On the second Sunday of every month in Mexico City’s Chapultepec Park, the city sets up what residents call el Mercado de Trueque or the Barter Market.
The concept is simple.
Residents come with what they would consider rubbish, and they trade it in for locally grown produce from regional farmers. The economy assembled here is an elementary quid pro quo exchange in which everyone walks away a victor. The city wins by reducing the waste piling up at its infamous landfills. The local farmers win by being provided a vibrant market place for their goods. The residents win by having access to local produce in exchange for items they would have disposed of anyway.
Barter is the most ancient form of exchange humans have ever known.
Before money was ever contrived by man, we lived in a world in which an individual with a surplus of some kind or other (grain, livestock, etc) could trade for goods or services that he or she desired. I’ll give you three goats if you help me take down this Wooly Mammoth. This of course precipitates the Coincidence of Wants problem, where two parties at the same precise moment have to desire (and value) the surplus of what the other is holding. A good example of this problem in action is the barista whose boss wants to pay her in pain au chololat and lattes, but whose landlord is gluten-free and lactose intolerant and would certainly not accept them as rent payment next month.
In a small world, this poses a big problem.
But we don’t live in a small world, do we?
When I first set out to travel the world, I used barter as my primary means of exchange. This was out of dire necessity as I wasn’t quite good enough for people to pay me to design websites for them (primarily because I was a former banker with no earthly clue what the f*ck I was doing).
I did find that I could convince café owners to offload their excess coffee and goods each evening in exchange for a website. And as Melissa and I, at the time, were sincerely considering the prospect of hunting cats for food in Tompkins Square Park, this style of barter economy was an absolute boon.
As time progressed and our skills evolved, I traded websites for hotel rooms, hosting for free pints, workshops for international trips, graphic design for code, strategic consulting for apartment stays and dozens of other trades fueled by a coincidence of wants.
To this day at Misfit, from time to time we employ the art of the trade if we’re working with contractors or vendors where the exchange of money is only tertiary to the true wants at hand.
If at this moment, you are just starting out or if you find yourself in a position in which funds are particularly low, that is simply no reason to hold you back from traveling the globe or getting that project out the door.
It just means that your path from here to there won’t include the trusty guide and compass that everyone else is working off of.
If you can’t afford something you need (in my case, bagels) or they can’t afford something you offer (design, copy writing, code, blacksmithing), and you feel the tension of a coincidence of wants in your midst, then just obviate the variable that doesn’t fit (i.e., Money) and make a deal.
Most seasoned entrepreneurs know this by nature. Money is only useful insofar as it can help you advance the ball up the field.
But this essay, of course, is only partially about the barter economy.
The true point, is this.
Look around you. Most people in this world think in a very linear fashion. They believe that not only must they get from point A to point B, but that they can only do so by drawing the straightest line possible.
But any true adventurer or seasoned entrepreneur or conditioned artist knows that any fool can draw a straight line.
The genius lies in being able to see the dots first, then connect them (no matter how jagged) between where you are now and where you want to be then.
You can wait for the stars to align your whole life, and maybe they will.
Or you can recognize that without the imperceptible lines of human creativity, Orion is just another clump of stars in a chaotic sky.
Remember, my friend, no matter how desperate the situation may appear right now, there is always another way.
Your Fellow Misfit,
The remarkable (and very misfit) Midwest artist Jessica Wachter, with the help of April Soetarman has produced this gorgeous Chicago-based public art piece in reaction to my upcoming book, The Life and Times of a Remarkable Misfit. This is the first piece of an international art project Misfit initiated, commissioning a handful of artists around the world to produce and display reactionary works to my finished manuscript. I’ll be telling you more about it in the coming weeks.
We are just about ready to begin accepting a handful of new members to our super secret patron program. Honorary Misfits receive a monthly private dispatch from me delineating the inner workings of Misfit providing practical advice about how I run my crazy business, are offered automatic first come, first served entry into Misfit Con, are given deep discounts on absolutely anything we offer at Misfit, and even receive special gifts in the mail from Melissa and I as we nomad around the planet. In exchange, their quarterly fees help us fund our Social, Humanitarian and Cultural work around the world. If you’re interested in signing up, learn more here.
Did you know? That Misfit has launched more Shakespeare-related web projects than anyone in the world? As part of our cultural work, we have partnered with The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust to promote the study and appreciation of Shakespeare’s work all over the globe.
Has Zuckerberg validated our friendship yet? I post way more stuff over on Facebook.
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