Bartering is often considered an indicator society has collapsed. That is, when barter is the only method of exchange, it would suggest that the local currency and the economy it lubricates is no longer functioning. Dark times lay ahead. Want and suffering will be the order of the day.
That may well be the case. The society may have collapsed entirely. But that doesn’t mean it’s only dark days ahead. Disasters provide as much opportunity as it does challenges. Many people will find ways to advance their situation. People with jobs they may have loathed to attend every day may suddenly find themselves doing work they enjoy, and profit from it.
Just because you do not have items to trade with does not mean you have nothing to trade. Skills are just as valuable in a crisis and sometimes more so. The obvious skills people will seek out would be medical professionals. Paramedics, EMT’s, MD’s, Surgeons, and the like will all be highly sought out. These people will be able to trade their skills for food or other commodities.
But they are not the only skills that will be in dire need. Carpenters, Electricians, Plumbers, and every other trade skill you can imagine will be needed, and people will be willing to trade what they have for access to skills they do not possess. Anyone with electronic skills will probably make themselves a comfortable living. I know that as soon as we start talking about the sort of events that could collapse a society, many immediately go to EMP and for a good reason. It would be the quickest way to cripple a modern society. But it isn’t the only thing and one of the least likely.
Many things can bring down a society that leaves its trapping basically intact and somewhat functioning. People will try to continue with their lives in as normal a manner as possible. People will get creative in overcoming the loss of standard utilities. When the water stops flowing from the tap, folks will find ways to restore that. It’s not that hard to do and for anyone with the knowledge of how to do so would quickly become very busy and generate themselves a profit.
Creativity will be the most valuable commodity of the day. In my books, I portray this in a couple of ways. One is a man that uses scrap carpet and canvas boat covers to make shoes. This is stuff he has lying around and are virtually useless in a collapsed society until he fashions shoes out of them. Everyone needs shoes, and most people do not have the proper footwear when life comes down to walking everywhere you go.
Another character in the books begins harvesting cattail roots from local lakes and processing them to create flour which he then barters with others for the items he needs. These are a couple of examples of how someone who, on the surface, has nothing to trade with. Instead of sitting back with their hands out or bitching about their situation, they forge a new path.
We can harken back to centuries past to see what sort of skills people will seek out. Anyone with a home forge and some blacksmithing skills will probably have customers lined up around the corner. If you know the local flora and the medicinal qualities of them, you could quickly become the local apothecary mixing up salves and making tinctures for ailments that only recently were a mild annoyance. But that changed when the pharmacies emptied.
Maybe you’re one of those artsy types that like to troll antique markets and flea markets for things that catch your eye. On one trip, you found a couple of nearly perfect mill stones. You bought them, thinking they would add an interesting look to the garden. But now, with the economy gone, they take on an entirely different appearance. You roll up your sleeves and engineer yourself a simple mill powered by a pole you will have to push in a never-ending circle around the stones to grind grain.
Grains will be easier to find than you think. Someone will grow it, and people will need and want it milled to use. In the past millers took a cut of the milled grain as payment. This could very easily be done again by taking a cut of the finished flours for your own use or to trade for other products.
The possibilities are endless. Have a manual sewing machine and understand its use? You’re now the local tailor. HAM radio operators will be able to barter the transmission of messages to cities and towns currently out of reach to a populace that mainly walks where they go. Have a small homestead with some miniature cattle? You can barter milk, butter, and cheese.
I also believe one could barter the rental of tools and equipment. Hand tools and cordless power tools will be at a premium. While it would be tricky to ensure your tools were returned to you, renting them out could be quite profitable. Having the ability to charge cordless tools for others will also be in very high demand.
In the early stages of collapse, the power will become intermittent and unreliable. Having a small solar power system in place that can charge cell phones, tablets, and tools will be a sure way to barter with your neighbors. Power will be sought out and very valuable. As things stabilize into a new normal, you’ll have additional opportunities. With power, you can get your TV and Blu-ray player going on warm evenings and charge a modest admission fee for people to sit in lawn chairs in your backyard and watch a movie to escape their current situation if only for ninety or so minutes.
You’re only limited by your imagination and the tools at hand. With a little forethought and planning, you could very well set yourself up to not just survive in a post-collapse but thrive. There is a large body of work on the psychological effects major disasters have on people. And you may be surprised to know that many people are actually lifted up. Some actually improve their condition. Whereas they struggled in a low paying low skilled job during normal times, these same people can be propelled into positions of prosperity when the shackles of normal society fall away. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather thrive in this situation. Plan accordingly.