Day 24: Barter day.

The Book recommends learning to barter, because it’s “a useful skill to acquire in the event civilization should suddenly revert to the Stone Age.” I completely agree, and – in all seriousness – I think about what I would do in the event of a second Stone Age every day.

Successful bartering, post-collapse, is not a matter of being able to negotiate – to get four sheep for a gallon of gas rather than three. It is, instead, a matter of hoarding certain key commodities – of acquiring and protecting a sufficient stock of the things people really want:

  1. Alcohol: liquor, mostly, but there will also still be beer and wine snobs connoisseurs even after the world goes to shit. Probably no reason to hoard any 99 Bananas, though.
  2. Cigarettes.
  3. Ammunition.
  4. First-aid supplies.
  5. Batteries.

(I’ve left off rations – bottled water, canned goods, dried beans, pasta, &c – because those are the sorts of goods you ought to hoard and keep for yourself.)

Storage is an important issue. Ideally, one needs a warehouse – and a sufficient number of goons associates to protect it – but not everyone has a warehouse handy. Taking over a Wal-Mart is an option (especially in those states where Wal-Mart carries booze) – but, again, having a group of armed comrades is pretty important. Just keeping the stuff in one’s garage is probably a bad idea, if one has any desire to actually maintain one’s inventory.

Because, really, a post-collapse, barter-based economy is not that different from the economy we have now: both are built on the exchange of dissimilar goods. Why are two apples worth one loaf of bread, or two dogs worth one cow, or one giraffe worth one bicycle? Because the people exchanging them agree that they are. Our barter system is more complex – though perhaps having a “standard currency” hides this complexity – but it’s still just as arbitrary. Why is one hour of an unskilled laborer’s time worth one of these – and why are both worth two gallons of gas? Are this and this really of equivalent value?

More to the point: isn’t our current economy largely controlled by a (relatively) small group of people who limit our access to the things we need and the things we think we need? How different, really, are the CEO who gets an eight-figure bonus and the “entrepreneur” who has a warehouse full of Absolut, aspirin, and shotgun shells? Both have armed guards, of course, and both are heavily invested in economics being a zero-sum game.

Somewhere this stopped being funny (assuming, of course, that it started out funny), and started veering toward being an anarcho-syndicalist rant – so I’ll stop, and turn things over to more capable hands:

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