Part 1 : Why does Barter feel so Good?
By Hannah Davenport and Mason Dixon, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Why does Barter feel so good? In the moment of exchange, Barter feels refreshing in a way that nothing on Main Street ever does. The experience of bartered exchange provides something currency-based exchange does not, and cannot. And yet, Barter could not replace Money on a large scale. Barter can, at best, be a temporary supplement for Money, a perversion of our more civilized system.
The exchange of goods and services pervades our experience of the world, and Money currently mediates that process. Currency sets the stage of exchange, impersonally and invisibly. When we give someone currency for a product or service, our thoughts collect solely on the thing we receive and the value it has. Barter, however, causes us to also think about the thing given, and its value to the other person involved in the exchange. The mechanics of Barter place value on a localized scale, the scale of individuals, rather than the “value by mass consensus” that Money supposes. (Even if Barter were expanded to a larger system, it would fall prey to the same shortfalls that Money now has, and more. It would not feel good.)
Money is not sinister, far from it. Currency reduced haggling. It made the exchange process simpler, faster, transitive, by creating an agreed-upon independent measurement, by translating value into a common metric. Money scaled exchange value to the global scale by symbolizing a statistical distribution of value among all exchanges, a composite of all the price-setters and manipulators, yet the assessment of value is not static.
Within the experience of an individual exchange, buyers and sellers operate under the assumption that when they give $3 to the Butcher, that it is still worth $3 when the Butcher gives it to the Rancher. But, this sense of consistent value, and thus the sense of equal purchasing power, are continuously undermined by the economic system itself, by capitalism. The profit motive requires that sellers collude and buyers influence.
Money represents itself as an accurate measure, as stable as the milimeter or pi, and yet is not. The currency in your pocket has no more intrinsic value than a wave would have form, separated from the kinetic energy of the ocean. Investment, dividends, derivatives, accumulation, interest, inflation, arbitrage, supply and demand, are all statistically distributed across the economic system, altering even how the same product is valued by the same vendor week to week. Clearance sales and discount malls, are not the indicators of value correcting themselves, but rather indicators of their fluctuations.
Money gives the impression that its position is steady, its relation to value unchanging, and Barter does not. Barter never claimed consistency or equality. Barter in some way is more honest with its participants by making the exchange independent and temporary. Barter assumes space within the value-exchange proposition for things outside of the currency, such as brutality or social class.
And why should Money’s relativity be so troubling? Desire production leads contemporary capitalism; consumerism drives our identities towards exchange. Money in American culture is more than the language of exchange, it is part and parcel with the language of identity, with who we are as individuals. The distribution of wealth described by Money became the distribution of value we have as individuals. It’s description of us defines who we can make ourselves into. While Social Mobility has increased over the last 100 years, it has come at a cost, the cost of embedding desire into every aspect of our lives (the exchanges) from scrubbing bubbles to baseball. Money’s lie, that it describes a consistent value, lets us forget that it mediates our exchanges. It lets us forget that other forces are at work. The pervasiveness of exchange then enables Money to tax our identities.
if you have a Family, here are the things you buy…
if you are German-American here are the things you buy…
if you like to drive fast, here are the things you buy…
if you are a Foodie here are the things you buy…
Perhaps, this is why barter feels so refreshing. Barter opens a freedom for the individual within exchange, freedom to assign the world with the value we believe it should have. Even when it is inefficient, people will Barter to feel good; people will barter to feel free. Barter makes the exchange itself personally valuable, independent of the value of the things being exchanged. Barter replaces the function of money in the exchange process by negotiating and mapping the territory of exchange, not to the scale of investment or accumulation of wealth, but it is not necessary for Barter to do these things. Barter feels good in the experience of it, and that value-in-exchange is something we can inhabit, something we can identify with.
Barter resituates the power relationship of value-exchange from the currency-backer, to the micro-community of a particular exchange. For once, the individuals involved determine what is valuable. Barter mimics the relations we have with friends and family. Can helping someone move, giving a back-rub, or writing a poem translate to value between acquaintances or even strangers? Is it possible to expand this ability to share our values, skills and specialities, without needing to take it to scale of a federally-mandated currency?
Part 2 : When the System is Down
Being a teacher means that you have to arrive at the school at least an hour before the students do. This was the first day of a new class and cold morning on Chicago’s Michigan Ave. So I was there 2 hours early. I had intended to get coffee before I arrived at the building, but my usual stop was closed, despite the sign that said they opened 30 minutes earlier and the “open” neon sign still blinking in the window.
I walked down a cold empty street and into a warm empty building. No one was around except the security guard, who was cordial and friendly. I offered to buy her a coffee and asked directions to the nearest place that would be open at this time of morning.
She said there was a Starbucks inside a hotel a block down. When I got there the lone attendant behind the counter was frantically calculating the cost of a business women’s group order on a calculator. She made the poor kid explain three times how the credit card machine was connected to the currently down computer system. She had no other way to pay for her company breakfast and left in a huff. What else was she supposed to do? There was no other place open for blocks.
I showed him my cash and he looked relieved. I order two coffees and while he prepared them I browsed the pastry window. When he returned I asked how much a cookie cost. He leaned over the counter and saw that none of the pastries prices had been labeled. He said, “This morning, the cookies are free.” Somehow I don’t think that was in the employee handbook.
Part 3 : Manipulating Desire
The First Things First Manifesto was a call to designers to revalue their fees based on the social relevance of their clients. It was first published in 1964 and reified in 2000.
First Things First 2000: a design manifesto
Published jointly by 33 signatories in: Adbusters, the AIGA journal, Blueprint, Emigre, Eye, Form, Items
We, the undersigned, are graphic designers, art directors and visual communicators who have been raised in a world in which the techniques and apparatus of advertising have persistently been presented to us as the most lucrative, effective and desirable use of our talents. Many design teachers and mentors promote this belief; the market rewards it; a tide of books and publications reinforces it.
Encouraged in this direction, designers then apply their skill and imagination to sell dog biscuits, designer coffee, diamonds, detergents, hair gel, cigarettes, credit cards, sneakers, butt toners, light beer and heavy-duty recreational vehicles. Commercial work has always paid the bills, but many graphic designers have now let it become, in large measure, what graphic designers do. This, in turn, is how the world perceives design. The profession’s time and energy is used up manufacturing demand for things that are inessential at best.
Many of us have grown increasingly uncomfortable with this view of design. Designers who devote their efforts primarily to advertising, marketing and brand development are supporting, and implicitly endorsing, a mental environment so saturated with commercial messages that it is changing the very way citizen-consumers speak, think, feel, respond and interact. To some extent we are all helping draft a reductive and immeasurably harmful code of public discourse.
There are pursuits more worthy of our problem-solving skills. Unprecedented environmental, social and cultural crises demand our attention. Many cultural interventions, social marketing campaigns, books, magazines, exhibitions, educational tools, television programs, films, charitable causes and other information design projects urgently require our expertise and help.
We propose a reversal of priorities in favor of more useful, lasting and democratic forms of communication - a mindshift away from product marketing and toward the exploration and production of a new kind of meaning. The scope of debate is shrinking; it must expand. Consumerism is running uncontested; it must be challenged by other perspectives expressed, in part, through the visual languages and resources of design.
In 1964, 22 visual communicators signed the original call for our skills to be put to worthwhile use. With the explosive growth of global commercial culture, their message has only grown more urgent. Today, we renew their manifesto in expectation that no more decades will pass before it is taken to heart.
Part 4 : Bazaar-Op
We call it the “Bazaar-Op.” We hope to launch the process of Bartering and Exchange (B&E) of goods and services for all to enjoy. It is organized Chaos!
THE GOAL- is to trade goods and have fun! Creating new value for skills and objects to share with each other…
- BRING- 10 items, a bottle of some elixir (preferably alcoholic) and you are encouraged to dress as a merchant or wear some other creative duds.
- SETUP- participants are welcome to set up the evening before (6pm-midnight), or on the day of between 4pm and 8pm.
- CRUISE & PERUSE- between 8pm and 10pm scour the terrain of items and make offers on items you have an interest in Bartering… (no deals though)
- BARTER & BAZZOP- between 10pm and 12pm, interested parties will engage in pure and chaotic Bartering… When both parties are in agreement we say, “BAZZOP,” at which time the deal is done and final. The items are then taken off the bartering floor so that the rest of the items can be bartered without distraction…
- CLEAN- after the clock strikes midnight, we will clean up. This is a leave no trace event- You must take everything home with you and return the space to an acceptable condition.
- CELEBRATE- when the space is adequately cleaned, we will begin a party with wonderful musicians for your dancing pleasure. Given that the event is on a Wednesday, the event will end at 3am
WHAT DO WE CONSIDER A BARTER-ABLE ITEM?
- each participant will bring 10 items/ barter-able objects… and value those items 1-10 according to your subjective valuation of them…
* SIZE- note, all items need to be less than 2′ X 2′ X 2′ otherwise you will need to take a photograph of it
** SERVICES- also note- you can make one of your items a “service” such as an hour or day of labor. (For example, painting a room). Please bring a piece of paper that says for example, “One hour massage”
*** PANDORA’S BOX- one item can also be an unknown which we call the “Pandora’s box” which you can barter as you see fit…
Let’s get foolish and trade priceless goods!
Start setting aside your Barter Items…
You Get What you Give…
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