Bartering is the simple act of exchanging goods or services for other goods or services and it is how people have conducted trade since the beginning of time. Before there was money or even during times of a formal and regulated monetary unit, people have bartered with each other. When you have a bunch of chickens that produce more eggs than you can eat, you can trade your extra eggs for cloth to make new clothes, new shoes for your horses or in exchange for someone doing odd jobs around your home. Your chicken’s eggs or your cow’s milk, maybe a couple of rabbits or even something like a meal can have value to someone else. If the person you are bartering with agrees that what you have is fair value for what they are willing to give you then everything works out great.
Bartering is how almost everyone envisions we will acquire what we don’t have if the grid goes down. If we have some form of economic collapse where money is worthless or some catastrophe makes the use of our fiat money and banking transactions impossible, bartering is what we will all revert to. At least that is what everyone in the prepper community believes. I can see the usefulness and feasibility of barter too, but I think several conditions will have to be met first. There are also cases where initially bartering could be very dangerous so you would have to be cautious especially in a SHTF world, but you would also have to have the right environment for bartering in any form other than person to person.
More than one survival fiction book has a forum for barter in which many people come together at a predetermined location and time to bring everything they have to trade. The stories present a barter marketplace that reminds me of a flea market on the weekends where people set up everything they have and others peruse their offerings. If something is of value, and a good trade can be made, the transaction is sealed and we have bartering nirvana. I agree that something like this could happen, but I think it would take much longer than most people want to believe before anything resembling this could happen. It could have everything to do with the disaster that wiped out our ability to head to the local mall.
Let’s envision that there has been a terrorist strike on the United States. This terror attack was unleashed in two ways. The first was a cyber-attack on our economic infrastructure. A hostile state was able to hack their way into our financial computers and essentially cause a market crash. People for weeks are without any money and general pandemonium is starting to occur on varying levels around our country. After two weeks of this, our country is hit with several high altitude EMP devices so 75% percent of our electrical infrastructure has been wiped out. The lights go off and they don’t come back on. I think if these two events happened, you could say we would be looking at a SHTF event that would not be quickly solved. FEMA would not be bringing around blankets, those white tents and warm food for everyone. If our government was still in place, they would be hunkered underground trying to get control of the chaos that would quickly descend on our country.
If an event like this happened, I don’t believe that everyone would gather in their cul-de-sacs one evening and start talking about how they should hold a market. I firmly believe that in a SHTF world like this you would have wide spread lawlessness, violence, destruction, mayhem and death. I have documented why I believe this in a few other articles, but the point is, in a world like this, you are going to have to go through chaos before things settled down long enough to quietly gather with peaceful people and start trading all those supplies you have stored away for just this bartering opportunity.
Everything depends on the disaster we go through obviously. I guess if we didn’t have something this serious it would be different. OK, so we don’t have an EMP, but we have a depression brought on by an economic collapse or even just a slide into a hyper inflationary period that robs every one of their jobs, money and the ability to purchase anything anymore. Do you think the results would be less dire? Can you imagine a whole country out of work, poor, hungry and bored? I still see the same potential for violence and mayhem which would bring on still more problems. Just look at the most recent example of Ferguson which brought us riots that very nearly descended into martial law over the death of one man. Can you imagine when millions of people are going hungry?
What if you don’t have anything to barter?
The point I am trying to make is that I believe if we ever got to a place where we would all gather with our eggs and stand around and view the offerings of our neighbors, we will have lived through so much chaos that none of the bartering supplies you have stored will matter, unless you are rich and have warehoused tons of equipment and supplies. How long do you expect the violence and chaos to reign before anything resembling an orderly place for commerce would be possible? One year? 6 months? Two years?
During that time, my fear is that people will still need to acquire food. People will want to have protection, bullets, guns, shelter, and medicine. What if you are 6 months after the collapse and you don’t have anything to barter? What if you are a female whose husband was shot during a drunken argument with the neighbor? What if you are the teenage daughter who was hiding in the woods when a group of 6 men smashed in the doors of your parents’ home, killed them both and took all the food you had?
One of our readers, Matt wrote an article on our site where he discussed the value that people bring to a survival group. His article was very thought provoking to me and highlighted just one example of women trading comforts maybe even their souls for security. He used this in the larger context of contributing to a survival group in that these women would be the “baby-makers”. The impression could have been that they would have simply hooked up with someone who could take care of them or genuinely they would be marrying material to produce and raise children, but I started thinking about this in a slightly different but related context.
I was watching the movie Noah a few weeks back and there was a scene in the movie depicting a swarm of people trading their children for food. I’ll just leave it at that. It made me think that as a society, we have degraded the meaning and importance of life so much that something along these lines could be just as possible in a SHTF future as trading for packages of wheat and rice. When you have nothing to trade and you are desperate enough, if life is so bleak what will people be doing? This image of people trading their children for meat made me think of bartering in a grid down scenario if it got bad enough. It could be that like Matt wrote, women would be selling themselves either by the hour or permanently because they have nothing else to offer. It could be that people, viewing their children as burdens could want to trade their offspring for something of value. Could the bartering that actually comes to pass be more like the slavery markets than the flea market? Could we see people willingly selling their children for food?
We would never devolve to this level you say or if that is what happened I wouldn’t want to live a life like that. I know exactly what you mean, but think about it this way. If you don’t have anything to trade, what do you barter with? If you don’t have any of the millions of things people list as good bartering supplies, how do you get what you need? I guess I can be accused of painting a picture of the future that is too dark and bleak, but I think there is a small chance that something like this is possible, maybe not in your town, but in some places. When people are lost, beyond hope and dying – if the right opportunity comes across we could easily see people selling themselves just to have a chance to live. Don’t believe that we do not value life anymore? Just look at the sheer numbers of abortions there are each year. This fact alone shows that some people value their lives more than their unborn children. Is it so hard to believe that people would sell themselves for a shot of safety, some food and shelter or that they would sell their children in the right circumstances?
It could be that bartering wouldn’t be for toothpaste or clothes that you have stored away or candles you made from your beeswax as most people will either not have anything to barter with you for these items, or won’t care for what you are bartering. By the time people come out into the light of day, they may be just looking for any way out of the misery they are in, but they will have nothing to trade for.
I can see large groups forming not because they have been organically increased as part of a friendship that has grown through the years, but through acquisition. If you have a stable homestead with plenty of defenders you may not need anything that some traveler who is lost and hungry can tempt you with. They can however become a body strengthening your group. It could be that you let a man into your retreat, but he would be like an indentured servant working for their keep – forever. Will they have the ability to leave? It could be that a group lets several women in for the express purposes of using them for their work or their bodies and I think people will do this eventually. It is in this way larger groups will form and territories will increase.
Again, this is with the right type of disaster and not just a winter storm. I may be wrong, but I think it’s a possibility that life, if that is all you have to give will be given freely for the comforts of safety and food. How you can you prevent this from happening to you? A lot of it may just be the hands of providence. Taking steps to prepare could insulate you initially and it is what I recommend for everyone. The more you can rely on yourself, the less you will be dependent on others and it could mean the difference between bartering with goods you have and bartering with your soul.