“Whenever I get a chance to participate in either the gift or the barter economy, I feel subversive, I feel happy, I feel connected to people.” – Liza
Liza recently got involved in the Share Tompkins community and she has shared some of her thoughts about the benefits of swapping below. If you’d like to contribute to the blog, please send a few paragraphs about your own experiences to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Capitalism sucks! Many thinking people who have lived under capitalism are beginning to come to this conclusion, in addition to the millions of people who have looked at it from the outside, from countries whose inhabitants and infrastructures have been devastated by the consequences of western capitalism. And yet, how hard it is to get away from.When we need or think we need things, it’s so easy to buy things. We need money to buy the things we need or think we need, so we look for work within capitalism, and more often than not end up doing meaningless work – work that doesn’t produce something real and tangible, work that basically props up the system, work that merely moves money around.
Capitalism assigns a value to labor in such a way that the higher one’s degree, the more worthy an hour of labor; or the more costly one’s education, the more worthy an hour of labor; or the more scarce the practitioners are of a certain skill, the more worthy an hour of labor. This is drilled into us from an early age, and enforced by practice. We are taught that if we don’t go on to college, we won’t be able to land as good a job as someone with a degree, even when the actual degree has nothing to do with the job in question. And in fact, the more advanced and specialized one’s field, the higher the debt one has to pay off after college, so the salary had better be larger than the hourly rate of an auto mechanic (I imagine the cosmetic surgeon sniffing).
Thus, whenever I get a chance to participate in either the gift or the barter economy, I feel subversive, I feel happy, I feel connected to people.
I have two winter tires in good condition that I purchased three years ago and no longer need, having just switched back to all-season tires. What I do need is a little bit of carpentry-related and other handy work around the little bungalow I got last summer. Rather than go to the bother of finding a buyer for the tires and a reliable and probably overpriced carpenter to whom I’d give the money I got from the tires, I posted an announcement on the Share Tompkins listserv and on Ithaca Freecycle listing what I needed and what I had to offer. Almost immediately, one of my new friends, a community activist, responded with a pressing need for the tires. She wondered whether I could use web and graphics design and/or outreach services in lieu of the carpentry skills I was seeking; or whether a three-way swap might be feasible. A simple reposting of the ad to the effect that person A has tires and needs carpentry work; person B needs tires and offers web and graphics design; in search of a person C who needs what B has and can give what A needs produced person C!
In this exchange dollars and cents have no relevancy in determining the relative value of the three things to be bartered. The tires have no inherent value to me anymore. I spent the money in 2007. I got three winters of use out of them. On the other hand, they mean a lot to my barter partner who probably does not spend money lightly. It’s either new snow tires, or some other very necessary thing. She values the tires at two hours of web design, which in turn equates to two hours of handy work around the house for me. For really, how can one hour be worth more or less than another hour? Furthermore, if you want to talk inherent value, isn’t the hour spent by someone growing food or building shelter or making clothing more valuable than the hour of a football player or a lawyer or an investment banker?
In this swap tale, three people each receive something they need, and money never passes hands. Community is enhanced. Acquaintances get a chance to get to know each other better. A potentially complex barter works out, and the resolve strengthens to continue looking for ways to exchange goods and services without the involvement of money. Subverting the system. Yes!