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<nettime> FW: Barter in Argentina
Michael Gurstein on Tue, 22 Jan 2002 03:22:03 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> FW: Barter in Argentina

from:  http://www.globeandmail.com
(Print Edition, Frontpage)


It's smarter to barter for filling the larder, Argentines learning

Heather Scoffield

BUENOS AIRES -- Marta Gonzalez stands stoutly in a corner of a small
downtown community centre surrounded by her children and nieces, showing off
her latest collection of soap, hand cream and popcorn.

The food and cosmetics are not for sale, though. At least not for money. The
only way to do commerce in this place is by swapping your own stuff for
hers: barter. It's the oldest form of consumerism, and it's making a strong
comeback in Argentina.

Ms. Gonzalez hopes to trade enough of her goods on this day to accumulate
fruit, vegetables, bread, snacks and clothing for her children to last
through the next week. She's here every week, and she's usually successful.

"I have no money, so I try to do all my shopping this way," she says.
"Today, nothing so far, but it usually moves."

This barter club in a residential neighbourhood of central Buenos Aires has
been around since 1995. But now, with the financial crisis and the problems
in withdrawing money from banks, Argentines are lining up to join such

And they're not poor folk, either. They're psychologists, carpenters,
teachers or financial advisers who are out of work, having trouble being
paid or can't withdraw their money from the bank.

When Argentina's president quit in the midst of deadly protests, and the
country embarked on the largest debt default in history last month, the new
government put strict limits on how much money people and companies could
withdraw from the banks.

The result has been a severe liquidity problem, not to mention anger at the
banks and at the government. Even if people had a nest egg stored up just in
case they lost their jobs, they can't access much of that money now.

But unlike the middle-class demonstrators banging their pots and pans in
front of government institutions to protest against government mismanagement
and corruption, the people in the barter centre don't carry the same stress
and anger. They seem almost happy to have a partial alternative.

"This is such a lovely system; you can get so many things," Maria Carmen
Monti said from her wheelchair.

    She supplements her pension by buying -- with cash -- tiny calendars,
religious pictures and ribbon. She puts them together to form a small
decoration, which she trades at the barter club.

The barter centre tries to encourage trade in goods made personally by the
participants -- homemade or home-grown food, clothes and handicrafts.
Indeed, the centre seems a lot like a church bazaar in Canada, except no
money changes hands. There are knitted sweaters, bottles of jams and
jellies, baked goods, carvings.

On the windows at the centre, professionals have pasted signs advertising
their services -- hair cuts, psychoanalysis, babysitting, mechanical work.
On their way inside, people can pick up a photocopied magazine advertising
hundreds of different services for barter. The pamphlet also has pages and
pages of classified ads for people wanting to buy and sell televisions,
stereo equipment and refrigerators.

"We put the accent on what type of work you do, on what you can produce and
not on who you are," said the co-ordinator, Carlos del Mazo, who has put
together a code of ethics for participants to follow.

Each of the 600 barter centres in Argentina has started printing credit
coupons so that people can conduct more-complicated three-way trades, he
explained. And each person sets his or her own price, marked in credits.
Half a credit is worth approximately one peso, which is worth just under one
Canadian dollar, at least today.

With the crisis, some people have come forward to sell second-hand goods but
the centre discourages the practice, preferring to deal in new items, Mr.
del Mazo said.

And some people are now speculating with the credits. Hugo Montoya is a conn
oisseur of barter clubs and carries around a pack of coupons from clubs all
around the Buenos Aires area. He's a carpenter and can offer his services
for goods in return. But he mainly profits from buying something, with
coupons, in one club, and turning it over in another club for a higher
price. The clubs outside of the city often have thousands of participants
offering any kind of item you could dream of, and so he has a lot of choice.

With the liquidity crisis, some of Argentina's provinces have taken to
printing their own money replacement, too. One province has produced the
Patacon, and another the Lecop.

The currencies are actually bonds based loosely on debt outstanding owed by
the provinces. They look like normal pesos on one side, but on the flip side
have a long written description of the instruments used to back the
currencies. They have been in wide circulation for months now, although more
and more stores are reluctant to take them, in case they're worth nothing.

Still, with credit cards being turned away and savings frozen in the banks,
many Argentines, both buyers and sellers, must turn to the alternatives.

Many businesses have started informal lines of credit for their customers,
hoping to be paid if and when the crisis comes to an end. And many people
offering their services for sale have dropped their prices. Still, the fear
of hyperinflation is omnipresent, especially in grocery stores. There,
already, prices of imported goods have been rising quickly as the peso's
value drops.


Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a
finite world is either a madman or an economist.--Kenneth Boulding

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