Have you ever had to explain what the CES is to someone who has never heard about it? Usually the conversation goes something like this:
“So what is this Community Exchange thing?”
“It’s a system where people buy and sell without using money.”
“Oh, you mean a bartering system?”
“No, it’s not barter because it’s not one-to-one. If I give you something you don’t need to give anything to me. You sell to someone else and earn Talents, the name of our currency.”
“Oh you mean its like Bitcoin!”
“No, it’s not Bitcoin either. There’s no currency really, we just keep records.”
This is followed by a blank stare as the person cannot come to terms with what you have just said. You can see them thinking: “If this is not money or Bitcoin and it is not barter then what on earth is it?” It is like asking someone to contemplate a third state where the option is binary, such as something other than life or death.
The notion that there are only two states, money (including Bitcoin) or barter, comes from economics textbooks. Economics, we are taught, is the science of money. In explaining how money originated there is reference to a time when money didn’t exist. In this state of savagery, people must have bartered the things they had for the things they needed. It couldn’t have been otherwise because without money they were forced to barter. Bartering was very inconvenient so people invented money and that solved all their problems and ‘civilisation’ has never looked back.
The problem with this idea is that no historians or anthropolgists have ever found an example of this mythical ‘barter society’. You only need to think about it for a little while to realise that no band of hunter gatherers or tribal agricultural peoples consisted of disconnected individuals all specialising in one product and then going from house to house hoping to find someone who has what they want and wants what they have. They didn’t have money because they cooperated in producing their means of life and shared the product. There was no need for money and the idea of them bartering between themselves is an absurdity.
This is not to say that the idea of barter did not exist, but it was more the exchange of goods and services between communities as a whole. The river people might have traded fish for grain from the hill people, but this was not spot barter consisting of lone individuals roaming around seeking a “double coincidence of wants”.
People adopt the binary idea that there is only money or barter because their starting point is money itself, instead of exchange. If we start with the notion of exchange, then we can see that money and barter are just two of many alternative ways of facilitating exchange.
• Using Talents is another method of facilitating exchange, but it is neither money nor barter.
Talents do what money is supposed to do (facilitate exchange) but it also does what barter does (effect exchange without money), but this does not make it money or barter. Only the binary frame of mind would say Talents are barter because money is not involved, or that it is the same as money because it facilitates exchange.