RE-SHUFFLING FOR A NEW SOCIAL ORDER:
THE EXPERIENCE OF THE GLOBAL BARTER NETWORK IN
"Enhancing people's space in a globalizing economy", organized by
IGGRI / KEPA,
Espoo, Finland, September 5 - 9, 1998.
The effects of globalization in the world economy provoked in
Argentina, as in most of countries in Latin America, very specific,
particular processes of a dramatic transformation. This country,
traditionally considered as a "rich" country in the Region, became
extremely vulnerable to changes in the international economy, in the
last two decades. Particularly, in the nineties, the different social and
economical politics undergone led to a growth in unemployment rate
that reached 18.7%, a record in the history of the country.
The rise of the Global Barter Network in Argentina must be
understood as a response from civil society's grassroots, in the context
of the highest rate of unemployment, within a new economical world
order and the consequences in the national economy and politics. As
part of an ecological movement active since the eighties in the state of
Buenos Aires, members of the P.A.R. (Programa de Autosuficiencia
Regional -- Regional Self-Sufficiency Program) found it relevant to
make a shift in the traditional ecological activities and relate them
quite directly to the critical issue of unemployment and growing urban
poverty. This accounts for the creation of the first Barter Club, which
started in May, 1st. 1995 with a group of twenty neighbors and turned
in three years to more than 150 Clubs all over the country, involving
about 80,000 -100,000 persons in global barter transactions of food,
clothes, artisanship and craft, healthcare, therapies, tourism and
formal and informal education and training in many different fields.
The evolution of the Global Barter Network led this philosophy
and practices to other countries in Latin America and Europe: Uruguay,
Brazil, Bolivia and Chile are starting their own experience, as well as
Spain, in Europe.
Our main stand is that barter is able to reinvent the market and
not only (re)include people that have been excluded by globalization,
but - even beyond - can include people never included before. We believe
we need not oppose this new market to the formal market, but we need
rather to develop our ability to join them, in different rhythms and
forms, if we choose to do it. We also believe we need not oppose to
government but rather develop our ability to act with government in
order to build the democratic life with equity and solidarity instead of
competition and exclusion. Finally, we believe barter is able to re-
shuffle cards to build a new social game.
1. HOW WE GOT THERE
Immediately after World War II, Argentina was one of the most
developed countries in Latin America and this situation lasted for
almost three decades. It has been traditionally known in the Region as
a "middle class" country and these characteristics started changing in
the middle of the seventies: a deep and rapid decrease in the quality of
life of its population took place. Public education, health and culture
that had been the pride of Argentina for many years started vanishing.
The last military dictatorship - from 1976 to the end 1983 - helped the
consolidation of the political and economical neoliberal model, which
spread all over the Region in the eighties. This was considered the "lost
decade" for human development of Latin America.
After a first period of democratic regime, in which the emphasis
was mainly put in building a new political order, in 1989 started a new
period in which economy had a great shift, gaining the fight to
hyperinflation, with the dramatic social consequences that this model
could not prevent. A new extended social sector appeared, the "new
poor", people coming from middle classes. Privatization of most public
corporations, decentralization and privatization of traditionally public
functions, mainly in health and education, and the opening to
international markets led to a new model society, in which new
responses appeared from the civil society. We can consider this period
as the burial of our welfare state.
In this context, the problem of unemployment started being the
critical issue in the late nineties. 18.7% was a record rate in our
history and after a couple of years of economical stability, when it
seemed to stop growing, we discovered a new social phenomenon:
unemployment rate decreased because, after some months, people
stopped the search for jobs and were thrown into a psychological
depression that could not be "measured" by official indexes, or, in the
best case, jumped into the informal market. Jobs once lost, disappeared
2. BARTERING SHOWS UP IN THE LAST DECADE OF THE XX CENTURY
That is why the rise of the Global Barter Network in Argentina
must be understood as a response from civil society's grassroots, in the
context of the highest rate of unemployment in history coexisting with
(determined by ?) a "successful" economical policy regarding inflation.
The lowest levels of inflation in the decade accompanied by the total
failure in turning this "success" into real democratic living
manifestations of food, health and education for all. The highest levels
of urban poverty growth, instead...
As part of an ecological movement active since the eighties in the
state of Buenos Aires, members of the P.A.R. (Programa de
Autosuficiencia Regional - Regional Self-sufficiency Program) found
relevant to make a shift in the traditional ecological activities and
relate them to the critical issue of unemployment and growing urban
poverty. This accounts for the creation of the first Barter Club, which
started in May 1st., 1995 with a group of twenty neighbors and turned
in three years to more than 150 Clubs in different regions of the
country, involving about 80,000 - 100,000 persons in global barter
transactions of food, clothes, artisanship and craft, healthcare,
therapies, tourism and formal and informal education and training in
many different fields.
From their first moment this group of people that started the first
Barter Club, in Bernal, state of Buenos Aires, were about twenty
neighbors with different interests, professions and expectations. Even if
the leader group intended to provoke a deep shift in behavior and social
practices, most of people involved were mainly playing "solidarity" in a
way that combined both "green" life quality and "shy entrepreneurship"
attitude, aiming a slight improvement of their income through barter,
in order to face the economical crisis of structural adjust in economical
politics. We can now refer this period as a period mainly oriented to
gather people around a new way of building social relationships, in
which barter was the main tool.
Within the first year they became around two hundred people
that joined every week for a couple of hours and "traded" mainly food,
clothes and craft without any kind of external support but a private
notebook in which everyone kept the information of all particular
transactions. As the experience went on, the evolution of the
accountability system soon turned to be performed by one personal
computer, as it soon turned to be limited by two main reasons : the
overload of information in one (pair of) hand(s) and the lack of
confidentiality of this information. For some time, new systems were
tried, as the operation of "double way tickets", receipts, bonds and
vouchers revealed new difficulties in management. Some months later,
the "credit" system was established, basing its reference value in the
American dollar. New phenomena showed up as inflation, falsification,
centralization, decentralization, new centralization in the production
of credits, so that this social laboratory could already reveal its
potentiality of reorienting itself if some main principles were observed.
As time passed, new agreements started among people in order to afford
barter between clubs and people joining different clubs in different week
days. This was the real emergence of the Network: people wandering by
different Clubs or Nodes, trading without money many different
products and services as medical assistance, masonry, tourism and
child/elder people care, among others.
Three years after the beginning of the first Barter Club we can
account for these main results:
* From the first Barter Club to the present Network, we assisted deep
changes in relationships within some sectors of our society : from the
leadership of three persons we moved to many varied kinds of
organizations taking care of different functions : Coordinators of Nodes
meet once a month to transmit information and share experience
among them. Once a month an open space common to those who wish
to contribute to innovation or discussion of different politics gather
and share; new strategies of management of diversity are permanently
introduced ; visitors and trainees move from one region to another to
improve their performance.
* Education and training in different areas as computer applications or
specific practices, as well as new visions of solidarity, entrepreneurship
and political responsibility are permanently developed. Solidarity is
equivalent to produce the same we consume, not to spare "credits" as if
they were... money. Entrepreneurship is equivalent to increase every
month the quantity and quality of what we take from / give to the
Network, as political leadership is understood and gradually practiced
in the Nodes by participating permanently in different specific
* Alliances with organizations from different sectors of local
government are being established since the first presence of Quilmes
and the increasing participation of the Department of Social Affairs in
Buenos Aires, whose support afforded publications, the use of public
Offices, the performance of Congresses and Meetings that each year
gather more and more people. Last 9th of august we joined 10,000
people for a whole day, in a public space, bartering, discussing
theoretical issues or simply playing social games related to a special
Stock Exchange, with a strong presence in the media, in the
newspapers, radio and television.
* After three years of inclusion in a new market, where common people
has time enough to re-start a new (economical) life, we moved from
individual weekly production to small virtual corporations in the Barter
Market to double market corporations, which can trade both in the
formal market as in Barter Market.
* The great distances between Nodes and the diversity of interests of all
"prosumers" led us to start regular conversations by e-mail with our
colleagues and to have a web site where people can get live information
about the network : http ://www.visitweb.com/trueque.
* At the same time, political leaders start changing strategies to get
taxes paid by citizens : some start bartering with them, allowing he
introduction of critical products/services that are utilized instead of
money to pay taxes: bread, eggs, photocopies or mechanical service are
being accepted in some villages.
3.DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES OF THE GLOBAL BARTER
With slight changes produced in our three year old movement, a
series of principles guides us in our everyday life behavior. They are
written nowhere, they do not fit the sense of the movement of the
social system, they are not all accomplished, they are not fulfilled
promises among us, they are not easy to keep alive. Instead, we declare
them to be our goal, the space where we choose to live.
1. Our fulfillment as human beings need not be conditioned by money.
2. We aim not to promote products or services, but our mutual help in
accomplishing a better way of life, through work, solidarity and fair
3. We believe in the possibility of replacing competition, profit and
speculation by reciprocity among people.
4. We assume that our actions, products and services may respond to
ethical and ecological standards more than to the will of the market,
the consumism and short term profit.
5. The only conditions to be a member of the Global Barter Network
are: assisting to weekly group meetings for trade, being trained
permanently and being "prosumers" (both producer and consumer) of
goods, services and knowledge, as recommended by Quality and Selfhelp
6. We assume that every member is the only responsible for her/his
actions, goods or services bartered in the Network.
7. We believe that belonging to a group means no relationship of
dependence, since individual participation is free and common to every
member of the Network.
8. We claim that groups are not necessarily due to be formally
organized, in a permanent way, since the network model implies
permanent change of roles and functions.
9. We believe it is possible to combine the autonomy of groups (Clubs
or Nodes), in the management of internal affairs with all the principles
of the Network.
10. We recommend not to support, as members of the Network, moral
or materially, any activity that might keep us apart from the main goals
of our Network.
11. We believe our best example is our behavior in and out of the
Network. We keep confidentiality about our private lives and prudence
in the public treatment of those matters that might alter the growth of
12. We deeply believe in an idea of progress as a consequence of a
sustainable welfare of the great majority of people of all societies.
4.WHAT CAN THIS EXPERIENCE MEAN FOR LATIN AMERICA AND
THE III WORLD?
In a Region where urban poverty increased more than in any
other in the planet, in the last decade, this social laboratory
could show us that barters:
contributes to immediate satisfaction of needs in different social
allows the reconstruction of social tissue inside the Nodes or Clubs;
recovers and develop vulnerable people's self esteem;
gives back the potential of producer/consumer lost in the project of
social exclusion from the last decade;
allows a permanent development of creativity, sometimes in the very
opportunity of "fairs", when we practice the Exchange of Knowledge;
allows a gradual process of re-design of career and job search for the
tends to the self-regulation of offers and requests in every Club or
gives back local government and the small scale to the level of familiar
reinforces the inclusion of different social actors gathered by their
develops small enterprises that solve the critical issue of any enterprise:
the need for a stable market;
reinvents a new market, complementary to the old one and not
alternative to it.
Finally, we believe barter is an effective tool to rebuild the
market, when it allows us to re-shuffle cards to build democratic life
with equity and solidarity instead of competition and exclusion. What
means to build a new social game.
We do not know how much more will be possible to do. It will
certainly depend on ourselves. As always, the future is
written nowhere. Please, join us in this discussion.