates in Zurich and hashed out a solution: a mutual credit system.

On paper, this sounds a bit like delayed barter, but it bears some significant differences. For one thing, it’s much more efficient than Smith’s idea of a barter system, since it doesn’t depend on each person simultaneously having what the other wants. It’s also not tit for tat: No one ever assigns a specific value to the meat or cake or house-building labor, meaning debts can’t be transferred.
Modern barter and trade has evolved considerably to become an effective method of increasing sales, conserving cash, moving inventory, and making use of excess production capacity for businesses around the world. Businesses in a barter earn trade credits (instead of cash) that are deposited into their account. They then have the ability to purchase goods and services from other members utilizing their trade credits – they are not obligated to purchase from those whom they sold to, and vice versa. The exchange plays an important role because they provide the record-keeping, brokering expertise and monthly statements to each member. Commercial exchanges make money by charging a commission on each transaction either all on the buy side, all on the sell side, or a combination of both. Transaction fees typically run between 8 and 15%.

1.Jump up ^ O'Sullivan, Arthur; Steven M. Sheffrin (2003). Economics: Principles in Action. Pearson Prentice Hall. p. 243. ISBN 0-13-063085-3. 2.^ Jump up to: a b Graeber, David (2011). Debt: the first 5,000 years. New York: Melville House. pp. 21–41. 3.Jump up ^ Humphrey, Caroline (1985). "Barter and Economic Disintegration". Man 20 (1): 49. 4.^ Jump up to: a b Humphrey, Caroline (1985). "Barter and Economic Disintegration". Man 20 (1): 48. 5.Jump up ^ Humphrey, Carolyn and Stephen Hugh-Jones (ed.). Barter, Exchange and Value: An Anthropological Approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 3. 6.Jump up ^ Graeber, David (2001). Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of our Dreams. New York: Palgrave. p. 154. 7.Jump up ^ Graeber, David (2011). Debt: the first 5,000 years. New York: Melville House. pp. 40–41. 8.Jump up ^ Graeber, David (2001). Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value: The false coin of our own dreams. New York: Palgrave. pp. 153–4. 9.Jump up ^ Graeber, David (2011). Debt: The First 5,000 Years. Brooklyn, NY: Melville House. pp. 94–102. 10.Jump up ^ Robert E. Wright and Vincenzo Quadrini. Money and Banking.Chapter 3, Section 1: Of Love, Money, and Transactional Efficiency Accessed June 29, 2012 11.Jump up ^ Humphrey, Caroline (1985). "Barter and Economic Disintegration". Man 20 (1): 66–7. 12.Jump up ^ Plattner, Stuart (1989). Plattner, Stuart, ed. Economic Anthropology. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. p. 179. 13.Jump up ^ M. Bloch, J. Parry (1989). Money and the Morality of Exchange. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 10. 14.Jump up ^ Humphrey, Caroline (1985). "Barter and Economic Disintegration". Man 20 (1): 52. 15.Jump up ^ Polanyi, Karl (1957). Polanyi, Karl et al, ed. Trade and Market in Early Empires. Glencoe, Illinois: The Free Press. p. 14. 16.Jump up ^ Harrison, John (1969). Quest for the New Moral World: Robert Owen and the Owenites in Britain and America. New York: Charles Scibners Sons. p. 72. 17.Jump up ^ Harrison, John (1969). Quest for the New Moral World: Robert Owen and the Owenites in Britain and America. New York: Charles Scibners Sons. p. 73. 18.Jump up ^ Harrison, John (1969). Quest for the New Moral World: Robert Owen and the Owenites in Britain and America. New York: Charles Scibners Sons. pp. 202–4. 19.Jump up ^ Tadayuki Tsushima, Understanding “Labor Certificates” on the Basis of the Theory of Value, 1956 20.Jump up ^ Homenatge A Catalunya II (Motion Picture). Spain, Catalonia: IN3, Universita Oberta de Catalunya, Creative Commons Licence. 2010. Retrieved January–2011. "A documentary, a research, a story of stories about the construction of a sustainable, solidarity economics and decentralized weaving nets that overcome the individualization and the hierarchical division of the work, 2011." 21.Jump up ^ Barcelona's barter markets (from faircompanies.com. Accessed 2009-06-29.) 22.Jump up ^ "What is LETS?". AshevilleLETS. Retrieved December 9, 2008. 23.Jump up ^ TIMES, nov. 2009 24.Jump up ^ David M. Gross, ed. (2008). We Won’t Pay: A Tax Resistance Reader. pp. 437–440. 25.Jump up ^ Tax Topics - Topic 420 Bartering Income. United States Internal Revenue Service
While one-to-one bartering is practiced between individuals and businesses on an informal basis, organized barter exchanges have developed to conduct third party bartering which helps overcome some of the limitations of barter. A barter exchange operates as a broker and bank in which each participating member has an account that is debited when purchases are made, and credited when sales are made.
Other anthropologists have questioned whether barter is typically between "total" strangers, a form of barter known as "silent trade". Silent trade, also called silent barter, dumb barter ("dumb" here used in its old meaning of "mute"), or depot trade, is a method by which traders who cannot speak each other's language can trade without talking. However, Benjamin Orlove has shown that while barter occurs through "silent trade" (between strangers), it also occurs in commercial markets as well. "Because barter is a difficult way of conducting trade, it will occur only where there are strong institutional constraints on the use of money or where the barter symbolically denotes a special social relationship and is used in well-defined conditions. To sum up, multipurpose money in markets is like lubrication for machines - necessary for the most efficient function, but not necessary for the existence of the market itself."[12]

No academics I talked to were aware of any evidence that barter was actually the precursor to money, despite the story’s prevalence in economics textbooks and the public’s consciousness. Some argue that no one ever believed barter was real to begin with—the idea was a crude model used to simplify the context of modern economic systems, not a real theory about past ones.


Since the 1830s, direct barter in western market economies has been aided by exchanges which frequently utilize alternative currencies based on the labor theory of value, and designed to prevent profit taking by intermediators. Examples include the Owenite socialists, the Cincinnati Time store, and more recently Ithaca HOURS (Time banking) and the LETS system.
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