Wednesday, June 1, 2011

OURGOODS: 224 People Made Barter Offers on May 7th

On Saturday, May 7th OurGoods participated in the first Festival of Ideas for a New City, organized by the New Museum. The Festival aimed to re-imagine NYC street fairs as vital, participatory events that engage visitors with ideas and draw them into the cultural life of the city. Over 50,000 people came, and over 100 different NYC non-profits exhibited.

OurGoods conducted an experiment in how to determine value without money. We offered three items for barter only: a handmade leather belt by Will Lisak, dinner for four by Athena Kokoronis, and a massage by Rebecca Wender. We asked participants to make an offer (real or hypothetical) for one of those items, and then we asked them some questions about how they determined value in that exchange.

224 people tried the experiment. Of those, 37% had bartered before and 63% had not. Because barter happens so informally, we don’t have a good sense of how many people are actively bartering in NYC. These data are an interesting window into that activity. They are, of course, drawn from a subset of people who chose to visit our booth.

61% of respondents made a serious offer, and 39% made a hypothetical offer. Of the serious offers, 60% (90 people) were made by people who were new to barter, and 40% by people who bartered regularly. I was struck by how many people who were new to barter were excited enough about the idea to make a serious offer.

In general, the response to our experiment was really positive. People seemed especially energized by the idea of reframing the idea of exchange. Many people wrote things like “exciting experiment!” and “love this!”

Here are a selection of some of the more in-depth comments:

“I have friends who are massage therapists, yoga teachers, hairdressers and most are hesitant to barter because of concern of fairness. What is an equal exchange? When is one person’s time more valuable than anothers?”

“I think we all do a cost/benefit analysis when we make decisions. We think, how is this going to benefit me?”

“I find it hard to determine hard value b/c I usually expend a lot more effort than I anticipated.”

“I often clean my roommate’s closet, organize her papers, but it may be because I value cleanliness more than she does.”

“I think volunteer labor and barter labor is going to be increasingly necessary, and it is important to learn skills that are valuable, but also how to work with other people without the medium of money.”

“I think this experiment encourages us to think about community – both in terms of self-interest (what can I gain) but also our value to the community in terms of what we can contribute. I became more self-aware of what I have – and don’t have – to offer. There’s incentive to gain valuable skills, specialized skills, that will be valuable and useful.”

“Although I sort of detest money, it’s the biggest determining factor in figuring out the value. I thought of what people would pay for a gourmet private dinner and thought of what a gallery might charge for a painting of mine. Even though I would essentially paint for free and could prepare a lovely meal for my friends for cheap. I still used money first. That bothers me.”

“alternative economies are of interest to me because I am an artist. I feel that what I do falls outside the logic of our exchange system.”

“how to determine value is a hard question. My actual skills are very specific, and I am considering an exchange of information more than anything else.”

“it’s amazing how much there is to think about value when there’s no money involved!”

“I am curious about the idea of time-swap – would/should it be 1 to 1? How would it account for differences in skill or preparation time/energy to be able to provide a certain service? Ie, electrical engineer vs. manual labor. Could a barter system account for this without duplicating a class-stratified society? If skill, knowledge, etc were not considered in time swaps, would all incentives disappear to gain difficult skills/knowledge?”

Here is the long list of items that were offered in exchange for either a massage, a handmade leather belt, or homemade dinner for four:

massage or dinner for private yoga lessons (I am a professional certified yoga instructor) exchange would be hour for hour, massage for watsu-aquatic massage in the water, dinner for proofread resume and help with job interviewing, dinner for 2 bottles of wine, dinner for furniture for your apartment, dinner for 4-course dinner as an experiment in sensorial research, dinner for ideas in which art is intertwined within the simple moments in life, massage for 1 8x10 b+W photo or small color 5x7, massage for marketing help for services or products, massage for if you come to my house to give it I will cook you dinner if I come to you, I will bring you an apple pie, massage for 2-hour apartment space planning consultation, dinner for one hour private dog training, massage for one hour input to computer (data entry), dinner for set up a basic wordpress website, massage for 1 hour of acting coaching, massage or dinner for chinese classes, massage for 1.5 hour of psychological consulting, massage for a 2-hour bike tour of brooklyn or nyc (and I'll lend you the bike), massage for a several-hour personal tour of new yourk subway system the history and development of it and city as a whole, massage for housecleaning, massage for kombucha and pickling workshop, belt for photo print or handcrafted jewelry, massage for 1 smal and 1 large brella bag (roll-up ecotote bags made from broken umbrellas found in the city, dinner for trademarking/branding legal services including clearing and filing trademark application (for time, not fees), massage for to tell her my life story, dinner for a performative installation at the location of your choice, dinner for fililng, closet organization, etc., massage for three good ideas. You tell me your problems you determine when the ideas I offer are good for you, massage for poetry reading of my work w discussion of process, dinner for wordpress blog setup and configuration, dinner for 15 lbs of fair drade organic fresh roasted coffee, massage for a poetry reading from my new book Becoming Weather for a group of your choosing, massage for dj a party, dinner for marketing 1 hour, massage for 1 hour arabic lesson, massage for 50 homemade cane pops, dinner for 2 yoga lessons, massage for personal styling services, closet organization, dinner for painting (2'x3') abstract contemporary, massage for 2 1-hour sessions - proofreading and editing (resumnes, cover letters, academic writing), massage for electrical engineering services, massage for 2 hand-made herbal scented rice bags can use as cold or hot pads, massage for interior design consultation, massage for home made bread, cookies, veggie salad a sculpted barrett, massage for karate lesson 1 hour private, dinner for 10 1-hour intalian language lesson, dinner for 3 chinese lessons 45-minutes long, massage for my car for one hour, massage for piano lessons (interested in ongoing barter), massage, dinner or belt for a barter business plan to help massage provider get the greatest % of goods and services without using money, dinner for overnight at home 4-bedroom in delaware water gap area, massage for life coaching, belt for marketing description of belt, belt for condition horses 1 hour a day for 1 month, belt for hand delivered fresh fruit smoothies for two weeks, massage for makeup lesson and full evening airbrush application, dinner for 1 bottle of 1999 quilceda creek cabernet savignon, belt for a trip to the grocery store one bag full, massage, dinner or belt for an acupuncture treatment w chinese medicine consultation.herbal recs as needed (2-3 treatments for dinner), massage for to create personalized cards/invitations for event, dinner for photography or photoshop retouching, massage, dinner or belt for technology support, setup, repairs small installations, dinner for $100 gift certificate at sustainablenyc, massage for 1 hour coaching session, exploring new possibilities, massage for writing and editing, massage for home cooked meal, dinner for work/yardwork/clean, massage for 1 hr geriatric care management assesment for your elder loved one, massage for a handmade journal, hardbound, belt for alterations (hem, mending, zipper) on 4 items of clothing, massage for professional proofreading for document or website, massage for tutoring services (help with writing paper, analyzing literature, concepts in reading) or ESL services for non-native English speakers (reading/writing/comprehension), massage for a dozen lemon squares, dinner for 2 hours of personal soccer lesson, massage for to edit your website for clarity and grammar, dinner for 10 hours writing/editorial services from profesional journalist, dinner for whitewater kayaking beginner lesson, massage for professional or personal development (resume or social networking tutorials), dinner for gardening advice/landscaping, etc, massage for two hour-long drum lessons at my house, massage for 45-min kids yoga class either in classroom or birthday party, massage for photos of your home, belt for handmade jewelry, massage for original framed photograph, dinner for basic drupal website or photography (documentary style, no flas,, massage for GPS jumper cables, car jack, tire repair can, for car and repairs, dinner for a photo shoot and retouching of every item on a particular menu (max 20 items), massage for dinner, belt for two-hour one-on-one writing workshop fiction/nonfiction/poetry, massage for "press release" writing/social mdeia marekting offer: 10 hours of PR social media consulting work, dinner for a quick intro to radio modules - bluetooth/RFID/Zigbee, massage for home cooked dinner lebanese, belt for some sort of intangible skill 1-4 hours of time?, massage for 1 hour photo shoot w professional camera or a 1 hour massage, massage for 5-course spring vegetable spper at an nyu graduate food studies student's home with good conversation and delicious and unique wines from pasfinella vininers, massage for 3 personal training sessions, 1 week nutrition plan and 1 "clean" meal prepared for you by me for you or someone else, massage for an astrological reading, belt for 3 hours of swimming lessons, massage for 1 hour tango lesson, belt for feather sandals a la "poet-sandalmaker of Athens", dinner for video editing, spanish/english translation, life coaching (not therapy), dog walking, proof-editing, grant writing, cookies/brownies (homemade), massage for 1 hr architectual/interior design consultation, massage for red painted tilt and swivel wood chair, dinner for photography -, dinner for to grow the ingredients for dinner in my garden and Athena is one of the 4 guests, dinner for help with cooking I am a good cook and do some catering on the side, massage for custom made tshirt, dinner for draw, belt for writing either as cyrano or in more of a bizzy consulty sense, massage for a necklace (from a jewelry designer), massage for your name in food, massage for free recycling pickup one event, massage for a yoga lesson (I am a certified teacher), massage for clothes alterations, massage for photographic services, massage for help with work/homework - tutoring or doing work for 3 hours, dinner for 2-hour drumset lesson (jazz) / personalized tour of the Met Museum, massage for homemade linzer torte from scratch, massage for high line tour, massage for an indian meal, belt for 20-page astrological report, dinner for deep housecleaning 1x/wk for one month includes pet washing and or car, massage for 1 hour legal consult, dinner for my knowledge I can tudor grades k-12 and SAT plus ACT, I can also tutor AP tests, belt for 5 hour writing workshop (I am a professional), massage for 5 hours of writing workshop, dinner for 4 hours of running errands, dinner for space in my home on the Bowery for a cocktail party, dinner for baked goods customized for every special diet (II nutrition grad), massage for special occasion cake for 12-15 veg/vegan/allergy friendly, massage for knit and leather clutch handmade, dinner for the amount of lagor to be negotiated do errands such as food shopping, online shopping for best price, etc, massage, dinner or belt for one night in vermont farmhouse, massage or dinner for spanish lessons - depending on value - as many as you need, dinner for spiritual eonergy healing (2 hours), medical intuitve shamanic practictioner, massage for babysitting/pet-sitting or expert writing/editing skills on anything from emails to essays, massage for to clean your space with non-toxic cleaning supplies, dinner for web promotional product for website, massage, dinner or belt for 2.5 hours tutoring high school math, history, biology or english, massage for compiled free things to do in NYC how to get free food, concerts, festivals, recreational events, trivia contestant for bar nights, massage for a harmonica concert - privately, dinner for one hand painted sign - custom - for business or other, massage for cleaning time, massage for a ceramic bowl or 2 thrown and made my myself, belt for a product photography session, dinner for spanish lessons up to 5 hours negotiable, dinner for hand knit silk lace shawl, dinner for piece of digital art, Belt for 1 hour autocad lesson, massage for 1 hour graphic software CS (photoshop, illustrator) help/lesson, massage for 1 hour guitar lesson, massage for 2 hours of time management/organization coaching w concrete tips and strategies, massage for 2 quarts homemade yogurt, dinner for a day of fun in New York ,massage for a handbag, massage for a massage, massage for academic tutorial of an equivalent amount of time, massage for an event hosted at my gallery space on the bowery at rivington, massage for brainstorming creatively and to work with kids with autism and other developmental delays, dinner for conversation in the theory of the moral economy and a fun example of putting it into practice to supplement this exercise…or just a song, Belt for dance lessons, massage for editing/writing skills, dinner for foraging for wild plants and mushrooms, massage for guitar lessons for 1 hr, massage for listening for 2 hours, massage for reclaimed antique wood shelving $100 value, dinner for technological advice personal software development and the food to cook, belt for used mobile phone, and massage for vintage jewelry.

- written by Jen Abrams, co-founder of

Should we do this "determining value" event again? Let us know here, or by contacting us at

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