Barter: Does Civilizations’ First Economy Still Have A Place?

Published by Aqqaint on

Bartering Is Old…REALLY OLD!

Bartering dates back to 6000 BC, it was first introduced by Mesopotamia tribes. The Babylonians improved upon the bartering system and exchanged food, tea, weapons, and spices. The tribes used clay tablets to track exchange, the first form of credit. Money existed around 2500 BC, but it was not used to exchange for goods and services.

Native American’s Were Awesome At It!

Native American’s practiced a type of reciprocity that did not call for the direct exchange of one thing for another of equal value. Rather, the exchange of goods was based on desire, need, abundance, and aesthetics. This system included sharing goods or labor without the expectation of something in return.

Bartering Never Really Went Anywhere

Whether it be Roman soldiers who traded in salt, peasants (and their feudal overlords) of the Middle Ages, Colonial Americans, Depression-era Americans, and more. Bartering has always either been an economical mainstay or working on the fringes of an economic system. There hasn’t been a period of time or culture that hasn’t implemented it in some form.

Barter In The Computer Age

Fast forward and we are seeing a resurgence of the bartering in the age of technology. In 2011, during the financial crisis in Greece, residents returned to a barter system. Barter websites rose up where members could post the goods they had to offer or what they wanted in exchange. It also included a credit in the form of a TEM, a new iteration of alternative currency.

In 2016, Venezuelans starting using WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram to swap goods. The social network apps were used to trade pasta for diapers or flour for shampoo. Due to the economic shift in the country and the massive inflation that resulted, Venezuelans had no option but to resort to a barter system that was self-regulated.

So Why is Bartering Not as Big of Deal Today if It’s Been Around Forever?!

There is two major difference between the bartering that predates the computer age and today’s bartering.

  • It lacks trust and a social network. Bartering works best when it is among a group that has trust in each other and shared values. This is what allowed the Native Americans to successfully swap goods without requiring an immediate return, allowed groups during the Great Depression to credit and debit each other without requiring regulation and enforcement, and for Asian immigrant groups in the U.S. to build themselves up by helping one another succeed.
  • There isn’t a credit system to track debt. History shows that even the Mesopotamian tribes recorded credits earned when goods or services were offered. The benefit of this is that no immediate transfer of equal value is required. Services or goods can be offered and credits earned can be “cashed” in later.

However, That Is Changing…and FAST!

It is clear that when financial hardship or uncertainty enters the picture, barter is the immediate fallback. It a historically proven system of exchanging goods and services regardless of societal values. It is not without its drawbacks but has clear positives that we have forgotten.

Author and Economist, Jeremy Rifkin, has predicted that the sharing economy, offering zero marginal cost, is going to be the economy of the future. This new economic system, he calls “collaborative commons”, which is evidenced by apps like Uber, Airbnb, and other sharing economy apps which only exist because private citizens offer an exchange of resources among one another.

The natural evolution of this will be an expansion of exchange in-kind services and goods. Additionally, with the advent and growth of alternative currencies, we may see goods and services exchanged on a new open market that is not regulated by traditional markets and global governance.

The inclusion of barter into the sharing economy coupled with alternative means of tracking credit will have a profound impact on the world economy. Communities will be able to come together and, through trust and established relationships, conduct business with each other outside of the constructs of traditional marketplaces. This “true freedom” will usher in a new economic prosperity for so many who have felt under-served by the ever-increasing wealth gap.

So what you do you think, what did we miss or are we totally off base? Aqqaint would love to hear your response!