Barter - Relevance and Relation to Money

Is barter still relevant in the modern world?

A collection of links to information sources on barter and a brief account of its history and contemporary relevance.
See also
Money in history        Money in fiction Financial scandals


Links to Information about Barter

International Barter Alliance
Claims to be the world's largest barter marketplace.
IRTA: The International Reciprocal Trade Association
IRTA is a non-profit corporation established to foster the interests of the commercial barter industry in the U.S. and around the world. IRTA's web site gives statistics on the total value of goods bartered by North American companies.
Barter Consultants
Barter Consultants offers barter services, B2B trade & exchange, barter trading methods, trade exchanges, barter systems for barter clubs members using trade dollars to swap, trade, and barter online.
This is a large, international computerised bartering system which started in Australia.
The Online Barter Association's website.
Barter Networking Inc.
A trading system, based in the mid east coast region of the US, designed to help small and large businesses alike by bartering goods and services to each other. is a community project with the aim of giving people have an alternative to fiat money systems. As well as exchanging goods people can use the system to offer services, including their time.
Ormita acts as a clearinghouse in 5 continents for the trade of excess capacities, goods and services and works through a combination of manual clearing, online e-commerce trading, 24 hour telephone brokering and independent licensees and brokers.
Global Offset and Countertrade Association
The purpose of the Global Offset and Countertrade Association (G.O.C.A.) is to promote trade and commerce between companies around the world and their foreign customers through a greater understanding of countertrade and offset.
Freecycle: changing the world one gift at a time
The Freecycle Network is an international grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It's all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills.
National Association of Trade Exchanges
NATE's purpose is to educate, inform and advise on the barter industry. It has some members outside the US.
With listings in over 70 countries, gives you the option of bartering local or worldwide irrespective of whether your interest in bartering is for business or pleasure.
This service offers three different ways of trading; by cash, barter, or a combination of the two.
A free online platform and community where people can barter private services. It works with a virtual currency called *ME and has been in existence since 2005.
exchange*me new!
A bartering system based in Berlin that uses a mutual credit currency to facilitate transactions.
XO Limited
XO Limited produces software for the barter, credit union and alternative currency market world-wide. It offers a "pay anyone" facility, where members of any barter exchange can send barter dollars to anyone who has a mobile phone or email, even non-barter exchange members, thus making barter more "liquid."
Classified listings of goods and services on offer, with a search engine.
An Irish Barter Exchange system using a virtual currency
The ITEX Retail Trade Exchange is the world's largest retail trade and barter exchange.
Equity trades are among the services offered. The future value of startup companies can be used as a 'currency' to make necessary purchases for growth.
Swap Thing
A site catering for a wide range of users including collectors and traders, parents, small business owners and nonprofit organizations.
How to Barter
A guide offering helpful suggestions and advice on how and why you should barter. It deals mainly with reciprocal bartering.

The History and Relevance of Barter

Barter is often regarded as an old-fashioned means of exchange that was superseded because money is far more efficient. After all, in a monetary system an apple grower who needs shoes simply has to find a cobbler. In a pure barter system the apple grower would have to find not just any cobbler but one who happened to want apples at that time. Thus in virtually all civilizations, except the Incas, money came to play an important role.

However the inconvenience of barter was just one factor, and in most places was probably not the most significant one, in the origin of money.

As Glyn Davies wrote, barter has, undeservedly, been given a bad name in conventional economic writing, and its alleged crudities have been much exaggerated. (Quoted from A History of money from ancient times to the present day, new ed. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2002. Page 10).

Barter and money are not necessarily completely incompatible. One of the most important improvements over the simplest forms of early barter was first the tendency to select one or two particular items in preference to others so that the preferred barter items became partly accepted because of their qualities in acting as media of exchange although, of course, they still could be used for their primary purpose of directly satisfying the wants of the traders concerned. (Quoted from History of Money page 10).

Barter still often plays an important role in trade with countries whose currencies are not readily convertible, e.g. the communist countries during the cold war. At the retail level barter has become the main means of exchange on occasions when currencies have collapsed completely as a result of hyperinflation, e.g. in Germany after the two world wars.

In normal circumstances retail barter is much less important but its persistence has puzzled some economists. The magazine Exchange and Mart devoted partly to barter has been published in Britain every Thursday since 1868. Jevons noticed it in its early years and was obviously puzzled that any such publication, partly dependent on serving such a long obsolete purpose as barter, should appear to have any use to anyone. We must assume, concluded Jevons, ... that the printing press can bring about, in some degree, the double coincidence necessary to an act of barter. (Quoted by Glyn Davies in A History of Money, page 22).

If the printing press could, as Jevons acknowledged, make barter more feasible then the computer can certainly do so even more effectively as demonstrated by the links below. It is worth noting however, that some of these computerised barter schemes do use units of account to facilitate comparison of the values of the goods and services offered and therefore in such cases the barter circles are using a form of money, albeit one with very restricted functions.

It is also worth noting that the free exchange of information that the Internet facilitates could also be regarded as a form of gift-exchange, a version of barter. See my essay on Should Information Be Free?, a version of which was published in the inaugural British edition of Wired.

For more information about the connection between barter and the invention of money see the Origins of Money and Banking.

BarterNews Magazine
This magazine was founded in 1980 as a voice for the barter and countertrading industries in the US.
The Barter Myth
An article by John Durrant inspired by the work of the anthropolgist David Graeber criticising the view that the invention of money was a response to the limitations of barter.
Freecycle helps millions hit by the credit crunch
The number of British users of Freecycle, a website that allows members to trade goods and services, has more than doubled to 1.2 million in the past year. Daily Telegraph, 6 July 2008.
Cashless and hopeless on the streets of Buenos Aires
People resort to barter as they battle outbreak of 'Argentinitis'. The Guardian, April 25, 2002.
Karl Polanyi: some observations
A critique, by Dr A. J. H. Latham, of Polanyi's writings which emphasise reciprocity and down-play the role of money.
Corporate Barter and Economic Stabilisation
An International Journal of Community Currency Research article by James Stodder.
Economic Means to Freedom - Part 5
by Frederick Mann. Many so-called barter clubs are not pure barter systems as they utilize their own forms of barter currency as media of exchange. Mann says that his article is now largely of historical interest because his proposals have been overtaken by the development of alternative currencies such as e-gold.
The new global currency
by Tim Phillips. Bartering is not only a great way for small businesses to save cash, it can also generate new trade, especially overseas. The Guardian, February 27, 2003.
The Babe Ruth of Barter
An article about Chris Sweis who was the CEI of Ibart, a barter banking firm that by 2006 had gone out of business. 27 May 2003.

[ Top ]
[ Money - Past, Present & Future ]
[ History of Money ]
[ Book Orders ]
[ Glyn Davies - biography ]
[ High Finance in Thrillers ]
[ Roy Davies' Home Page ]
Roy Davies - last updated 27 March 2012.