Always on the alert for other people steeped in the comfort of bartering, I was recently caught up in the story of a young man who was chatting with his wife at the doctor’s office. They were in bad need of a new air conditioning system for the summer – a new baby was to arrive at the family home in the dead heat of Arizona. Money was short so they had started looking at the excess items that had been building up since their marriage some five years ago. Bicycles, antiques, and shop tools seemed to be the kind of things that would have some value; the question before this young couple was whether they would get more value from the items at a garage sale, or perhaps… find an AC company who would be up for a bit of exchange.
Continuing to listen to the passion of the young man, trying desperately to care for the needs of his growing family, I was fascinated as he comforted his wife with the realities of barter. “Its origin can be traced back to 600 B.C. when Mesopotamian tribes exchanged crops, weapons, tea and salt. The barter system flourished during the Middle Ages and ultimately Europeans – through the practice of barter – provided Americans with things they could not otherwise afford.” Obviously very well versed on the topic, the young man continued, “Many of our Harvard and Oxford graduates made it through school paying fees with essentials such as firewood, livestock and food. It seems that bartering surfaced again in the 1930’s … money was scarce and most people could scarcely afford basic necessities. My grandparents used to tell stories of how doctors were paid in bushels of corn and an occasional farm animal.”
Before the nursing assistant called me into that cold little room to wait, I heard the couple discuss some of the barriers to bartering, such as the inability to always find the right goods and services to exchange, the inability to break some items into a smaller unit – for example, a sleek horse that far exceeds the services the physician has provided – and placing equal units of value. I didn’t hear the balance of the conversation, but I can well imagine they discussed how exchange networks have evolved to a global level – narrowing the playing field, so to speak… primarily through the use of the Internet, where the exchange units are traded in for “barter bucks.” I can also well imagine they made the ultimate decision to at least try to get more value for their items by searching for a company who would see the value in an exchange.
Do you have a story about bartering that you would like to share… just to spread the awareness of a practice that seems to be right in the middle of a new resurgence.
Don Wooldridge | Author