Wanna Trade?

What do you have to offer? No, not a question about your personality: the question targets your ability to take part in the new economy – bartering. It may just be a media myth, or it may be the next big thing, but accounts bartering being used to make ends meet are beginning to appear in newspapers from the ‘Cape Cod Times’ on 3/22/09 to the prestigious ‘Financial Times’ of London on 3/21/09. And it’s not just limited to individuals, as the first of those reports focuses on ordinary Moms and Dads, while the second names Mercedes-Benz and Vodafone as participants.
Bartering, the exchange of goods or services without cash payment, has been part of the alternative lifestyle scene for decades. It has received official recognition via IRS rulings about what is taxable and what is not. But, in the words of one barter exchange enthusiast, until recently, “We were out beating the bushes trying to get people to join.” Not any more – barter offers on Craigslist classifieds have risen sharply, and online barter exchanges such as U-Exchange have seen an exponential rise in traffic. Where once items may have been advertised as being for sale (a cash exchange) they are now often listed under the barter banner.
In Quebec, Maryloo will exchange graphic design, web design and web hosting services for a healthy horse (preferably pinto) suitable for trail riding; and in Uganda Emmy will swap a set of table drums for a laptop computer. In this economy everything is on offer, and anything is someone’s desire. The greater the number of participants, the greater the chances of having your exchange completed: there are only four listings for the whole of Uganda, and Emmy’s chances don’t look good.
For the private citizen there is a multitude of online exchanges to act as a go-between, expanding the community and improving chances of success. Some exchanges have a particular flavor – there are “green” exchanges, where concerns are environmental, the cash value of items tends to be low and a typical exchange might swap a bicycle for a supply of firewood. Some exchanges serve a particular geographic community – a single city or state, perhaps. Most private barter involves a physical exchange of goods or services, and that implies no great distance will be traveled: to do so simply would be uneconomic. At the other end of the scale are some B2B exchanges, where what would be the monetary value of exchanges is on an altogether different scale.
If you decide to trade that stamp collection but don’t have an immediate need of anything else, some exchanges convert your sale to “trade dollars” – or “green dollars” on many environmentalist sites – that you can use to make a purchase at some future date. These dollars are notional, unbankable, and attract zero interest: but that’s not likely to faze the barter enthusiast, whose back is firmly turned on all that banker babble in pursuit of a different dream. A dream that includes a sustainable, community-based, person-to-person relationship with the people who can provide what is needed.
At least until times get better.

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