I like to think of all of this as a noble expression of solidarity, as evidence of the decency of my fellow caraquenos at a time of mind-numbing shortages of basic goods and exploding inflation. I know that in most cases the motivation is necessity, even desperation. But that’s all right. Handing that freshly baked baguette to the parking lot attendant made both of us smile, even if for just a second.
Barter is a system of exchange by which goods or services are directly exchanged for other goods or services without using a medium of exchange, such as money. It is distinguishable from gift economies in that the reciprocal exchange is immediate and not delayed in time. It is usually bilateral, but may be multilateral (i.e., mediated through barter organizations) and usually exists parallel to monetary systems in most developed countries, though to a very limited extent. Barter usually replaces money as the method of exchange in times of monetary crisis, such as when the currency may be either unstable (e.g., hyperinflation or deflationary spiral) or simply unavailable for conducting commerce.
An alternate currency, denominated in labour time, would prevent profit taking by middlemen; all goods exchanged would be priced only in terms of the amount of labour that went into them as expressed in the maxim 'Cost the limit of price'. It became the basis of exchanges in London, and in America, where the idea was implemented at the New Harmony communal settlement by Josiah Warren in 1826, and in his Cincinnati 'Time store' in 1827. Warren ideas were adopted by other Owenites and currency reformers, even though the labour exchanges were relatively short lived.
Unlike one-on-one bartering, members of exchanges are not obligated to barter or purchase directly from a seller. Instead, when a barter exchange member sells a product or a service to another member, their barter account is credited for the fair market value of the sale. When a barter exchange member buys, the account is debited for the fair market value of the purchase.
The barter system is a type of trade that involves the exchange of goods and services without the use of money as a medium of exchange. Trade, on the other hand, is a broader concept that includes not just the barter system, but also, international trade, commodities trading, currency trading, etc. The main difference between barter and trade is that while barter trade does not involve money, other forms of trade occur with currency used as a medium of exchange. An important point to note is that the invention of trade whether barter or otherwise has developed a useful system under which individuals, businesses and nations can exchange or sell off the products or goods held in excess and purchase or obtain desired products, goods and services. The invention of currency has greatly simplified this process making trade convenient and fair.
Economic historian Karl Polanyi has argued that where barter is widespread, and cash supplies limited, barter is aided by the use of credit, brokerage, and money as a unit of account (i.e. used to price items). All of these strategies are found in ancient economies including Ptolemaic Egypt. They are also the basis for more recent barter exchange systems.
Bartering does have its limitations. Many bigger (i.e., chain) businesses will not entertain the idea and even smaller organizations may limit the amount of goods or services for which they will barter (i.e., they may not agree to a 100% barter arrangement and instead require that you make at least partial payment). But in an economic crunch, bartering can be a great way to get the goods and services you need without having to pull money out of your pocket.