Barter: the new dealmaker?

Posted on January 02, 2010 by Priya Tuli

Filed under General | 2 Comments

I never understood why the old barter system died out. Long before there was money, there were goods that one person wanted and another person had. A simplified demand-supply situation. How badly I wanted what you had, and how badly you wanted what I had, was how the deal was struck.

It was simple enough when the goods exchanged were apples and oranges. I imagine the trouble really started when goods of differing value, from varied categories, created a commodity-trading value conundrum. I mean, how many sacks of potatoes in exchange for a Nubian Eunuch? How much tea from China for an old pirate ship? You see the problems this sort of thing could cause. So they introduced cowries, and assigned goods a certain value. Seems daft to me to pay with shells for a bolt of fabric, or a pound of exotic spices, or a dozen slaves, but that's the way it was.

Now we have money, but that introduced a whole new dimension, complicating the original "you got - I want" system, because you need to work to earn the money to buy the goods you want.

The strange thing about money is, when you have it, you don't think twice about spending it on foolish fripperies. And when it's in short supply, you shoot yourself in the head for having spent two weeks worth of groceries on a stupid lamp. Or at any rate, that's what I did about a year ago when projects were thin and I wished I hadn't bought the *&^%$%^&* lamp. I mean, I can't feed a lamp to the cats, or pay bills with it.

The value of an object is inversely proportionate to how badly you want to own it. It has little to do with how much it actually cost to produce, nor the price you pay for it. Which is why, when you're in uber-acquisitive mode, you think an object is worth a higher price because you really, really WANT it, and that determines how much you're willing to pay for it. Which is usually a whole sh*tload more than it's really worth. 3 days later, when the novelty has worn off, you will kick yourself for paying that insane amount for something you don't even like very much. I find this happens to me most often when I buy lamps. Maybe I take this whole "we are beings of light" thing too seriously, sometimes.

I know I would never pay that much for a silly lamp again. Unless it were a Tiffany-type stained glass lamp, those I would pay six months worth of groceries for. One can't have too many stained glass lamps. But that's not what this is about.

For the longest time, I've been trying to actively revive the barter system in my own life. I've managed to do a couple of interesting deals so far, and am considering closing my bank account soon, if this pans out well. I just need to refine my offering, in order to get things off the ground. So far, I've come up with house-sitting skills in exchange for a week in Santorini, now I just need to find someone there with a villa. Then there's migraine massage and foot reflexology skills, I'd trade those for a case of Dom Perignon. And there's navel-gazing, I'd do that for free. Any takers?

But seriously, I just did a deal with the local trashpicker. He agreed to relieve me of a whole load of junk, and traded me gloriously empty spaces in my home in exchange. I think I did rather well on that deal, I can FEEL the 'chi' really starting to flow. Now to find someone with a migraine...