Some groups have latched on to barter as a political and economic tool to boost their communities and promote local autonomy. In this country, Ithaca Hours is one of the better-known systems. The citizens of Ithaca, New York, have actually printed up their own money, called Ithaca Hours, which can be used only in Ithaca with participating merchants. The Web site (www.lightlink.com/hours/ithacahours) lists other cities all over the country (and internationally) where alternative-cash systems are in place or are being created, as well as hawking a book on how to start your very own economy. L.A. Hours, anyone?
By the way, barter is not a (legal) tax loophole. The IRS requires you to report as income "the fair market value of property or services you receive in bartering." You are even supposed to report barter credit units sitting in your account that haven’t yet been exchanged for goods or services.
We all labor in order to acquire goods; for those of us who are terribly fortunate, our work is also our profession — we do it because we love it. But no matter how passionate we may be about whatever fills our days, at the end of the month we do await a tangible reward. Barter skips the bank and sends you straight to the store (or the doctor or interior decorator). Perhaps in the age of the information economy, securities trading and whatnot, there is something quite valuable in that kind of immediacy.
Warning: Do some research before joining a barter exchange. You don’t want to be stuck with a bunch of useless trade dollars if the group folds or if the services or products you need simply aren’t available.