I’m thinking about reintroducing the Barter System into mainstream American Economics. Because, in case you didn’t know, I have the authority to singlehandedly change the American Economy.
I’m not talking about the kind of Barter System where my husband walks into a Circuit City and negotiates a 50″ flat panel TV, a Canon PowerShot Digital Camera, and all of the HDMI cables in the store for a fraction of the price of the TV alone. Although some might consider my husband the luckiest man alive. And he considers the MSRP to be a “starting point,” I find this kind of bold consumerism embarrassing, so I typically just wait in the car with the kids. I try to remind him that we are not actually in a part of the world where the cost of goods is negotiable. And then, a few minutes later, I celebrate his sweet victory with gut wrenching disgust that retailers have so much margin built into their inventory that they can take my husband’s ridiculous offers and still make a profit. But that was years ago. We’re not in the market for any more “stuff,” so I’m not anticipating hiding out in the car under the dark cover of nightfall while my husband barters with the manager at the consumer electronics store–all the while visualizing my “happy place” on the sandy beach of a desert island with no electricity.
Instead, I’m thinking of an economy where we look the MSRP directly in the eye and laugh at its absurdity. This may not work at the big box stores in Corporate America, but here in Small Town USA, I think there’s some potential. I hear these romanticized stories about hippie travelers crossing the country with nothing but a backpack … earning their keep by washing dishes in exchange for dinner at a small-town diner. Don’t confuse the hypothetical with reality here … I’m not offering to wash anyone’s dishes (as evidenced by my own kitchen sink at this very moment). I’m just saying that it would be nice if we could occasionally trade our talents for services we need, without the abstract price of capitalism attached. Are you with me here?
What do you do? Oh, you play the guitar? Sure, I’ll trade you guitar lessons for my son in exchange for tennis lessons for your daughter. Or … I’ll trade you a website for a vacation in your condo. That kind of barter system. I think we could all benefit from this kind of communal sharing of goods and services.
In fact, I have some friends who have taken this concept one step further and developed a whole infrastructure of trading volunteerism for donated rewards at SomethingToGive.org. It’s a complex system of points granted and earned by volunteering time with non-profit organizations, which I think is sheer brilliance. Not only does it encourage more individuals to volunteer their time to effect positive changes in their communities, but it rewards them with once-in-a-lifetime-opportunities.
I like that. More people should participate in this noble cause.
But meanwhile, I’m also looking for ways to maximize my fun factor while minimizing my budget … because if we’re being completely honest, I’d like to play harder and work less. I know, I know. It’s true. I’m a dreamer.