In disaster planning, many people foresee a future without regular access to money or other forms of currency. While that is a possibility, there is also the other side of the transaction; will there be a shortage of goods and services? If your preparedness plans include such a dire scenario, it may be wise to start identifying what you would need for daily use and what skills you are short on.
Once you have a grasp on those items, the next phase is to figure out how to fill those gaps. No one can be totally prepared with everything, and other articles are going to present list after list of items to have on hand, but in this article, we are going to discuss how to go about finding new sources for the things you’ll need.
Commerce is an old concept. There were no shopping malls, hardware stores or Internet retailers when Ugg was decorating his cave for the new wife he dragged home. He had to survive on what he could collect and build. There was a more talented neighbor a couple of caves down, and Ugg realized maybe if he were to trade his pretty rock, the other guy might give him a tortoise shield and a pointy stick for that upcoming mastodon hunt. Pretty soon, Ugg realized he had found a good source for hunting gear that he was unable to make, and the bartering trade line concept had been created. Being the entrepreneurial kind of guy, he was, Ugg became a weapon distributor and set up a market in his area and commerce was born. At least, that was the way I heard it.
Let’s move to a more modern example. A popular apocalypse scenario is a cyber-attack/grid down situation that shuts down the banking system on the East coast. In very little time, the economy would tank, and there certainly wouldn’t be a way to access your bank account online. The majority of Americans will probably tell you that they don’t carry cash on hand, which would make shopping for necessities a real luxury. Maybe you were able to activate your survival group, and the pooled resources came in handy. However, over time, the local suppliers are going to need to branch out. What’s a budding survival group to do? They’re going to have to pay attention.
That’s the thing about networking; people are always listening for opportunities. In bartering, we call it opening a trade line, but it is simply keeping your eyes and ears open and making connections along the way.
Setting up a trade line has all the same risks of interacting with others on a daily basis. Just like everything else we do, we have to establish security and safety protocols to reduce the chances of being exploited. We will establish a trading post and discuss physical security in the next article, so let’s focus on the benefits of building trade relationships and how information security can have real-world effects.
For today’s conversation, we will use three general categories of barter currency: 1. Physical products, 2. Information, and 3. Labor.
We know all the products that people recommend we keep handy for trade, but do you know where to find them when The Survival Dispatch Amazon List is down? Many products are created or grown elsewhere, and even in the best of times must be shipped into your area. For example, wheat isn’t generally produced in the south, and tropical fruits aren’t commonly grown in the north unless you use particular farming methods and tools. Both are important for our diets so it would be beneficial to seek out relationships with people who can supply and transport those kinds of items if possible.
Another product we might need could be mechanical. Let’s say our generator needs a carburetor. We cannot make one, and the local repair shops are closed up, or out of parts. By networking, we can put out the word of what we are looking for in hopes that someone has one to trade somewhere. If they have an extra, maybe they also have other mechanical items as well. They could become our go-to source for such things, or they may know someone else we could tap into. It’s essential to make these connections even when you don’t have an immediate need for a product because you never know how it could be useful in the future.
Information can be a valuable currency in and of itself. While local information is the best for our daily needs, information about distant places can also be beneficial, especially if we have travel planned to/near that area. How do we gather information? The goal is to put out as many feelers as possible, so where might we plant those ears? It’s a good idea to place someone close to transit point, like a train station, eating location, camp area, trailhead or waterway. These places can be a great source of information as travelers bring new information into the community as they come and go. Keep in mind that not all information is what we can consider “intel.” Sometimes it is nothing more than rumor, tidbits, or even disinformation, which can be dangerous if used incorrectly or inappropriately.
Sometimes, there is another layer to using the information for trade, because it could affect whether you and your group become the friend or the target of law enforcement. While some people will jump to the complete apocalypse scenario, information can come in handy much earlier in the game. In the early stages of civil war, the populace may have many of their daily needs easily provided as stores may still be open, coffee shops will still be pouring lattes, and you can still make your dentist appointment next week. Insurgencies begin long before the shooting starts, when people of similar mindsets align with each other, define their stances, and plan their actions. When activists become a threat, they will show up on law enforcement radar, and this is when both sides can use information as a weapon. The timeliness and accuracy of information will have a value, in some cases, a very high value. If either side has established an inside person or information trade line,there is always someone willing to “pay” for information.
So, what would be a barter item for tactical information? In an extreme case, sending good intel to law enforcement could mean you and your family are allowed to keep your freedom. On the other side of the coin, an activist group may offer protection to someone willing to share intel from the opposition. The possibilities and hazards are endless, but the bottom line is that information can demand a high value if useful.
Labor is the third currency in this discussion, and it’s something that we already do every day of our lives. We all show up at a place, perform some mental and physical labor, and the other party gives us money or items in return. Labor is not limited to digging ditches, and it includes medical work, security, education, and many other services. Labor has a great value and can be traded in times of need. Part of establishing trade lines or networking is to identify what you need, what you would like to have, and who might have it or be able to do it for you. Outside of general physical labor, be prepared that any specialized trade or any person with specialized knowledge may charge a higher price or demand a larger item of trade for their services.
Bartering for labor, or anything else goes back to the fundamentals of preparing for survival. You must identify what you have, what you need, what you will need more of, and what you need someone else to do for you. Setting up a trade line is about answering those questions and then figuring out what you will be prepared to give to convince the other party to share with you. That is the next biggest kicker in the bartering process.
The biggest problem with bartering is something called the double coincidence of wants. The double coincidence of wants means that both people have to agree to buy/sell an item. This is why we use a common currency in our daily economy, to avoid some of the perils of negotiating without any sort of consistent measurement. For example, if I need a flywheel for my steam-powered chainsaw, in today’s world, I would check my bank account, see that I have $5, and then send that $5 to someone who in fact has a flywheel. Without a common currency, I’d be stuck waiting to see if someone with a flywheel wants anything else that I currently own. Maybe someone will trade a flywheel for a pint of blueberries? The world may never know, and I would be left twiddling my thumbs. There have been multiple articles written by numerous individuals in the survival industry trying to predict what the next common currency will be, assuming that cash will become useless. Assuming that’s the case, these articles then suggest stocking up on various items just in case.
Instead of stocking up on the potential next big thing (and ending up with a lot of things that may have absolutely no value), establishing trade lines helps you be prepared for any variety of scenarios. This is similar to understanding your potential market if you were preparing to open a new business. However, in this scenario, we’re just twisting the currency from dollars into something else. Here are the questions to answer:
- What will people be willing to trade their critical life-sustaining supplies for?
- Who are those people?
- Where are those people?
- How can I get the word out that I have the things they need?
- How can I do all of this without sharing intimate details that would make me a target?
- If I cannot keep my supplies a secret, do I have the security planning in place to protect what I have.
- Can I put other people together for trade and take a commission?
The world of horse trading is fluid and an emotional venture that requires interpersonal skills, security, and even deception to navigate safely. The art of the deal is real, and everything is negotiable. Once you have identified the answers to all of these questions, you need to establish a value to everything. As with all currencies, the value of an item today could rise or fall tomorrow. If the normal economy has crashed and money becomes worthless like in Venezuela, values will be all over the place. For example, a six-dollar prescription of the antibiotic Augmentin may now have a new value far beyond the list price if it is needed to stop an infection of a loved one and there’s a real fear of death.
Does this mean you would charge unreasonably for it if you had some to sell? That is a moral question only you can answer but, if you gain a reputation as being an unfair trading partner in the network, bad things may come your way. The funny thing about base survival with other people in a world without law is that karma is real.
Here is where information security comes into play. If word gets out that you have a generator, someone else who is sourcing a generator may hear about it and attempt to take it from you or barter your secret. Let’s take it another step. If I hear that you have a generator, I can safely assume you have fuel and other useful items. By advertising you are looking for something, you are also revealing part of what I would call your profile. Record keeping may not sound like a good way to spend your apocalypse, but some people will be very fastidious in writing things down. Creating a profile on people in the area falls into intel gathering. Now it sounds like a better idea, doesn’t it?
Information security is the sharp edge of a knife that can hurt as much as it can help. Reveal the wrong thing, and you become a target, but if you do not ask, how can you receive?
Preparedness is a deep exercise in forecasting the future and identifying what you can do today to be ready for an uncertain tomorrow. It must be done holistically and as completely as possible within your own means. Bartering is trading using non-traditional currencies from your “savings account” (Bartering supplies hidden away for these kinds of exercises). Establishing a trade line is nothing more than knowing what you have and being able to find someone else who would be willing to trade with you for the things you don’t have.
Short term disasters are simpler to navigate, but long-term scenario bartering requires building relationships and establishing a system of commerce that satisfies the needs of the many. Negotiate fairly, honorably, and strive to make every transaction a win for both sides. Always deal from a position of strength, if possible. And at all costs, protect yourself and your stuff.