On the barter
FREE ECONOMY:In a recessionary world, PATRICK FREYNEexamines how to get goods and services without resorting to cash
With our complicated financial system and highly technologized society, it’s unlikely that barter will make a widespread return. The sentences “I will swap you three hens for an iPhone 5” or “I will kill a wolf for a go of your Xbox” are unlikely to be crossing many lips.
In the wake of the financial crisis, in an era of tightened belts and purse-strings, people have been trying to find new ways of getting what they need. Around the country local currencies and favour exchanges are popping up, allowing people to exchange goods and services and also helping to bind communities together.
“We didn’t invent the idea of local exchange and trading schemes,” says Miriam Cotton one of the founders of the Clonakilty Favour Exchange. “Time banks were originally conceived as a way of storing up services for yourself for when you were ill or old. They started in America and Canada particularly. The idea was that people would contribute something back into the community earning themselves care for when they were older. We’ve taken that idea but we’ve made it more immediate. You can earn back your time anytime you like.”
How does it work? “People can exchange whatever skill or labour they have with anybody else in the scheme. You don’t have to make direct swaps so if you were offering to write articles for people you could do that for one person but you might be able to use the credits to get a haircut from somebody else entirely. There’s a central record kept of who’s doing what all the time. There’s a debit limit and credit limit. The currency we call ‘the favour’ and that’s the equivalent of 15 minutes of time. Everyone’s time is equal within the exchange regardless of what they’re offering. It’s a response to the recession but it is, as much as anything, a community-building scheme.”
Another man interested in community-building is Bristol-based Donegal man Mark Boyle, who decided to forgo money entirely three years ago. He published a book about it at the time, The Moneyless Man, and has just published a second, The Moneyless Manifesto. He also founded the Freeconomy website and is a passionate advocate of the moneyless lifestyle.
“Money disconnects us from everything around us, from the land under our feet from the people in our local communities,” he says. “It creates a sense of separation from everything else.”
For Boyle, bartering doesn’t go far enough. He’d prefer to see a “gift economy” where people simply give without expecting anything in return. “Freeconomy doesn’t involve exchange at all,” he says. “It’s about unconditional giving. Take my local community in Bristol. There are 5,000 members of that group, so if somebody needs a bike fixed they say ‘I need my bike fixed’ and someone comes over and says ‘I can do that’. There’s no credit system. The person that person has helped doesn’t have to help them back. But because the community is so big, the person who fixes the bike will get something else at some point.”