What’s wrong with bartering?

“Why is trading inherently unfair?” —Eric Jennings

In response to Against capitalism, Eric Jennings writes:

Economy isn’t a strength of mine but I found most of this thoughtful and intriguing. But the last graf on barter lost me. Why is trading inherently unfair? What’s unfair about me teaching you yoga in thanks for you teaching me guitar? My eggs for your hand carved kitchen utensils? Assuming non-coercion and a mutual agreement of worth, where’s the unfairness?

It’s in the linking between what otherwise would be two gifts.

If I give you something with no ties to you giving me something in return, then I am not assigning value to what I’m giving you. It’s just a gift, on its own, related to nothing, and therefore it has no relative value.

If I give you something with a tie to something you’re giving me, then we are assigning relative value to what would otherwise be untethered gifts. I have an idea of the relative value of what is being given to me and what I am giving to you. You have the same ideas. If we are moral people, then we will have what you call a mutual agreement of worth. But even if we agree that our trade items are of equal value, we are involved in evaluating the value of the items or actions that we are giving and that we are receiving. In determining whether a trade is fair, even if the answer is yes, we are involved in the paradigm of evaluating and valuing what is being traded.

This is the same as assigning monetary value to something, the entire purpose of which is to compare the value of two things. So even bartering, which seems to be outside the realm of capitalism, contains capitalism’s essential characteristic: assigning and comparing value..figuring out a fair price—or a fair trade. It simultaneously tethers the valuation of two things and requires the valuation of them.

So I’m not saying that capitalism doesn’t have fair trades, or that bartering doesn’t have fair trades—clearly they do.

What I’m saying in my last bullet point in Against capitalism is that, as in monetary trades, non-monetary trades are inherently concerned with fairness, unfairness, balance, and imbalance. Not to sound too Buddhist, but to be concerned with fairness is to be concerned with unfairness. Even avoiding unfairness is a way to focus on unfairness (and fairness).

I am saying, in that last bullet point, that we are one big organism, not all separate organisms. You are the lungs. I am the heart. If I need oxygen, and we realize we are one organism, you would never trade with me. You would give me what I need, freely, because we are one. I am you and you are me. There is no reason for the heart to barter with the lungs. If you need a massage, and I can give you one, then—because we are all one universal organism—I will give you a massage. Trades, whether monetary or bartering, become pointless. I will do whatever I can do for you, without recompense, because you are part of me.

For me to deny you what you need is to make my world worse. Why would I do that? You can barter with someone else. You can sell something to someone else. But if your paradigm is that we are all one organism (which we most certainly are), then the ideas of buying, selling, and even bartering with each other become absolutely unnecessary.

The universe is one living organism. Keeping accounts and balances between parts of oneself is just a product of fear—the fear of unfairness between the parts, the fear that I won’t get what I need. But there are no parts. We all breathe as one. We all flourish and suffer as one. If we can realize that, our species will be one step closer to participating in the everything in an appropriate way.