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Story Last modified at 10:00 p.m. on Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Barter is great hedge against inflation
Mountain Echos

By Frank E. Baker

People will argue about the economy, future of the U.S. dollar, the role of gold and other precious metals, but one form of trade that has stood the test of time is the barter system – which is simply the exchange of goods and services without any money changing hands.

My mother was a music teacher in Seward, and I can remember when she received payment for piano lessons in the form of fresh eggs and milk, which was locally produced. She also crocheted hats and scarves and braided rugs for similar payment.

As a young girl, her parents lived on a farm in Pennsylvania, and services rendered, such as repairs on tractors and other equipment, were exchanged for garden-grown vegetables and other agricultural products.

Barter works great if you have a skill to offer. The only real skill I've ever had is writing, and on occasion I've taken advantage of the barter. When I was in college, I wrote term papers for certain quantities of beer. It wasn't exactly a substantial form of payment, but in the mind of an undergraduate on a limited budget, it seemed great.

On these deals I required that payment be received upon delivery of the paper. That way, the beer could be quickly consumed no matter what grade the paper received. I guaranteed a "B," and only once breached the contract with a "D." However, the beer had been consumed and couldn't be returned.

In U.S. Navy boot camp, I drafted love letters for other trainees. Payment for these inspirational endeavors was cookies from care packages they received from parents and other loved ones. Once in awhile there was an exchange of services, such as one letter for one rifle cleaning or two boot polishes.

I suppose I could include one other skill – packing things on my back – at which I seemed to excel even into my 40s and 50s. On more than a few occasions I received moose meat in return for becoming a two-legged pack horse.

As I said, bartering is really a great economic transaction if you can do it. Doctors, I've been told, trade services in a range of specialties. I know a guy who gives his aircraft mechanic free trips as compensation for maintenance on his airplane.

While bartering in the strict economic sense is getting harder and harder to find these days, a lot of it goes on informally – with friends performing various favors for each other such as snow removal, watching a neighbor's kids for a brief time while the parents are away, taking care of pets, or helping with yard work. And then there's the dreaded favor: helping with moving. I generally don't require any reciprocation on favors to friends, but moving is another matter. That one requires something – perhaps a good cup of coffee! I like helping people move who are good mechanics. Something always needs fixing.

Maybe it's my age or background, but I'll continue looking for barter opportunities, as infrequent as they are. I wonder if I could find someone to fix my broken snowblower in exchange for an engaging poem? Would the manager of the Eagle River Chevron station give me a tank full of gas for a riveting short story? I'd even settle for a Cold Stone custom ice cream cone as payment for a catchy jingle they could put to music.

Something tells me that I'd better keep some money in my wallet.

Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River.



This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, March 30, 2011.