Fair Trade, For Real, A Rebuttal

In my last post I laid out a basic scenario of a type of economics that would allow one to remove oneself from the capitalist system. I received good comments, mostly of concern and disagreement. I expected, and accepted that, of course as we have all grown up and learned to function in a society never knowing any other form of economics, then capitalism.

First, I think I should at this point, reveal why I am talking about this at all. There are two grassroots movements coming to a point of actual realization, one being "freecycling" which is a system of bartering in an almost garage sale kind of way. Freecycling is not political at all, but really ecologically based, in the sense that people are saying, don't throw out your old stuff, "freecycle it" to someone who needs or wants it. The second if "freeganism". This is basically Crimethinc's answer to capitalism. It calls for the absolute boycott of anything, and everything capitalist, including rental or ownership of homes, and purchasing food from anyone. This type of Anarchist ideology encourages people to completely remove themselves from the system, and get off the grid.

I agree with freecycling, it just makes sense. Freeganism, however, is another story and what I am proposing is an alternative to that. A way for Anarchists who do wish to smash capitalism to remove themselves from the system in a safe and healthy (and practical) way, as well as a way for anyone to take some modicum of control back, dictate the conditions of their work, help out with ecologically, and save a couple of bucks.

Let's face it, times are getting hard, and there are millions of people out there who are already just barely scraping by. I'm hoping that some of what I have learned in the past three years can help others get the things they need without sacrificing too many needs, time, or sanity.

I'd like to discuss some of the comments to my previous post here, mostly from Don over at It's a Funny Thing. Don is an excellent blogger, who really makes me think. His comments and concerns were echoed by others, and of course are valid and legitimate on every level. Hopefully I can clear up the lines of communication, and help this idea of mine make sense to others.

Don says:

A medium of exchange is necessary if one wants to escape feudalism.

It was the lack of such a mechanism that was partly responsible for keeping the serf on the farm. And it was the creation of an acceptable currency which allowed him or her to purchase goods and services and to bid out his labor to others.

And he is right. I had no intention of proposing to eliminate exchange, but rather change the parameters of said exchange. I personally see corporations as modern day feudalism, in the sense that a few very rich and powerful people own the business, the equipment, and the land where production takes place, they determine the laborer's worth, and pay you what they deem appropriate, regardless of the conditions of said laborers (re: cost of living, experience, etc). While you can quit your job, you will inevitably be forced back into a similar job, thus never actually removing yourself from the cycle of feudalistic service. You are still a serf, only you get to change your masters from time to time.

I propose that we take some of that control away, and really create a "free market" where the laborers get to determine their worth.

Don says:
I make wooden cups. I'm also a fair woodworker. But I don't have the time to go to each seller of food, or power, or clothing and ask them if they care to trade.

This is the aspect of fair trade that I had the biggest problem with at first. Don also mentions not having the time and ability to produce enough cups to actually get everything he needs. What I am proposing here is that we, the laborers and citizens need to move away from the preconceived notion that our worth is determined by what we can mass produce.

Our time and efforts are worth so much more than one type of expertise, or particular skill, or product. Not to mention that hand produced products, or specialized skills aren't the only things worth trading.

I'll pose the question: How many times over the period of your lives have you helped someone move? Helped someone paint their house or barn, or wash their car? Watch their kids, or dog sit? Help with home improvement projects, or some otehr type of favor?

Probably hundred of times. I know I have. What capitalism does is tell us what we think we need and want, so we buy the products they make in excess, so they make money. What we really need to do is reevaluate what we are told we want, and what we actually need. We also need to stop being so humble, and address the fact that yes, we too, are capable of accomplishing tasks typically relegated to individuals of a particular trade.

Do you know what I need? I need to learn how to properly can foods so I don't poison my family. I just so happen to know someone who needs an extra set of hands during canning season. She is willing to teach me how to do it, and I am willing to help her can all of her food. That's a fair trade, and it has nothing to do with mass production of a product, or an attempt to sell things that people don't necessarily need. It is mutually beneficial, in a tangible way.

What I am saying is that we need to think outside of the box of "supply and demand" on a profit and product based system.

My husband and I have attained two cars through this barter system. We needed one or both, badly. We had no money to buy even a used car from a dealer, or privately, and no credit or capital to make payments or finance anything. But without a car we wouldn't be able to work (I'll get to that point in a moment).

We happened to find a person who was willing to trade a car he didn't want or need for a little bit of time and effort on our part. About 20 hours worth of work, helping him fix his barn. At my husband's pay rate, 20 hours worth of work wouldn't have paid for a car from a junkyard, never mind a running one. But by trading things that are needed the value of our time went up exponentially, and the value of the product went down, thus making an even and fair trade.

We did the same for our second car.

In fact, my husband's family has survived in this manner for generations. Every square inch of land they own were attained through bartering. So too, were the materials used to build the homes they live in. The cars they own, much of the furniture, equipment, and tools were all gained n a similar manner.

I would also like to point out that we have a true, honest-to-goodness trading post here. It's an actual business where you can freely, and fairly trade goods for goods. I am encouraging more places like this to open up, thus removing all that trouble finding someone to trade with.

Don says:
When I want a new supply of lumber, I can simply pay for it. My lumber dealer has no use for what I make either, but the person who does want my product has already paid me with a means of exchange that my lumber dealer will accept.

When purchasing something for say, a business, in bulk the equation changes a bit. I have no idea why I would be purchasing lumber - as I have no need for it, but business owners do. For this particular problem, at this point in time, money is still the only real option. I have no actual answer for a fair trade agreement in this, or larger regadrs.

However, what I have been proposing also affects this area of trade. One thing i have noticed is hat when I use a fair trade bartering system regularly, and get everything I can (which is about 80 percent of what we need on a regular basis) it frees up what little money we do make, so we can use it to pay for the things we can't attain via bartering. Things such as rent, utilities, or taxes. So too, would this work for the business man or woman. Anyone running there own business knows that sometimes maintaining the capital needed to keep purchasing supplies is hard work, and sometimes comes out of their own pockets.

Well, the more you barter, the more money you keep. The more money you keep, the more you have to use when you need to.

I have no delusions that our monetary system will go away, or disappear in my lifetime. What I am proposing is only a small step in the right direction towards true economic freedom. In the meantime, I firmly believe that this type of economy will help those who are financially strapped, help those who are working 100 hours a week to make ends meet, helping them dictate the conditions of their work, and taking a bite out of greedy and corrupt capitalist system.

I would like to say that my husband and I couldn't live the life we do without bartering in this manner. Without it, we would probably be homeless, and most likely starving. Seriously. We don't have enough money to pay for everything we need, jobs here are scarce, and they pay very little. (relatively speaking).

It also frees up much of our time together, as we no longer have to slave for just above minimum wage to makes ends meet, as we are now dictating the ends.

There is also something to be said for self reliance. My husband and I have set ourselves up in a manner where we only have to spend a very small portion of actual money. Between growing our own food, and hunting for meats (which also get us leather and fur for trading), we have set up enough trading and bartering contacts that we now literally only pay cash for that which we cannot barter. The cash payment to barter trading ratio is about 20% to 80% respectively.

It's a bit hard at first, and there are some con's to it. But once you really get the hang of it, you'll find it becomes easier, and very, very beneficial. When I first married into this crazy bartering family I resisted. I thought I couldn't do it, I didn't want to do it. I didn't want to establish what I am really worth, versus what I have been told I am worth all these years.

But now that I have, I have a hard time remembering why I hadn't done this in the first place.

But there will be more on this, tomorrow.



I was going to write something brillant and did but I just wanted you to know I was here and this article gave me a lot to think about :)

Alex Mcone said...

Wow, you have a spammer and she's from my place! :D

Ok, first things first, I knew I had a duplicate post; I didn't know how to delete the duplicate.

Now, here's something I'm really bothered about. I know corporate does not have a very good image right now with all the scandals and the cheating but apart from a few I really cant think of corporate as bad.

I need to know your opinion on something. You mentioned in your post and I quote "I propose that we take some of that control away, and really create a "free market" where the laborers get to determine their worth."

I studied cost accounting in college and I know how a laborer's wage is determined. Some companies do cut their wages drastically in order to make more profit which is not good for business in the long run. However, taking control away and letting the laborer's determine their wages is a bad idea. I'll explain it this way: I invest my money in a business that I create and run. I did it to make profit. If I give away control what becomes of me ? What about the money I invested ? I determine a wage according to the operation costs, but if the laborers decide that, I don't think they are going to care about operation costs and what should have been a well oiled machine starts to rust.

I don't know if that's even a valid question but I'd really like to know your view point on this. No debates or such: just want to know what you think.

The bartering system works in a small community. Your husbands family has been doing it for generations and they've probably done really well. However on a larger scale things are going to go haywire. I'm not really able to point out why but I know if I sit down and think about it I'll be able to hammer out a few. For me as an Indian, I just know bartering wont work in India.

However I do agree with you that trading posts will really do a lot of good for those who are financially strained. Actually it would be the best fricking economic miracle for them. It not only helps them, it also helps the country's economy as it wont have to spend too much on welfare.

I still do not agree with bartering but since you've explained it so well I will agree that bartering has its advantages.

But money still rules and I really want more of it.


Stuck in my head said...

Very interesting. I read your first entry on freetrade, but didn't get to ask questions or comment.

You argue some good points. And, too, like the idea of the trading post.

I think that for it to work on a larger level, though it might be difficult with people who have been corporate for so long. They may still be "in it to win it" and not trade fairly. Though, I guess that could lead them ass-out since no one would want to trade with a cheater or someone not willing to give the fair value for your product.

I suppose, then, that it could work and would turn into a sort of survival of the fittest.

Thanks for elaborating on your thoughts.


Ian Thal said...

On the other hand, the two automobiles you and your husband felt you needed could only have been built by some sort of industrial infrastructure capable of mass-production and organized along a division of labor and even if you were to run said automobiles on recycled vegetable oil, the actual manufacture and movement of parts from one site to another depends heavily on one power-grid or the other.

So, while you can minimize your participation in consumerism, or wage labor, you are still interfacing quite a bit with the institutions of capital and relying upon them. There are simply endeavors one cannot engage in as a cottage industry.

an average patriot said...

This is really quite interesting! I have free cycled my entire life. Never received always given because I can not sell something someone can use. All my sons seem to have inherited it.
Now freeganism! I saw a show on it and found it quite intriguing as the people really were into it and did quite well though they didn't have to as they both had advanced degrees.
Anyway Freeganism is an anti-consumerism lifestyle whereby people employ alternative living strategies based on "limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources. Freegans embrace community, generosity, social concern, freedom, cooperation, and sharing in opposition to a society based on materialism, moral apathy, competition, conformity, and greed."[1] The lifestyle involves salvaging discarded, unspoiled food from supermarket dumpsters that have passed, or in some cases haven't even passed, their sell by date, but are still edible and nutritious. They salvage the food not because they are poor or homeless, but as a political statement.[2][3]

The word "freegan" is a blend of "free" and "vegan".[4] Freeganism started in the mid 1990s, out of the antiglobalization and environmentalist movements. Groups such as Food Not Bombs served free vegetarian and vegan food that was salvaged from food market trash by dumpster diving. The movement also has elements of Diggers, an anarchist street theater group based in Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco in the 1960s, that gave away rescued food.[4]

Daniel Owen said...

You should check out Local Exchange Trading Systems (LETS). They're great.

Ultimately, you can't just "drop out" of capitalism. In the example of these "Crimethinc" people they are simply parasites in the most basic meaning of the term -- they consume but they do not produce.

There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.

Daniel Owen said...

"The lifestyle involves salvaging discarded, unspoiled food from supermarket dumpsters that have passed, or in some cases haven't even passed, their sell by date, but are still edible and nutritious. They salvage the food not because they are poor or homeless, but as a political statement."

That is fucking stupid...

Fran said...

A few thoughts-- I sure can say the corporate world is mostly a 1 way street- they lay down the rules & regs & you are required to adhere. They don't have much flexibility- so many places have such rigid and robotic attendance & time restrictions, they barely allow you to be human. This kind of situation exists in many corporate environments- not just one bad apple example.
So yes the corporate world is cold, cruel & inhumane.
On the other hand, these same jobs have given our family insurance coverage for major medical stuff that would have put us into bankruptcy.

As for houses, it does seem like a within the system thing to be a homeowner. But in the long run & the big picture-- if you choose to rent-- who is getting screwed in the end.... over a lifetime, you would pay thousands of dollars to someone else & only wind up with a month to month agreement or maybe a lease.
You will have spent enough to have bought a house, only you paid for someone else to buy theirs & in the end you've got nothing.
I'm not talking about buying an out of your financial range place-- just something simple to meet your basic living needs.
Unlike cars, huoses appreciate in value, and even if you are not into the whole appreciating value thing, to have your own place means you do what you want with it.
If you think you are not paying taxes & upkeep on your rental, you are wrong- they pass all those expenses to you in your rent costs.
As for sharing & trading things you don't need... it's great- but it's not new, folks have been doing that for years ~ it's still a good idea, with a new name.

Anon-Paranoid said...


Thank you for stopping by and offering your kind words for Ginger and me.

I haven't felt up to blogging, however recent events have outraged me so much I am going to try and put a post up sometime today.

Take care and ...

God Bless.

timethief said...

I'm becoming more and more aware of the similarities between your lifestyle and mine. I live in a lovely home which was by and large built by barter and incorporates many recycled materials. The way we operate in my community is through barter of goods and services. We are "free cyclers" here and purchasing anything new is a huge decision because we are committed to the reduce - reuse- recycle program. Thus, your ideas are not at all foreign to me.

Dave Dubya said...

I am delighted to see these alternative ideas in trade and business discussed here. Thanks for sharing your insight and experiences.

We need to expound on the remedies to the consumer culture that envelopes and enslaves us. It is in our best interests to open this economic box we're in with a shift in consciousness.

I know too many people who are hopelessly in debt and yet still go out and buy frivolous and unneccessary items.

They are like children mesmerized by toy commercials on TV, or lost souls trapped in a cult.

The members of the CONsumer CULTure need serious de-programming. They will learn eventually. Too bad for most, it has to be the hard way.

The collapsing economy may have to do it for them.

Stuck in my head said...

I am happy to see this type of thinking going on. It just needs to move to the masses. Though I don't know how well they will take to this type of economic structure.

This is a culture of excess. People need to buy and buy and buy. And, like Dave Dubya said. It is mostly to their detriment.

"The collapsing economy may have to do it for them." -- It already is. Look at all the bankruptcies. Look at all the forclosed homes. Yet, even with all these things happening, there is still the desire to buy more. And to buy things that are not needed even to the point of even more debt.

They can't even learn the hard way.

But the businesses are also to blame. They are capitalizing on the impressionability of people, on their desire to do better than the Jones's. When tax time was here, you could see so many ads on tv about how to spend your rebate check. And, so, people bought more with the money they should have used to better their economic standing. The government's answer for how to help the country is not to teach people to spend more, it is to give them more to spend.

I hope that one day more people will become fair traders. That they will spend less, own less, and waste less.

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Anok said...

Wow, OK, yikes! Sorry I have been missing in action, my ISP freaked out and I didn't have proper service for some time. SO, that said, let me see if I can wrap this up quickly...

Alex - I can't say about how business works where you are, but in the US corporate entities have begun tipping the scales of profit in excess. The notion that they calculate what a person earns based on overhead and profit margins no longer applies to many companies. Large companies have upper management folks (CEO's Pres. VP's) who make sometimes upward of 300% what the average employee makes. There is a HUGE gap, and a frivolous one, at that. Seeing as it is the employees who make the product or company successful, and the CEO's do very little. Without the employees, the company wouldn't exist, and the CEO would be nothing.

I also have a very hard time agreeing with the wage base calculations when companies are making record profits, and then turning around and outsourcing to countries who employee people for much, much lower wages, when the company could in fact pay Americans to do the work if they were willing to take a billion dollar loss from their $40 billion net profit - or if the CEO was willing to take million dollar pay cut from his $30 million dollar a year salary. I mean, really, the wages here are not in any way reflective of the cost of living (which is high), the type and amount of work that is being done nor does it reflect the importance of the basic employees...who do all of the work. Many companies are corrupt, and/or use less than ethical means to achieve their ever increasing profits.

Ian - while I understand what you are saying about the cars having been made by a corporation - I will say this much. You can't always get yoruself out of it completely, but you can pick and choose products that haven't been made by companies that are unethical, or products that are intentionally made to be thrown away after a few years so you're forced to buy a new one, that has lower quality, for more money. Take the cars for example - I won't buy a car made after a certain year. Reason being is that many current cars are created to: be impossible to work on, thus forcing you into going to a specialized mechanic, impossible to change or upgrade thus keeping you from adding ecologically sound or energy saving devices, break easily so you have to buy a new one, because it can't be fixed. Older cars - that were not outsourced when they were made, were made better, and made so you could work on them yourself are much better, and something I don't mind too much in supporting, so long as I'm not directly in the system. (We buy or barter privately).

Then again, I think if we stopped producing things in excess for amass market populace that it wouldn't be such a bad thing.

Anok said...

To everyone else who posted, thank you! I'm happy to see that there are other folks out there that are already doing this, or have at least been encouraged to do this - and other things. I think it' snot just an Anarchist issue, it's a human issue.

Worker's rights and greed aside, I think we also have to look at the ecological impact of an excessive society. Bartering and freecycling is a great way to make sure we aren't consistently dumping waste into landfills, calling for too much use of natural energy, and really promote the notion of personal responsibility.

That said, Jim, I just can't get down with freeganism. I don't think dumpster diving is healthy - not for food, anyway. And for those of us with kids, proper shelter, food and a bit of security in this crazy world is a must. So I just don't agree with removing oneself entirely, and cold turkey at that. :(

Slowly but surely, and it won't require dumpster diving!

a very public sociologist said...

Freecycling is good AND you can get a sense of satisfaction for socking it to the man in a very small way.

But separating yourself off from society is not such a good idea. If you can do it, that's great. But the ecological crisis hasn't gone away. Thousands continue to perish in wars every week. Exploitation and alienation remains a fact of life. 'Freeganism' or separatism is an individual solution for specific self-selected individuals. It's not an option for most people. Which is why collective action for progressive social change is the only real way things will get any better.

On a nit-picking point, there were markets and exchange in feudal times. Once the serf had toiled away in the lord's field, and grown enough to sustain their household, surplus grain was sold on markets. But exchange was ancillary to the system. The core of it was the exploitation of the serf's labour power.

Barry said...

It sounds like more of a survivalist in an ever changing economy than the economy itself. But, I am just a dumb cop, so what do I know.

I have often bartered for things instead of bought and sold, though lately that has been more difficult for me personally.

One of the biggest advantages of bartering is the lack of exchange of currency which means no taxes! Maybe you did mention that someplace, but that is the best feature.

Kuday said...

"What I am saying is that we need to think outside of the box of "supply and demand" on a profit and product based system."

I am very pleased to see that you and I share almost the same ideas including barter. If people use the barter system excluding exchanging money, that would be a big plus for an economic structure of countries. For these days, i think it's enough to think about a "fair trade system" rather than changing the whole structure of the capitalism through the world.
And Yes, barter system can make it. But note that, the crise conditions and recession has risen because of unfair management of companies that has huge amount of incomes which was unfairly exaggreated. These companies has never involved in a real production businesses!! That's unfair comparing with the other companies!! When they intended to give loans to public, their baloons just bursted out. A Fair trade system should have said "stop" to these companies. But unfortunately still we don't have such a system.