Barter, the New Old Economy


I’ve just got back from a break in Rarotonga, which was a wonderful place to visit for peace and rest. It was thought provoking even though thought was not high on my agenda.

I finished a piece of music I had been working on and called it Rarotonga, which you can find on Youtube and my About Songwriting blog. While there I attended a wonderful gospel church service where I had some great singing. This was followed by a bountiful morning tea put on by the open generosity of the locals.

Most of the church service was in Rarotongan Maori, however 2 words that I did understand were Climate Change. In a country where most of the land is very close to sea level this is a real challenge. You need to spend a little time on a South Pacific Island to understand what is at risk.

The one thing you must do when visiting a new country is visit with the people. 3 things stood out:

1. Everyone expressed their gratitude that we visited and explained that their country was entirely dependent on tourism.

2. Every person had at least 2 or 3 jobs and good pay was considered to be about US5 an hour. Other than Sunday’s, most people would be working 12+ hour days.

3. There was a sub economy operating below the cash economy. People trade goods or services. It might be people swapping fish for Taro or playing music in return for food and the ability to promote and sell merchandise such as CD’s.

As you do, when you deliberately disconnect from the grid, you catch up with reading and I got to reading up on Life Inc by Douglas Rushkoff. One of his arguments is that the world’s economies are driven by corporations, banks and other large entities who perhaps care more about themselves and keeping communities reliant on them than helping the people they serve gain any level of independence.

I was blown away by some of the examples of alternative trading systems he came up with, although I don’t know why. Barter as a concept is probably as old as mankind, but a new economy seems to   be reemerging in innovative ways. I’ve known doctors who accepted fish or other produce from patients who couldn’t afford to pay fees in New Zealand. I’ve known plenty of people who share their specialties, a plumber who does work on an electricians home and the electrician is owed a favor by a motor mechanic who then does a job for the plumber for free. The traditional economy still gets revenue from the parts that are used, which includes all the traders and of course tax in all its forms.

From a business point of view, I use Bartercard and they are a great organisation who I recommend. They have Bartercard Maps which uses GeoSmart Maps technology to help you find what you need based on location. However, fundamentally it is still a form of currency and our accounts department and Inland Revenue treat it no different than cash. In some cases, such as accommodation I also sometimes feel that the product you get is a little less quality than you would get if you were paying cash.

One good thing about Bartercard I like is that it is local, at least it encourages companies to use local suppliers. Despite our position, I feel many organisations in NZ from Government Departments through to consumers do not consider supporting their local economy as a major factor in making purchasing decisions.

I don’t want to go into any real detail about the examples in Rushkoff’s book, because that’s what the book is for and you might want to read it. There are some great deals on Amazon. I don’t think you’ll find it in your local bookstore.

Here’s a couple of cool examples.

  • CSA or Community Shared Agriculture. The concept is that people not only commit to buying their produce from a particular local farm, but they even commit to doing a small amount of work on it to help support it. This gives some security to the local farmer, but also helps build local community spirit and has people involved and doing something they would not normally do in their daily lives.
  • In Japan, the Sawayaka Welfare Foundation came up with a ‘complementary currency’ where young people could earn credits for taking care of elderly people. Those credits, called Fureai Kippu can then be applied to the care of their own elderly relatives who may live in a different part of the country. Because it is by the people and for the people, many say that the standard of support they get is far better than if it was provided by commercial caregivers.

The book also has lots of ideas about local loyalty programs that serve to build greater loyalty to local traders and creates stronger community feeling, which can and should apply to any town or village. The people who work, have restaurants or businesses near your home, are your neighbors. We are  often too quick to go and give profit to multinationals, when we could be supporting our local businesses and then complain when our potential customers don’t use our services.

To a degree this blog was motivated by my trip to Rarotonga and the music I wrote which you can listen to below. But it is also out of concern for our future. New Zealand, like Rarotonga runs the risk of becoming isolated. If a war were to strike overseas and our imports (including oil products, food, clothing and technology) how well prepared are we to continue living to the standard we are accustomed to? People in Rarotonga told us about the island running out of fuel for a few days and the chaos that ensued. How long would we continue our lifestyle without petrol and diesel?

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The GeoSmart Location Innovation Awards


During the day I work for GeoSmart Maps Ltd, a subsidiary of the NZ Automobile Association.

We have just launched the Location Innovation Awards. I’m hoping that if you are in New Zealand you will join in the fun and get your thinking juices flowing.

The background is that we know that LBS (Location Based Services) will become commonly used technology in 4-5 years and people will participate as if they have been doing it all their lives. GeoSmart has the tools to facilitate this type of technology now, so we have launched a competition to get people to develop concepts today.

There are four categories which are explained on the website (which went live today) and they have the potential to have a significant impact on people’s lives.

For example:

Imagine you are a tourist hopping off the plane at Queenstown Airport and as you head to the luggage conveyor area you see a billboard with a promotion offering you amazing deals on various local attractions. If you text ‘Queenstown Live’ to a short code, you will have $20 deducted from your account and will be offered a range of services at huge discounts. When you get to the main town pier in Queenstown you get a text message saying that if you get down to the ticket office within the next 10 minutes you can enjoy the 4P.M. jet boat experience for only $25, a saving of $70. Without the promotion, the jet boat might go out half empty. This way they sell more seats and make a profit on the trip and the tourist gets a great deal.

Or

You are a member of a jogging club on Facebook. You are in Nelson  on business and decide to stay over for the weekend. You are interested in finding a jogging buddy to go for a run with. Through an application on your phone or a map application on Facebook, you are able to locate someone to go for a run with who is also in the area.

The story we have sent to the media today is as follows:

Bringing the future forward with the Location Innovation Awards

In the near future, location based applications will be commonplace, with electronic coupons being sent to your mobile because you are near a service you have opted-in for such as a Happy Hour deal for the bar you are walking past, or a promotion from your favourite fashion retailer (with whom you have signed up and given your colour, style and size preferences) which knows that you are in the mall.

GeoSmart Maps Ltd wants to bring that future forward to 2009 and has established a competition to encourage people to come up with concepts in 4 categories, being Social Networking, Proximity Based Marketing, LBS Games and widgets for the AA MAPS website. There are prizes for each category and the overall winner will also win a trip to San Jose in the USA to attend the Where 2.0 Conference in May 2009.

The competition isn’t pitched just at developers, a proof of concept demonstration would be great, but a great concept document has just as much chance of winning great prizes from a list of sponsors including Geekzone, Tomizone, Sony Ericsson, TomTom, Vodafone new Zealand and the NZ Automobile Association.

The judging criteria are documented in the entry packs and on the official website at http://www.locationinnovation.co.nz. The judges themselves are well qualified and represent GeoSmart, Massey University, Geekzone and the Wireless and Broadband Forum.

The competition runs from 16 October 2008 and entries are to be in by 16 February 2009. The Awards will be presented at the annual Wireless and Broadband Forum Convergence 2009 event at the Alinghi Base in Auckland’s Viaduct Basin.