Barter, Gift Economy, or an Agrarian Society of Small Proprietors and Cooperatives?

The Oil Drum

[With Transition staring us in the face, we need to begin a fundamental discussion about our local economy. Where do we want to go? How do we want to do it? I favor what I’ve included in the title of this post: a decentralized agrarian society of local small farmers, small proprietors and cooperatives. Sustainable Food and Energy Security are the keys to local independence and prosperity. We have in place our Ukiah Co-op, Farmer’s Markets, CSAs, Credit Unions, and small businesses as models to build upon. -DS]

When I sat down to research this post, I thought I would write a post about barter, since it seemed like if our current financial system failed, barter would be one possible form of back-up. But when I started to research barter, the first thing I came across was this statement:

Contrary to popular conception, there is no evidence of a society or economy that relied primarily on barter. Instead, non-monetary societies operated largely along the principles of gift economics. When barter did in fact occur, it was usually between either complete strangers or would-be enemies.

So I decided to step back a bit, and look into gift economies.

It seemed to me that if our current system fails us, we should have at least some idea regarding what options might be available that could perhaps be pieced together into a new system that works. As I looked at gift economies a bit, I realized our current system has a substantial element of gift economics in it. Perhaps if our already functioning gift economy can be expanded,

Symphony of Science – ‘We Are All Connected’ (Sagan, Feynman, deGrasse, Tyson & Bill Nye)


Todd Walton: The Dreidel in Rudolph’s Manger

Under The Table

(I first published this story several years ago in the Sacramento News & Review and it eventually ran in dozens of free weeklies and even in a few daily newspapers. I present the story here for your enjoyment as we officially enter the so-called holiday season. My reading of the story, with appropriate accents, is on my story CD I Steal My Bicycle and other stories available from and downloadable from iTunes.)

Israel Jacobs, born a Jew, and Margaret O’Hara, born and baptized a Catholic, were married in the spring of 1999. And despite their mothers, they lived quite happily until their only child, Felix, turned five. Then Christmas and Hanukkah loomed simultaneously as they always do, and the whole kettle of fish, gefilte and snapper, was set to boiling once more.

Israel’s mother, Rachel, a small, fiery woman with little tolerance for what she called those “gentile pagan idiocies” insisted that Israel give his son a real Jewish Hanukkah, not some watered down compromise. Margaret’s mother, Colleen, a tall, cheerful soul, didn’t mind a menorah on the mantel so long as it was appropriately dwarfed by a well-flocked Christmas tree, candy canes, and a “high quality manger scene,” preferably on the front lawn.

But the truth was, Israel and Margaret didn’t believe in celebrating either Hanukkah or Christmas. They belonged to a group called Beyond Dysfunctional Religions, and they wanted nothing to do with the rituals of their progenitors, whom they believed to be responsible for much of the world’s woes. However, they had never actually told their mothers of their conversion to this new spiritual course, and now, in the face of their child’s coming of age, as it were, the you-know-what was about to hit the fan… Full story here

Paying an Arm and a Leg

Mother Jones

So many charts, so little blog. Which chart should I show you from yesterday’s release of the latest global comparison of healthcare prices? How about the cost of hip replacements?

The “average” number is a little hard to see, so here it is: $34,454. That’s 2x what it costs in Germany, 3x what it costs in France, and 6x what it costs in Switzerland. WTF?

This goes a long way toward explaining why hip replacements are so popular in the United States: they’re a huge profit center for doctors and hospitals. Keep this in mind the next time someone starts going on about how you never have to wait in line for a hip replacement in America. It’s not because our healthcare system is super efficient, it’s because doctors are super eager to perform them.

The full set of cost charts is here, and they’re pretty instructive. You can, if you want, try to make the case that we perform better hip replacements or do better angioplasties than other countries. But appendectomies? CT scans? Normal deliveries? As Aaron Carroll says about the astonishing numbers for routine CT scans and MRIs:

Why does it cost so much more in the US? Does the radiation work better here? Are the scanners different? If you’re wondering, the CT scanner was invented in the UK, so it’s not like there’s some reason to believe our machines are better….Let’s be clear. I have no problem with things costing more when they are demonstrably better. Or, if you’re getting more of them for your money. But a scan is a scan is a scan. There had better be a good reason for it costing more here, and I can’t think of a good one.

This is one of the reasons healthcare costs so much in America. We aren’t getting more for our money, we’re just paying a lot more for the same stuff as everyone else.

POSTSCRIPT: One caveat: the report doesn’t mention how they convert foreign prices into dollars, and it probably makes a difference whether they apply purchasing power parity adjustments. Not a huge difference, but it’s possible that different methodologies would produce modestly different results.

Last Thoughts Before the Turkey Comes Calling …a letter from Michael Moore



As I head off for Thanksgiving, I wanted to share a final thought with you about this past week’s news regarding the health care executives who sat around that table in Philadelphia four years ago and decided on a course of action to, if need be, “push Michael Moore off a cliff.”

Having spent the week reading all their secret documents (and the book “Deadly Spin”), it’s clear that there was something far more scary to these companies than me.

They were, in fact, scared of you. They were afraid YOU would end up pushing them over their own greedy cliff.

Yes, they spied on me and my family in the hopes of finding something with which to smear me and my film, “Sicko.” Finding nothing (sorry, guys, I live a pretty boring life), they then resorted to the old chestnuts that have been hurled at me by General Motors, the Bush White House, the National Rifle Association and others since my first film 20 years ago, and they essentially boil down to this:

“Don’t listen to him! He hates America! He hates our way of life! He’s not telling you the truth! He plays fast and loose with it! Patriots, don’t waste your good money to see his movie!”

And it’s that last message that’s at the epicenter of their biggest fear. Back in 2007, these health insurance companies believed that if you strolled inside a theater showing “Sicko”, their golden goose would be cooked.

They knew, according to former health care exec and whistleblower Wendell Potter, that the truth was up there on that screen — and the LAST thing they wanted was for millions of Americans to be exposed to it.

Why? Well, we need look no further than the document containing their own secret directive on how they should deal with the movie:

“[We Must] Prepare for the Worst Case…SiCKO evolves into a sustained populist movement.”

There it is. Their biggest fear. Their “worst case” scenario. That YOU, the American public, would rise up against them. I wasn’t their worst nightmare — you were. Their own research and private polling

A Practical Guide to Dealing with Shit

Author Gene Logsdon


It’s not often that a book inspires you to go out and shovel steaming piles of horse poop on a cold November afternoon. But that’s exactly what happened to me after reading Gene Logsdon’s Holy Shit, and I mean it as a resounding compliment to the author. I should note, of course, that it doesn’t take much to get me thinking, and writing, about poop, pee, compost, and all things biodegradable.

From the selective flush and letting it mellow, through musing on the benefits of (male) pee on compost, to asking whether recycling our poop is the key to sustainable farming, I am somewhat known as the toilet correspondent here at TreeHugger. But Logsdon’s obsession with all things brown and smelly puts me to shame.

Logsdon has long been known as an eminent agrarian thinker and practitioner. From being an advocate for horse-powered farming (and the resulting fertilizer), to writing (and re-releasing) a guide to small-scale grain raising for backyards, homesteads and small farms, he has always made a strong case for small-scale, low impact farming, and a strong reliance on traditional methods and knowledge.

Romanticism This is Not
But as Matt argued in his post about Logsdon’s argument for horse-powered farms, the man has enough experience and knowledge that it is hard to paint him as your typical starry-eyed nostalgic romantic. Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind is yet further evidence that the guy knows his, errrm, stuff—and that what he has to share is important, practical and common sense knowledge that could help us navigate the looming challenges of feeding the world after peak oil, climate change, and dwindling reserves of phosphorous-based fertilizer take their toll on our oil-dependent farming systems.

The Mainstream Rethinks its Attitude to Manure
Starting with an anecdote about a mainstream mega-farmer

Ways to Deal With Your Conservative Relatives This Thanksgiving

Thanks to Gail Jonas

Maybe your brother-in-law works on Wall Street and declares he wants to see the Bush tax cuts extended indefinitely as he scoops himself a generous portion of mashed potatoes. Or perhaps your aunt mentions, while checking on the turkey, that Sarah Palin is her role model and she can’t wait to follow her Rupert Murdoch-sponsored book tour from city to city. Or maybe, over a slice of pumpkin pie and coffee, your grandfather suggests that the Tea Party’s ideas aren’t half bad, and he likes that Rand Paul fella because he’s really getting the government out of people’s Medicare

Given this month’s volatile political climate, chances are someone’s going to break the no politics/no religion rule and say something to make your blood boil as you sit around the table this Thanksgiving. When that cringe-inducing moment arrives, whether it’s over appetizers or dessert, you want to defend the honor of progressives and their ideas without coming across as snotty, snarky, or out of touch. And without letting the situation devolve into violence. (You’re a pacifist, right?)

As tempting as it will be to ask sarcastic questions about teabagging and what kind of scones are served at Tea Parties, that will only get you so far. And you don’t want to ruin your appetite. It’s Thanskgiving, after all.

So how does one deal with the conservatives at the family table while avoiding a massive food fight? Stay calm and relaxed, and follow these simple guidelines.

1. Brush up on Obama conspiracy theories. There’s a good chance you’ll need to defend the president against some of the more outrageous claims being circulated by Fox News–especially the claim that he hasn’t done anything useful for the country. Now, if your relatives are of the “Obama is a Marxist, Satanist, Islamic fundamentalist who wants to put our children in re-education camps” persuasion, you should probably just invest in a hip flask or three and plan on getting out of there ASAP. But assuming you’re dining with nominally reasonable human beings, you should brush up on what the heck Obama has done so far. Conveniently, you can gather some key facts and stats at the

U.S. Women Made Amazing Progress Over Past 50 Years


That we take the concept of full equality for women today for granted shows how far women have progressed when only 50 years ago they constituted America’s largest untapped human resource; when only 6% of all doctors, 3% of all lawyers, and fewer than 1% of all engineers were women; when no woman could compete in the Boston Marathon and when every woman needed her husband’s permission even to get a credit card. In the comparatively short span since, American women have made astonishing progress, from legal secretaries to lawyers, from nurses to doctors; from kitchen menials to astronauts, and from USO hostesses to front-line warriors. Their dramatic story is charted in the new book by New York Times columnist Gail Collins in “When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present(Little Brown).” Back in the Sixties, “It was legal to say that women couldn’t be in management, because it was bad for the men,” Collins tells interviewer Diane Sullivan, a professor at the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover, producers of “Educational Forum,” on Comcast SportsNet to be aired nationally at 11 A.M. Sunday(EST), November 28th.

In the Sixties, popular TV westerns such as Bonanza spread the message that “Girls stayed at home and that girls do not have adventures,” Collins recalled. There were a number of amazing women around and here and there women pioneers blazed new paths “but the idea in general was always that women were the mothers and the wives and they stayed in the house,” she said. Some women after World War Two developed the first television shows, shows that featured women in important roles, but “when television became a very big deal, (the women) all went away, and you really had no shows in which women were the main characters.” In Bonanza, for example, lead Ben Cartwright, (played by Lorne Greene), is a widower on a big ranch whose three wives all died and whose sons fell in love with girls who all died as well. “I mean, really, you walk near the Ponderosa (ranch) and you were dead. It was a toxic landmine for women,” Collins said.

By 1970, however, the Mary Tyler Moore comedy series on CBS portrayed bachelorette “Mary Richards” as a single woman in her Thirties who was never married and was not looking for a man to support her.

Bruce ‘Pat’ Patterson: Raggedy Roads, Saggy Gates

4 Mules Blog

My first job making firewood was located on a bench of land high up on the sunny side of Ward Mt. above Yorkville, California. It must have been 1975 or ’76. To get to work I turned off Hwy 128 and went through a wooden pasture gate. After driving down the riverbank, splashing across Dry Creek and then gunning up the opposite bank, I came to another gate. The ranch was running maybe a thousand head of sheep plus a fair number of cattle, my job was still over a mile above, and on my way in and out I had to open and shut at least four more pasture gates. They’d all been fashioned by the same pair of hands, too. Hands that were now, no doubt, pushing up daisies down in the cemetery in the Ornbaum Opening. Made with sawed redwood heart 1-by-6s, hanging between hand-split 8 by 8 redwood posts and sporting giant Pittsburgh steel hinges bolted through, their latches were pointed boards that slid in and out of notches carved into the latch posts.

With age, wooden gates sag, posts list and the wood squeezing the bolts holding the hinges in place rots away. So, with every one of those waterlogged gates not just resting on the dirt but resolutely attached to it, I had to manhandle them to get them out of my way. First, I’d get out my truck and face the hulk like I was getting set to curl a barbell. Then I’d grab a hold of the gate and yank it straight up, get the side of my boot wedged under it, pull the latch free with one hand and then jerk my boot free. Next, I’d give the gate a violent tug downhill to get its edge clear of the post. Then I’d step around, pin the edge to my breast bone, spread and flex my legs, grab a hold from both sides, jerk the thing up and then skitter sideways down the hill like I was some kind of two-legged beetle. After getting my truck through, I’d return and skitter the gate back up the hill, slower this time, what with me huffing, cussing and puffing. By the time I got up the hill and cranked up my hot-rod chainsaw, already I was tuckered out.

One thing that hasn’t changed much around here over the past 35 years is the number of raggedy roads and saggy gates. And that’s kind of strange considering all of the suburbanization and gentrification that has taken place. Nowadays there’s no telling how many luxurious new 3 bedroom, 4 bathroom houses with 3 car garages are hidden away at the ends of raggedy roads blocked by ancient, saggy gates. Since the main reason why folks devote so much of their lifetimes to feathering their own nests is to show off for their friends and neighbors (hermits don’t need much), you’d think they’d start