This was written for www.barter.co
What is Bartering?
An alternative means of obtaining necessities, bartering was common in the Great Depression. In the “Great Recession” of the early twenty-first century, bartering again holds an enormous appeal. By exchanging goods and services for one another, some transactions can be simplified and some can proceed when they could not in a pure cash economy. Therefore bartering often flourishes when the value of currency fluctuates, or currency and credit are entirely unavailable.
Used both as a noun and a verb, Merriam-Webster lists the verb’s definition as “to trade by exchanging one commodity for another”. In the modern world it is the exchange of commodities and services at fair market value, a monetary transaction without cash.
The History of Bartering
Bartering is an ancient human phenomenon, and one of those characteristics that makes homo sapiens unique. Human exchanges are not exclusively driven by the instinct for survival or propagation of the species as they are for plant and other animal life. The human bartering system includes the desire for goods and services not necessary to life.
Before the use of cowrie shells or the first coins in China (dated circa 1000 BCE), items and services were the holders of value and wealth. A hog had a certain value to be exchanged for grains, vegetables, or cloth. Mythology records bartering, such as the Genesis story describing Tamar’s contract with her father-in-law Judah; his seal and cord documented his identity and a kid was to be her payment. Greek mythology recounts Agamemnon’s sacrifice of his daughter for the proper winds to sail to Troy. With the adoption of coins in the Greek world circa 500 BCE, money began to replace the barter system in the Western world.
Bartering even extended into the early history of America when colonists sometimes paid debts in commodities. After war times when paper currency had little value, the bartering system often re-emerged. Many American physicians have continued to accept payment in goods in addition to cash to the present day, in rural areas and from insular communities such as the Amish. For the average person, bartering can be as simple as exchanging a day’s worth of moving assistance for an unwanted appliance.