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How Do We Keep The Middle Man Out of Trade?

It is interesting that most civilizations tend to go from markets where most of the people trade wares with other people who produce wares, to an economic expansion model where specializations begin to occur and third parties begin to interact with services that raise the price of the trade items, artificially inflating the entire community’s economic system.
How Do We Keep The Middle Man Out of Trade?
By Kirsten Anderberg (www.kirstenanderberg.com)

It is interesting that most civilizations tend to go from markets where most of the people trade wares with other people who produce wares, to an economic expansion model where specializations begin to occur and third parties begin to interact with services that raise the price of the trade items, artificially inflating the entire community’s economic system. Whether this third party offers the transportation to the market or they offer to do the selling or part of the production for the producer, this introduction of third parties between the producer and buyer seems to evolve almost naturally. Likewise, specialist guilds seem to sprout as well. And one of the purposes of some of the most ancient guilds was not just to petition for higher wages and better working conditions. Guilds also have traditionally functioned as a way to keep people out of the profession, just like the American Medical Association and BAR Association constructively do when they limit the amount of people who can be graduated and licensed in the medical and legal professions. Keeping the training for trades insulated through elite schools, apprenticeships, and internships is an extension of this. As is the requirement of licenses, and an apprenticeship or elite degree, to qualify for said licenses. It seems that the pressures of commercialism push at the doors of barter, almost naturally, and almost continually throughout history.

What makes this degradation from straight product transactions, to insulated specializations and contracted third party services, and the resultant artificially inflated economies? When the Pike Place Market in Seattle, Wa. first was created in 1907, the slogan of the day was “Meet The Producer.? The idea was the producer saved money by eliminating the middle man. And the buyer saved money by eliminating the middle man. And when I first began to frequent the Pike Place Market in the 1970’s, you did mostly find the craftspeople who made their wares, selling them. You also found farmers selling their own produce on the tables. But as we moved into the 1980’s, something changed. All of a sudden, many of the craftspeople found it was cheaper to hire someone to man their tables at the Market for minimum wage, while they worked making more product to sell. This degraded into people trying to sell things on the crafts tables that were not even hand crafted by anyone in the state, much less the person selling it. The Market craft tables now have some minimum hours the crafter is supposed to actually man their tables at the Market, but minimum wage agents are still hired liberally, and you really do not “Meet the Producer? anymore. Now you more commonly “Meet the Producer’s Minimum Wage Agent.? This removed a living exhibit of the craft being made, as well as public access to the wisdom of the crafters themselves.

It seems that there will be this commercial entity waiting at the door of most free enterprise systems. I saw this transpire at the Oregon Country Fair as well. The fair was held from Friday to Sunday. So on Monday, once the fair was over, for many years, people would go out to what was deemed “the barter circle? and would trade whatever left over goods they had from their crafts booths with one another. I would go trade whatever leftover recordings I had as a performer, for example, for lotions that crafters did not end up selling, or a hand batiked tshirt someone ended up not selling, or wind chimes, or wooden spoons, or obsidian earrings, etc. The barter circle at the Oregon Country Fair was something that many looked forward to yearly. Then it started getting inundated with people who did not even attend the fair, but just showed up on Monday, with all these commercially produced products. Before we knew it, it was a hustle about money, with people hired to sell, and it just lost the flavor of the original “barter? circle. Because it lost the “barter? part. No longer were we trading our goods with one another. It had turned into a buying and selling circle, and crafters began to sell out in the parking lot at the “barter? circle, rather than bartering. They began to look at it as one last ditch effort to make money over that weekend, rather than a time to share and trade with family.

I saw this happen in the Grateful Dead circuits as well. At first, hippies gladly traded with one another when we made things. We traded liberally in parking lots at Dead shows. I would trade silk-screened baby clothes and cotton hats for all kinds of things. My friends would trade very artistic t-shirts (which actually have since been in museum exhibits of Dead art), beaded jewelry, leatherwork, handmade drums, dresses, carved spoons and bowls, felt hats, all kinds of things…then in the later 1980’s, things started getting really commercial. All of a sudden they were selling tie-dyed socks at Macy’s. Hippie styles were being co-opted by the mainstream and all of a sudden, agents who were hired to sell mass produced goods, started showing up in Dead show parking lots. And after a while, the Dead themselves cracked down on this commercialism in the parking lots and banned the “illegal? use of their logos on products, which literally put many a person out of a career overnight. But how did it go from our nice barter arrangement to a commercial storefront in the Dead parking lots?

This even occurs in performing. I first met the Reduced Shakespeare Company in 1987. They were a performing troupe of 3 men. But by 1997, they had hired stand ins for themselves on stage. I think the idea is you write and perfect an act, then you train people to do the act for a cheaper price than you charge patrons for the act, and somehow not only is the original troupe supported, but new performers are supported as well. I believe the guy who formed the Stomp! troupes that toured the nation did this as well. And the Flying Karamazov Brothers have created the same sort of thing with their Flying Karamazov Others, who do bits of their act, but are not them. So, performers will do this economic shift to commercialized specialization as well.

I read a Mabel Collins book long ago that described a bunch of humans desperately searching for joy in a pit of mud. The humans would dig in the mud, and one would find the joy and yell “I found it,? then all would mob him for it, and it would disappear as quickly as he found it. That seems very symbolic for this situation. Barter situations seem to become prey for commercial operations. It seems like a matter of time before commercial entities discover barter opportunities and exploit and pollute them. It is sad. It reduces our quality of life in many ways, honestly. There seems to be a need to figure out how to *protect* the integrity of barter situations from commercialization or inevitably, it seems that most barter situations turn to capitalist operations over time. It seems capitalism devours barter unless barter protects itself properly and defensively.

-- You can receive Kirsten's articles, as they are written, via an email list called "Eat the Press."

 
 


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