Monday, 2 September 2013

Some Notes on Bartering

Barter will be the currency of the aftertime. The idea of exchanging something useful for something else useful is as old as humanity, yet it is a skill that is rather undeveloped in modern society. Generally the price of goods is an un-negotiable amount of fiat currency. You don't go to a supermarket and offer to exchange a hammer for a bag of apples, for example.

Most of us are used to working for someone else to acquire $, and then using those $ to provide the things we need and want. This indirect relationship between work and living will become much more direct in the future. You tend your garden and your animals, you have food. You purify your water, you don't have dysentery.

Therefore, bartering will be a skill that will need to be worked on and improved over time. It's important that both parties get a fair deal. Be wary of overly aggressive hagglers trying to one-up every deal. Knowing the value of one thing versus another can be difficult and many things must be taken into account.

Each side of the deal must be weighed in terms of how hard it is to produce the item or work you are gaining versus the item you are losing. Does losing the item put you at a disadvantage? If so, you probably should trade something else. Does the item you are receiving help you as much as the item you are giving helps them? If so, it's probably a good trade.

Ideally, each party will trade something of theirs which they either don't need, have a surplus of, or can produce, while the item that is being received is something that is truly needed and is difficult, impossible, or overly time consuming to acquire in any other way.

Bad Choices of Things to Barter With

Most people understand that paper notes or stocks are backed by nothing and essentially worthless, the only way they carry value today is because every one agrees that it does.

Money used to be backed by gold, and then it was a fractional backing which eventually was whittled down to noting. Some people hold the belief that gold is "real" money and are hoarding as much as they can, hoping to buy themselves a living in the future.

Unfortunately for them, gold, like anything, will only be worth its intrinsic value. That is, its worth is based on how useful it will be to you. If someone wants to give you a 1 ounce gold coin in exchange for a months worth of food, would you make the trade?

For these, rather obvious reasons, there are many things you should not bother to acquire that are considered very valuable today.

Such as:
  • Precious metals such as gold, silver, platinum, etc.
  • Diamonds and gemstones
  • Jewellery
  • Paintings and sculptures
  • Collectable crap like signed album covers
Surprisingly worthless

On a side note, as mentioned, precious metals will only be worth their intrinsic value to you in a basic living situation. You may consider trading for a small amount of pure (soft) gold if the opportunity arises due to its use in dentistry. A small piece of gold can be flattened out and formed into a strip, and then carefully worked into a tooth cavity (after routing) to provide a safe filling.

Silver has antibacterial properties and with a bit of knowledge can be turned into colloidal silver. A small amount of silver will last a long time if used like this.

Reasonable Choices of Things to Barter With

Discussed in this section are things that will certainly be useful, but generally won't be renewable in a basic living situation, unless you have the particular skill set and the resources to produce them.

Things like:
Immensely Valuable [source]
  • Tools - this covers a huge range of items such as woodworking tools, metalworking tools, farming tools, repairing and stripping tools, consumables such as hacksaw blades and sandpaper. The list is endless.
  • Firearms and ammunition
  • Other weapons such as compound bows and their associated ammunition
  • Clothing and bedding, fine netting like mosquito a net, needles and thread
  • Steel cookware
  • Oils (general lubrication oils, honing oils, engine oils, etc)
  • Fuels (petroleum, diesel, LPG, kerosene, etc)
  • Fastening items - wire, screws, nails, rope
  • Medicines (although be aware of the shelf life)
  • Books

This list could go on forever and are things you should certainly strive to acquire for you and your group. Their usefulness makes them excellent things to barter with, but unless you have a surplus of something, you may not be able to part with it. Even if you do have multiples of some items, things can break or wear out and you might want to keep spares for the future.

Some of you reading that list will look at some of the items and say "hey! I can make that". This is excellent. Anything you can produce that is useful and hard to make immediately becomes an excellent choice for bartering.

Good Choices for Things to Barter With

I would hazard a guess that things mentioned in this section will be the bulk of trade in the future. These things are reasonably easy to produce, and some are utterly essential. We are talking about -

  • Food
  • Labour

It is of course vital to your survival to be able to produce your own food and clean water indefinitely, and also to learn to preserve and store food and seeds safely for insurance in lean times. At times you will probably end up with an abundance of some foods, while other groups may have abundances of different foods. There will be a variety between successful groups and many a happy trade made.

Labour will also be a very useful trade, as it is today. The labour does not need to be skilled. Perhaps an aging farmer needs help pulling weeds or tilling ground. In exchange for this, he will give you food from his lovingly tended garden.

This guy is very popular
And, secondarily:

  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Cocoa
  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco
  • Marijuana
  • Opium

Many industrious survivors will be producing such treats. While not strictly essential, an otherwise dull day can be brightened. Opium is included in the list because it would certainly be advantageous if field dentistry or surgery needs to be performed. In most countries opium poppy seeds can legally be bought - you need the papaver somniferum strain. I have heard that the poppy seeds you buy in a supermarket are this same strain, and this article seems to confirm this. I recommend you read it for advice on how not to consume opium.

As far as tobacco goes, personally I think the apocalypse may be a good catalyst for giving up, but that's a blog for another day.

The Absolute Best Thing to Barter With

Without a doubt, the best thing you can barter with is a good skill. Being able to help someone improve their garden with your knowledge of plants, knowing how to produce lumber from timber, knowing how to cook with mediocre or unusual ingredients, knowing how to help the wounded or someone who needs a tooth extracted, skills with building, skills with making tools. This list is endless.

Not only will you not lose your skill every time you trade with it, but it will most likely improve, and an astute observer will most likely learn something from you. All to the common good.