Could you live off the barter system? It makes an interesting hypothetical scenario. Bartering for necessities can be traced back to pre-literate cultures at least 6,000 years ago, and it still exists today through various web-based systems and networking organizations. But could you really survive off that system if you were out of cash, or if cash had lost its value, or if the electronic payment systems went down?

You’d have to muddle through the same problems with the barter system that our ancestors faced, and all of this is assuming that everyone plays nice and acts civil (which is a hell of a presupposition if we’re talking about an emergency situation). Still, if it works, the benefits are plentiful.

The Benefits of Bartering
– Anything can be traded for anything else, as long as both parties agree.
– The barter system works under any conditions, regardless of a failure of utilities or infrastructure.
– Barter lets you trade different combinations of services, goods, and supplies for your needs.
– It can transcend language and cultural boundaries.

Barter Pitfalls
– It can be hard to determine fair trades, as supply and demand creates a heavy impact on barter situations.
– Some things are difficult or impossible to divide without them losing value, i.e. one live chicken.
– Barter requires that both parties have a desire for something that the other party possesses.
– Some barter items cannot be saved for the long term. One of the primary functions of money is to act as a store of value. You can’t keep your fresh eggs to trade next season, or save rice for your retirement.
– You end up showing others what you have, which could incite theft (or worse problems).

It’s an interesting situation to consider — bartering for your needs and even for your wants. If a good trade works out correctly, each person walks away with both something valuable and the willingness to trade with that partner again.

If forced to, would you trade with your neighbors and friends? If so, what would you trade? What goods and services could you provide that would be most valuable? Let’s hear it in the comments.