Story today on NPR's Weekend Edition about bartering. Unsurprisingly, bartering is becoming more and more popular: As credit stays tight and cash continues not to flood the market (thanks to fears of devaluation), businesses are turning to barter.

I'm thinking, "I can't pay my utility bill with cash, so here, take this goat." Of course that would (a) be silly, (b) be expensive since I'd lose the future production of that goat, (c)be bad for the goat, (d) be bad for NSTAR, which has no need for a goat, and (e) um, I don't have a goat?

Seems, though, there are more sophisticated models, companies such as Barter Business Unlimited, working out not just a for b trades, but a barter credit system -- you build up barter credits, which they trade to folks who need them -- constantly moving goods and services around so that everyone ends up happy and they turn a profit. At least, ideally. So I may pay my dental bill by granting my dentist absolution, but perhaps instead I do a funeral for free for someone who owns a landscaping company who shovels the driveway of a lawyer who then provides free legal services for my dentist in his malpractice suit. It turns out there's an even an International Reciprocal Trade Association, which has quite the mission statement:
The International Reciprocal Trade Association, IRTA, is a non-profit organization committed to promoting just and equitable standards of practice and operation within the modern trade and barter and alternative capital systems Industry and raising the awareness and value of these processes to the entire Worldwide Community.

The mission of IRTA is to provide to all Industry Members with an ethically based global organization dedicated to the advancement of Modern Trade and Barter and other alternative capital systems, through the use of education, self regulation, high standards and government relations.

Sounds suspiciously left wing to me . I'd love to imagine this is an opening to a post-capitalist world, but there are two other possibilities: it's an opening to a pre-capitalist feudal world, or it's all a pipe dream that will evaporate in the dawn of a credit revival, and disappear the way of fuel efficient cars and alternative energy once gas drops in price (speaking of which, notice how the Cape Wind project off Nantucket hasn't been approved yet , which will put the Obama administration in the unenviable position of choosing between environmentalists and the Kennedys).

So, the quesiton of the day: What would you use to barter with?


  1. This sounds very similar to time banking. I'm on the executive committee of a local organization that just started one, and it's taking off like wildfire.

  2. In Seattle, I used to barter childcare for yoga. I also bartered childcare for half a $1000 used car deal, and for a bedframe and a beautiful bookcase. It was awesome.