The concept of private barter and alternative economies has been so far removed from our daily existence here in America that the very idea of participating in commerce without the use of dollars or without the inclusion of corporate chains seems almost outlandish to many people. However, the fact remains that up until very recently (perhaps the last three to four decades) barter and independent trade was commonplace in this country. Without it, many families could not have survived.
Whether we like it or not, such economic methods will be making a return very soon, especially in the face of a plunging dollar, inflating wholesale prices, erratic investment markets, and unsustainable national debts. It is inevitable; financial collapse of the mainstream system ALWAYS leads to secondary markets and individual barter. We can wait until we are already in the midst of collapse and weighted with desperation before we take action to better our circumstances, or, we can prepare now for what we already know is coming.
In today’s “modern” globalist economy, we have relied upon centralized and highly manipulated trade, forced interdependency, senseless and undisciplined consumption, endless debt creation, welfare addiction, and the erosion of quality, as a means to sustain a system that ultimately is DESIGNED to erode our freedoms not to mention our ability to effectively take care of ourselves. We have been infantized by our financial environment. In the near future, those who wish to live beyond a meager staple of government handouts (if any are even given) will be required to make a 180 degree reversal from their current lifestyle of dependency and immediate gratification towards one of self sufficiency, personal entrepreneurship, quality trade, and a mindset of necessity, rather than unfounded excess.
This means that each and every one of us will not only be driven to form barter networks outside the designated confines of the mainstream, we will have to become active producers within those networks. Each and every one of us will need to discover practical goods and skills that will be in high demand regardless of economic conditions. Being that our society has all but forgotten how this kind of trade works, let’s examine a short list of items as well as proficiencies that are sure to be highly sought after as the collapse progresses…
Top Priority Goods
To be sure, this list is a summary of items that will have high value during and after a breakdown scenario. I welcome readers to post their own ideas for trade goods below this article. The following is merely a framework which you can use to get started, and was compiled using actual accounts of post collapse trade from the Great Depression, to Bosnia, to Argentina, to Greece, etc. These are items and skills that people were literally begging for after financial catastrophe occurred in numerous separate events.
Water Filtration: Stock up on water filters. Learn how water filtration works. Even make your own water filters using cloth, activated charcoal, and colloidal silver. Everyone will want to trade with you if you have extra filtration on hand. During economic breakdowns, especially in countries like Argentina, and Bosnia, which had more modern, city based populations, the first thing to disappear was clean water. Always. In some cases, the tap water still runs, but is filled with impurities, and needs to be boiled. Boiling does not remove bad tastes or smells, however, and clean filtered water will be in demand.
Seeds: Non-GMO seeds are a currency unto themselves. They can last for years if stored properly, and everyone will want them, even if they don’t have land to plant them. Get enough for yourself, and then purchase twice as much for trade.
Fresh Produce: Ever heard of scurvy? Probably. Ever had scurvy? Probably not. Believe me, you don’t want to have it. Your body essentially begins to fall apart slowly, and the result is an ugly boil and sore filled complexion, the loss of teeth and hair, and the eventual failure of internal organs. Don’t think you can live on beef jerky and canned beans for months on end. You need fresh vegetables and fruits, and the vitamins they supply. Anyone with a well managed garden and a few fruit trees is going to do very well in barter. Vitamin supplements would also be a practical investment.
Long Shelf Life Foods: This one should be obvious, but you may be surprised how many preppers, even though aware of the danger in the economy, do not have ample stored foods. The rationalizations abound, but usually, you are dealing with a person who has a heavy hunting background, and believes he will be able to procure whatever food he wants whenever he wants with his trusty bolt action rifle and a few hours in the woods. Don’t fall into this foolish trap. Thousands if not millions of other hungry, destitute people will likely have the same idea, combing the forest for deer, only running into (and perhaps shooting at) each other. In every single account of modern economic collapse I have read, the people involved kick themselves brutally for not stocking more food that didn’t require refrigeration. Even those that were moderately prepared stated that they wished they had stored twice as much as they did.
Sealed food kits would be highly valued trade items, as long as they contained necessities like grains (wheat or rice store well), salt (the human body will not function without salt), honey or maple syrup (the body needs sugars), and powdered milk, peanut butter, or any other foods with fat content (the body needs fats). Prepackaged freeze-dried foods are more expensive to stock, but they are, of course, easy to trade.
Food Producing Animals: Chickens are great for eating, but they also produce eggs. Cows and Goats can be slaughtered, but they also produce milk. Sheep can be easily herded towards your dinner plate, but they also produce wool. Rabbits make a good stew, but they also produce lots of other rabbits. In terms of barter, these animals will be life savers, as well as a solid source of trade income. Dual purpose livestock are really where it’s at for those who have even an acre of land, and many of them (except cattle) tend to feed themselves easily if left to wander your property. You can trade eggs, milk, wool, etc, that they produce. Not to mention, fetch serious value for trading the animal itself.
Solar Power: Solar power is so overlooked by most barter organizations and survivalists in general that it’s astonishing. If every home in America had at least two large solar panels on the roof, I would not be half as worried about collapse as I am today. My suspicion is that many preppers believe that after a breakdown, we will all return to some kind of Agrarian pre-electric age where everything is lit with oil lamps. This is silly. If I have my LED lamp with rechargeable batteries, I’m certainly not going to rely on less effective burning lamps that depend on a finite fuel supply. And, I’m certainly not going to give up the advantages of nightvision, radio communications, or refrigeration if I can help it. The key is to ensure that you have a continuous means of diverting electricity to these goods. This already exists in the form of solar power.
Depending on your budget, you can purchase solar panels that can be folded and carried with you for charging batteries, or, you can purchase entire arrays and battery banks that run your whole house. Those without electricity WILL want electricity, and solar is an excellent barter item. Wind generators, as well as water driven generators (as used often in Bosnia) are also a consideration. People that have the knowledge to set up these systems for others will not have trouble finding trading partners.
Firewood: Even with solar power, home heating will become a major concern for every household during and after a breakdown. If you can avoid running your battery bank out on inefficient space heaters, you will. The best way to do this is with a wood stove, or a fireplace. Those without any electricity will scour their immediate areas for loose wood, then move on to chopping down random trees for fuel. This is one of the few instances, ironically, that those in urban environments would have an advantage, being that dry wood for burning is literally everywhere in the city. During the Great Depression, families would often sneak into abandoned homes and apartment buildings to dismantle sticks of furniture, or even the walls, to use as firewood.
A small, well insulated home can be heated with as little as two cords of wood every winter. Larger drafty homes require as much as twenty cords per winter. A “cord’ of wood is a stack of split timber around four feet wide, four feet high, and eight feet long. This wood is “aged”, or dried for at least a year after being cut, so that it burns cleaner, and creates much more heat than freshly felled timber. When the general public begins to rediscover the need for aged cord wood, those with timberland will have a prized commodity on their hands for barter.
A disciplined cutting routine would be essential. Only cutting enough timber (of the right maturity) to create a decent supply while not erasing the whole forest for a single year of profit. Those traders with the correct knowledge will do very well in a barter economy.
Gasoline and Oil: This is a tough one, because its hard to predict how much petroleum the U.S. will be able to import or produce on its own during a collapse, and its very difficult to store for long periods of time. If you hear news that the wars in the Middle East have expanded even further, or that OPEC is decoupling from the dollar, you might want to run to the nearest station and fill as many storage cans as possible, along with a little bit of added ‘gas saver’ which helps keep it stable longer. Initially, people will be dueling to the death for gas and oil. I have little doubt. After the price hits $15, $30, $60 a gallon due to hyperinflation, and a little time passes, I think people will begin finding ways to live without it, or they will reduce its use to emergency tasks.
Desire for gas will always be there, especially in agricultural areas where one tractor could help sow the seeds that feed an entire town. But beyond storage, I would suggest learning ways to distill your own corn ethanol and alcohol based fuels. This is where the real barter potential is.
Silver And Gold: I placed precious metals in the middle of this list for a reason. Concerns in a collapse situation will be varied, and the manner in which a derailment progresses will also determine the order of needs in a barter community. In a Mad Max scenario where there is little to no community, or the construction of any semblance of economy is impossible; sure, gold and silver will not be very high on most people’s lists. Has this ever happened in recorded history? No. Gold and silver have remained common currencies for thousands of years despite any catastrophe. This is why I have to laugh at those people who undercut precious metals or claim that because you “can’t eat them” they will not be important. In Argentina, in the midst of complete meltdown and monetary chaos, when people were shooting each other in the streets for food on a daily basis, gold and silver became king, and still are.
Barter networks that have formed in Argentina love to trade for anything made out of gold or silver, because precious metals are the only tangible form of currency in existence there. Being able to trade goods is fantastic, but sometimes, you may not have what another person wants. Do you go out to find someone who does, trade with them, then, try to find the guy who turned you down? No. If you have any meaningful localized commerce in place, then you should also have a common medium of exchange, and precious metals are the only thing that safely fits the mold, because they cannot be artificially reproduced or fabricated. Their rarity and their longevity make them the perfect method of common trade. Even if the worst of the worst occurs, rebuilding will result in the immediate resurgence of trade, and the immediate need of a new currency. Gold and silver will come back, as it always has, and always will. Every potential barter network should be including gold, silver, and maybe copper, on its list of accepted alternative currencies, and the values of said metals should be weighed by the inherent supply and demand of the community. The “official” market value ( which is very manipulated) should only be used as a loose guide.
Firearms and Ammo: Another obvious one. The problem is, the selection of calibers is so varied within the U.S. that stocking anything that will be needed by everyone is very difficult. The only recourse is to stick with common military calibers, such as 9mm, 40 S&W, 45 ACP, .223, 7.62 by 39, 7.62 by 51 (.308), 12 gauge, .410, and 20 gauge shotgun shells, and the ever pervasive .22. Stocking these calibers will result in a much greater chance of trade.
I can think of no instance of societal disintegration that did not lead to horrible violence. In places where firearms are outlawed, the carnage is always much worse. Criminals easily get their hands on weapons, while law abiding citizens are left defenseless. Governments take liberties with the people, while the populace cowers. Accounts of torture, rape, murder, and genocide, are abundant in the face of hard economic times. EVERYONE should be armed, and as reality sets in, even those who clamored to outlaw guns will be clamoring to get one.
Of course, laws today very strictly regulate our ability to barter firearms, but post collapse, no one will care much.
Ammo reloading will be a useful skill in light of the fact that homemade manufacture of ammo is very difficult. The nationwide ammo supply will dwindle very quickly, except for those pockets of people who smartly stockpile for trade.
Body Armor: That’s right. Any kind of body armor is as good as gold in a collapse environment. People in countries across the world wish they had it, and would trade almost anything for it. When you live in a place where a random gun shot (a minute by minute occurrence in many countries), from a criminal’s weapon, or more likely a police or military weapon, could bounce off the curb or through your car windshield, and into your chest, you begin to respect the necessity of Kevlar. The fact that body armor is relatively cheap and is easily obtained in the U.S. should be taken advantage of by barter networks. This advantage may not exist in a couple of years.
Tazers and Pepper Spray: Easy to purchase and stockpile here in America. Better than nothing when facing armed attackers. Disables without death (in most cases), and easier on the conscience. Trades well.
Various Tools: A garden hoe may be a novelty item to most suburbanites and city dwellers now, but soon, it will be a mainstay tool. If you have extra, they will come to you for barter. I’m not going to list every tool in existence here, but I suggest using common sense. What tools do you see being required for daily use? What would YOU need post collapse?
Pesticides: I’m big on organic food and healthy eating, but if my life is on the line, I’m spraying my crops down with whatever poison I can find. Unless you have years of experience with natural pest deterrence methods, then I suggest you do the same, especially in that first year of calamity. A hoard of locusts could annihilate your crop within a day given the chance, and should be dealt with using the most powerful means available.
Cockroach and rat poisons will also be huge sellers, guaranteed. Vermin thrive in unkempt human environments, whether in the country or the city, and with them comes disease. Diseases you thought had disappeared off the face of the Earth, like bubonic plague or small pox, will make a comeback in cities, where streets of death and sewage act like enormous Petri dishes (remember New Orleans after Katrina? Imagine if that had never been cleaned up).
Stock pesticides, even if they offend your environmental sensibilities. You’ll use them, trust me. And, people will trade whatever they can for them.
Warm Clothing: The world is awash in textiles and clothing. Using clothes as your primary means of trade is not necessarily the best plan. However, most of the clothes made around the world are very poor quality, and are not designed for harsh environments. Clothes made specifically for harsh cold or rough wear are harder to some by, and are often very expensive. This is where you would want to focus your investments.
Gortex, for instance, could give you incredible bartering potential. Wool socks are a rarity (how many people do you know with more than two pairs of wool socks?). Water resistant and water proof jackets and overcoats, boots, well made hiking shoes, and waterproofing chemicals and sprays will be needed within trade networks. The ability to make these items, or repair them, will also be valued.
Medicines: This is another difficult item to procure, mainly because doing so often gets you flagged as a possible drug dealer. Certain items aren’t too hard to come by and store, though, and could be life saving barter material in the future. Antibiotics are handed out like candy by doctors today, so storing any extra you have away for trade may be a good strategy. Painkillers are another medical miracle that doctors seem to sprinkle out of helicopters without a second thought. With the risk of injury increasing one hundred fold after a financial tsunami, I suspect even mere aspirin would put a smile on the face of any barter networker.
Eventually, natural medicines and herbs are going to have to move to the forefront, as industry medicines begin to disappear, or become so expensive they are unobtainable. Stocking such herbs and vitamins would be smart, for protecting oneself, not to mention, its savvy business sense.
Toiletries: Yes, yes, we all hear about how great toilet paper will be as a barter item, and how preppers plan to demand cows, trucks, and beach-front property, in return for packages of the silken quilty-soft huggable rolls of goodness. I don’t disagree that it will be highly desired at first. People don’t change their habits that quickly. But let’s face it; toilet paper is a luxury item in a post collapse environment, not a necessity. People are going to eventually go back to older methods of hygiene, like using strips of washable cloth. It might sound gross to us now, but hey, did you think we were going to start using poison ivy and pinecones?
Stock toilet paper, but don’t treat it as a priority. Focus more on cleaning items like soap, toothpaste, and bleach, as well as chemicals that cause human waste to quickly biodegrade. Staying clean is VERY important, because the alternative is catching a nasty bacterial infection that may kill you, when in more peaceful and comfortable times, it may have just given you slightly irritating intestinal distress. The rest of the country will come around to this way of thinking in short order, and many people will come to you for the cleaning goods you stockpiled.
Specialty Items: There are many circumstances that are hard to predict, circumstances that could severely affect barter markets and what items come into demand. For example; a nuclear event, as is in progress in Japan, could just as easily strike the U.S. There are 104 nuclear power plants in the U.S., not to mention the threat of a small nuclear attack (or false flag). The market for goods such as potassium iodide pills and Geiger counters would explode (potassium iodide suppliers were inundated with orders from around the world after Fukushima). How many people do you know with a Geiger counter? I’m one of the few I know with one, and I know preppers across the country! In the wake of a fallout situation, knowing what is contaminated with radiation and what isn’t, knowing if it’s even safe to go outside, is imperative. Having an extra Geiger counter could help you barter your way into any number of goods.
A biological event might bring medical grade particulate masks to the top of people’s lists, as well as disinfectants and even hazmat suits. It’s an ugly thing to imagine, but for those who plan to engage in independent trade, it’s a likelihood that must be considered.
Top Priority Skills
Provided below is a brief list of skills which have served people well in various economic downturns, and will do the same for you in this country. Keep in mind that almost any skill that other people cannot do well has potential for trade, but some skills are more sought after than others. In my research, it is those people who are able to produce their own goods as well as effectively repair existing goods that have the greatest potential for survival in a barter market. Next, are those people who have specific abilities that are difficult to learn and who have the knack for teaching those abilities to others. If you do not have any of these skills, or perhaps only one, then it would be wise to begin learning at least one more now. Keep in mind that competition will very much exist in a barter economy, so knowing as many skills as possible increases your chances of success.
- Mechanic, Engine Repair
- Firearms Repair, Ammo Reloading
- Architect, Home Reinforcement
- Agriculture, Farming Expertise, Seed Saving, Animal Care
- Bee Keeping
- Doctor, Medical Assistant
- Well Construction, Water Table Expertise
- Engineer, Community Planning, Manufacturing, Electrical
- Firearms Proficiency, Security, Self Defense Planning
- Martial Arts Training
- Wild Foods Expert
- Sewing, Textiles
- Soap Making, Candle Making, Hygiene Products
- Small Appliance Repair
- Electronics Repair
- HAM Radio Expert
- Homeschooling, Tutoring
Again, there are definitely many more trades of value that could be learned. This list is only to help you on your way to self sufficiency and entrepreneurship in an Alternative Market. Unfortunately, too many Americans have absolutely no skills worth bartering in a post collapse world.
Bringing Back the American Tradesman
Barter networking is a powerful tool for countering the affects of depression, hyperinflation, stagflation, globalization, and beyond. But, networks require that participants actually have necessary goods and services to trade. In only half a century or less, American culture has been sterilized of nearly all its private trade skills. We have lost our desire to produce, and have been relegated to the dregs of a retail nightmare society dependent entirely on consumption and debt. This is going to change, one way, or another.
We can change on our own, or we can wait until fear and desperation force us to make hard choices. I would rather forgo the desperation and the painful fall into the gutter. It makes little sense.
The bottom line is, if you wish to survive after the destruction of the mainstream system that has babied us for so long, you must be able to either make a necessary product, repair a necessary product, or teach a necessary skill. A limited few have the capital required to stockpile enough barter goods or gold and silver to live indefinitely. The American Tradesman must return in full force, not only for the sake of self preservation, but also for the sake of our heritage at large. Without strong, independent, and self sufficient people, this country will cease to be.
Reprinted with permission from Alt-Market.com, a barter networking and informational website.
Brandon Smith [send him mail] is founder of the Alternative Market Project (www.alt-market.com) as well as the head writer and co-founder of Neithercorp Press. He specializes in macroeconomic analysis as well as studies in mainstream media disinformation, and is now focusing on the creation of a national network of barter markets designed to insulate and protect local economies from the inevitable collapse of the current unsustainable fiat system.