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What Is A Fair Trade?

By James Stout , Writer for Barter News

We can consider many perspectives in setting our values in bartering.  

  1. We can transfer our regular dollar-salary into a barter situation. For example, if we earn $40 per hour for our computer repairs, we exchange a two-hour repair for our barter partner's $80 bicycle.
  2. We can decide that "all labor is equal; your hour equals mine in trade." That attitude comes from people who are idealistic -- and are usually unskilled. The difference between a minimum-wage laborer and a $100-per-hour professional can be too obvious when they are trying to do a direct trade -- at a ratio of one hour for about 16 hours. Some barter organizations insist on a strict hour-for-hour trade between members. But at one barter club where a similar rule was enforced, few professionals were willing to participate; eventually the club's director discarded the rule and instead he allowed the members to make their own agreements.
  3. We create our own subjective values. Those values are based on various factors:
    • Our personal appreciation of particular goods and services. For example, if we knit sweaters in exchange for goods and services, one doctor might give us a checkup in trade for two sweaters. But a doctor who is particularly fond of sweaters might notice the extraordinary quality of our work, and thus be happy to accept one in trade.
    • The emotional tone of the trade. In some deals, we are interacting with friends (or with friendly strangers). We might place a higher value onto goods and services which are created and delivered with love, warmth, and care. On the basis of that friendship, or just the humanness of the encounter, we both might reconsider our fees into the kind of easy deal which is offered from one friend to another.
    • External influences. Our judgment of value can be influenced by the media (particularly advertisements), or by a profession's charismatic image. We can reject those external standards in favor of our own, to decide what is important to us.

Get an appraisal of the other person's goods and services. Especially when we are trading expensive merchandise, we should check with experts: store owners, directories, catalogs, magazines, books, price guides, and consumer-oriented web sites. Ask professionals to verify that the camera is fully functioning, that the painting is authentic, that the motorcycle really is worth that much. Show the power saw to a carpenter who owns a similar model. Go to appropriate stores to compare prices on furniture, equipment, plants, clothing, and other goods. Ask a jeweler to appraise the jewelry. At one barter club, a car mechanic has offered to inspect vehicles before we buy them; the mechanic can be paid via the club's units.

Cover your costs. Consider the costs of supplies and depreciation. For instance, if I am roto-tilling your big garden, are you paying for the gasoline, or am I? If you wire up my lights, am I purchasing the materials, or am I expecting you to bring some materials from your shop? (Usually, the person who is receiving the service pays cash for the materials.) If you are a businessperson, consider your overhead, the money which you have paid to your suppliers, etc.