Monday, August 13, 2012
In the small village in which I was raised, it was common for a neighbour to bake twenty or so loaves of bread one day, and make the rounds giving away a few loaves to each of her closest friends. Another neighbour might have cooked a vat of stew, which she shared with others. In hunting season, the men would bring home thirty or more birds for plucking and cleaning by the women, who then distributed them in the community.
Men would, whenever needed, spend a day or two building shops and sheds for friends, or one who could do electrical repairs would fix plugs and lights throughout the village, asking nothing in return. However, when he need mechanical work done, there was always a neighbour who would be able to weld or repair machinery.
This concept of community seems overly simplistic and archaic, yet it worked exceptionally well. Where and when did it die?
The 2008 economic downturn helped to revive the spirit of need, but not the spirit of sharing and cooperative effort. It may be that the entrepreneurial, independent spirit that we have been told is the hallmark of American society has been the cause of this misguided independence. It is not dependency to offer your skill set to those in need, and then, in time, to have the favour returned.
Those of us who have opted for one variation or another of voluntary simplicity in our lives have uncovered the benefits of community, and caring for the community. It is nothing more than barter. I do something that is within my skill set and abilities for someone, and, some time later, I call on someone else to provide a service or goods for me.
Money has interceded in the very logical and most-often effective system of tradeoffs and pooling of resources for individual and group benefit. Money, and government.
The IRS and Canada Revenue Agency both view bartering as taxable. You do carpentry work for Joe, and then “bank” that service,” redeeming it later for free merchandise, you have bartered. If you are operating as a business, then you and the other party are taxed on the fair market value of those goods.
But are backyard exchanges of garden produce, or household goods, or helping hands considered “business?” Both tax agencies have ruled inconsistently on this matter. “Is there a profit intent?” they ask. Well, if you consider that you got rid of something of little value to you but of greater value to someone else, and in exchange the opposite was true, then that could be considered a profitable transaction. But where is the business component?
For the most part, government turns a blind eye to such elementary transactions, and therein lies the opportunity for the industrious minimalist. Bartering and trading of goods and services is a fantastic way to minimize owning or possessing items that you rarely use, but occasionally need. Community spirit and the honest, fair exchange of goods cuts costs, cuts ownership obligation, and is a very efficient use of resources. And, it is an act of independence, not dependence, that has operated successfully for thousands of years.