Post Collapse Barter: The Rest of the Story, by D.T.R.

Post collapse barter has been a hot topic for as long as I have been lurking around the Survival Community. Yet each time I read the offerings on the subject they have left me feeling like the whole story is not being told. This is an attempt to tell that story.
 
Post collapse barter is often presented in romanticized ways of a simpler and happier life such as depicted by Eddie Albert playing the role of the Persian peddler “Ali Hakim” in the Rogers and Hammerstein musical “Oklahoma.” He went town to town peddling everything from perfume to frying pans with his horse and wagon. A Spartan life to be sure but he was the model of happiness. After all, he had a girlfriend in every town! Or the notion of an impromptu open air market in the town square where people gather to fellowship and trade.
 
This type of commerce probably will commence in time, after the crash, but from my vantage point there is a whole lot of turmoil and violence between “here” and “there.” When the “free stuff” stops flowing to the entitlement class we are not all going to “just get along.” Surviving to the point of peaceful open air markets is not going to be for the faint of heart or the unprepared.
 
In this essay I will address:
 
The two problems with barter
The two fundamental questions of barter
The two logistical issues with barter
A few examples where I think barter will occur in the short run.
 
My credentials are that my family and I are long term, serious, God fearing, Christian preppers who own and live on our rural retreat full-time that we refer to as our “sanctuary homestead.” The retreat has been built up in such a way that with lots of hard work, a bit of good luck and the favor of God mixed in, we can provide food for many in a grid down scenario pretty much indefinitely. That retreat is located in the American Redoubt. Also, I have a degree in business economics from a major university and have worked in finance for 30 years at both the corporate and small business levels.
 
I hope the fact that I have “one foot in both worlds” so to speak, will give a perspective on this subject that is at least worthy of consideration.
 
Two Problems:
Commerce is technically described as “bringing together a willing seller and a willing buyer in an arms length transaction.” The “arms length” part means that both parties are looking out for their own economic best interest. This isn’t charity. For example if grandma gives you a ten thousand dollar car for changing out her broken light bulb. That would be the inverse of an “arms length transaction.” Mediums of exchange such as currencies make this process easier which is why they are used so universally. Yet in a post collapse world such as depicted in “Patriots” the currency of the land is useless as it is worthless.
 
That brings us to Problem #1: absent a recognized societal medium of exchange to conduct commerce you still need to put that definition together of buyer, seller and arms length. On the buyer-seller side of the equation, that means that you have to find someone with something you want, that they are willing to part with, who want something you have, that you are willing to part with.
 
Problem #2 is the “arms length” part. Our current economy of commerce is very efficient. If you walk in to a hardware store to buy a splitting maul the price to the buyer from the seller is not influenced by whether it’s going to be your only splitting maul or your 50th one (“satiated demand” in economic terms).The price doesn’t change due to the mood of the cashier or what day of the week it is and so on.
 
In a barter system the “price” of an item is extremely subjective and influenced by a whole host of variables. If you have to cut and split wood to cook and stay warm, trading off one of your 50 splitting mauls is going to be much easier to part with, and you’ll require much less in return for it, then if you only have two of them. So, those types of pricing considerations for both the “buyer” and the “seller” in a barter transaction are much more exaggerated than when money is used.
 
So to affect one barter exchange, five things have to align.
 
1) You have an item
2) They want that item
3) You are willing to part with that item
4) They have something to give you in exchange for that item that you want.
5) Agreed upon valuations of both items by both parties.
 
Agree on 4 out of the 5 and there is no deal. Putting deals together like this can be at best a nuanced dance or at worst a nightmare that engenders division between the parties. That is why so many barter clubs and societies have failed over the years.
 
If you are thinking “Well, we will be fine because we have those silver coins and some items that we think will be in high demand.” That’s fine but you still have to find someone who wants those items (probably fairly easy) who have things to trade you back that you want (the harder part, more in a minute) and you both have to agree on the “value” of both items where the use of “comparable sales” are non existent.
 
This is not to say that barter is impossible because we know that its not. The point is to illustrate that barter is more complicated than many make it out to be. If you are thinking that no matter what the possible pitfalls of barter are, you would rather be holding some tangible assets that you believe will be of value for trade in a post collapse world rather than holding worthless dollars. To that I say, I agree. But are those your only two choices?
 
Fundamental Questions:
 
The most common writings on post collapse barter inevitable get to “the list” of items people plan to lay in to trade away. Many times those lists have plenty of common sense items but there are times when you guys come up with things that sound, well, crazy to me (Viagra?)
 
Question #1: Do I have the cart before the horse? Is it prudent to focus on what other people, known or otherwise, might be wanting in a crunch? Or should I think about what items I will be in search of in exchange for what I have laid in for trade? Put another way, what do you want to attain in trade for your barter items? Since this is a “for profit” endeavor as apposed to charity that’s the business model, not where do I want to begin (your list) but where do I want to end up.
 
 If your reply is that we don’t really know what we will want/need because it will be “situationally dependant,” to that I say maybe. Prepping really is not that “situationally dependant” though. Food, water, shelter, heat, light, security, first aid, good clothing, etc. are what we have on hand for any and all calamities, large and small.
 
If you have utilized the resources available on SurvivalBlog in terms of what to do to get ready, make lists and so on you should have at least some ideas of where you stand.  Where you are strong and where you have holes. I agree that there are items that “you can never have too much of” but really it’s the holes that you would presumably be trying to plug with barter. The question then i.: Am I more ahead to use resources to plug holes and strengthen our prepping position today, as opposed to using those same resources to lay in tradable items? Your answer may be different than mine but the questions should be asked because..
 
Question #2: On the one end of the spectrum most people do not prep. Those of us who do are in the extreme minority even today when it is much more visible. So that vast majority of people out there living pay check to paycheck in the land of mammon…by and large they have nothing to trade you that you will want or place much value on in a collapse. On the other end, we, the choir, the serious preppers who have followed the advice of Mr. Rawles and the contributors to SurvivalBlog,  are in pretty good shape to weather the coming storm. So,we have extra everything so you really don’t have anything that we need and certainly nothing that is mission critical that we would trade high value items for. Oh, sure if you show up with a 55 gallon drum of fresh kerosene we can talk and probably put a deal together but we wont “sell the ranch” for it because it’s icing on the cake for us. The pool of potential barter mates just shrunk a lot.
 
Logistical Issues of Barter
 
No matter how far along you are with your preps when the balloon goes up those instantly become priceless. If you have a thousand dollars of stored food and TSHTF those stores could be the difference between life and death. You will trade no amount of money or precious metals for them at that time because you can’t eat those. If you have $100,000 worth of stored supplies and the crunch is on, someone could offer to write you a check for a hundred million dollars and you would have no part of it. Your survival stores would then be your most valuable asset in spades (that nobody should knows about). Thse are survival items that people would be willing to kill you for, and that we are prepared to defend with our lives.
 
Most people that I know with retreats and designated bug out locations. When the balloon goes up they simply want to roll up the draw bridge, help their neighbors out where they can and be left alone to rely on themselves to provide for themselves and then, maybe, be meaningful participants in the re-build if God wills it.
 
Logistics issue #1: In order to conduct barter exchanges you would need to leave your selected “safe” location in order to do commerce. Or someone in your group would. That then would mean you are potentially out in “it” rather than safely behind your line in the sand and your absence means that the security of the retreat is reduced. If you are ready to start a “road show” of barter exchange early on what does that say about the depth and breadth of your preps? If you are well prepped there is nothing out there in “barter land” that comes close to the value of your preps at home
 
Logistics issue #2: If for those reasons you decided not to leave your safe location to barter exchange but you still have the itch to trade. That means your “customers” would need to come to you. Is it a good idea that in a time of desperation and starvation to potentially tell the watching world that you have excess? (That not only do you have enough stuff stored to cover yourselves (when most people don’t) but you have extra such that your in a position to trade away?) If that word gets out it will spread like wildfire and you should prepare to have whole lines of beggars at your gate and “authorities” wanting to talk with you about your illegal “hoarding.”
 
Its probably obvious at this point that we have not put a great deal of stock into the concept of post collapse barter in our preps, but I will acknowledge that it has its place for some people and I said at the outset that it will occur. Our approach to preparedness has been three pronged with regard to laid in assets.. First step; fully prepped for our family for a year. That means everything. Next, lay in extra to be in a position to accept someone to the group who is under or not at all prepared such that it does not seriously compromise the preps of the immediate family/group. Primarily we are talking relatives and close neighbors. Finally utilizing the industry standard (if you will) of the Rawlesian approach to charity and stocking up accordingly, to do just that. I believe that for most people, because of the challenges listed above, provisions for barter should be made after those three core goals are met.
 
The Post-Crash Barter Landscape
 
1) The world’s oldest profession will skyrocket. What will be in demand to trade for those “services”? Food, mind altering substances and security.
 
2) Rural residents who already have trusted relationships with neighbors that have grown over a span of years have a good chance of barter trading during the crunch. Especially amongst the homesteader types, many of them have been barter trading with each other for years at this point. This does not mean throw OPSEC to the wind though as we are reminded by the Bible that times can come where “neighbor against neighbor and brother against brother” occur.
 
3) Lone Wolf: This type of person is a very small minority of the prepper world but they do exist. They are the Lone Wolves with bug out bags at home and in their cars. They plan to “get out of Dodge” and “head for the hills” and become invisible at least until things settle down. For most of us that would be a good way to end up starving or dying of exposure or both. These are not the “wannabe’s” without any other option than to try to make it from a metropolis to a state park some place. This is the real deal that most likely can survive this way and are not fooling themselves.  These guys typically have military experience including survival school; they are proficient with weapons as are their “hunter gatherer” skills. They are in good physical shape or have the capacity to get that way in short order. They are well versed in caches and probably have more than one already stashed.  Ironically they “get” what a group survival retreat is about better than some members of group survival retreats. It’s just that they are not “group” types, they are Lone Wolves.
 
Their plan is to lay low and remain invisible for six months or so. During that initial period, as time allows, they will conduct reconnaissance to find survival group retreats and functioning homesteads. When the time is right they plan to approach the group in a non threatening manner and offer their services to the group. Those “services” including providing intel of what’s what in the area or region. They could magically “show up” about the time that trouble was brewing or they could be sent out on search and acquire missions. For example lets say that battery charge controller on your small solar system went out; they could be sent out on a mission to acquire one and bring it back to the group. Primarily what they would want in return is food, ammo, clothing or clothing repairs and maybe even a hot shower every now and again. It would take some time to build the trust but under the right circumstances this type of person could do pretty well in a barter world.

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