Content: Stamp Scrip (by Irving Fisher, 1933)
THE SWAP MOVEMENT IN 1933
THOSE who go often to the "movies" must have seen Marie Dressler as a bank
president, or Chic Sale as a small-town grocer, each promoting a scheme of
barter. If proof were needed that overproduction is not the cause of the
depression, barter is the proof - or some of the proof. It shows goods not
over-produced but dead-locked for want of a circulating transfer-belt called
"money." Many a dealer sits down in puzzled exasperation, as he sees about him a
market wanting his goods, and well stocked with other goods which he wants and
with able-bodied and willing workers, but without work and therefore without
buying power. Says A, "I could use some of B's goods; but I have no cash to pay
for them until someone with cash walks in here!" Says B, "I could buy some of
C's goods, but I've no cash to do it with till someone with cash walks in here."
Says the job hunter, "I'd gladly take my wages in trade if I could work them out
with A and B and C who among them sell the entire range of what my family must
eat and wear and burn for fuel - but neither A nor B nor C has need of me - much
less could the three of them divide me up." Then D comes on the scene, and says,
"I could use that man! - if he'd really take his pay in trade; but he says he
can't play a trombone and that's all I've got for him."
"Very well," cries Chic or Marie, "A's boy is looking for a trombone and that solves the whole problem, and solves it without the use of a dollar. The world's first market had nothing but goods and able bodies, but it didn't refuse to function on that account. Let's go. We'll exchange goods for goods, service for service, goods for service and service for goods."
All very well for that particular case; but it was the playwright who constructed it to suit his pattern. In the real life of the twentieth century, the handicaps to barter on a large scale are practically insurmountable. A desk maker, if he wants a ton of coal, would almost have to dump his desk in a hand-barrow and trundle it about till he met a coal dealer whose crying need happened to be a desk.
Therefore Chic or somebody organizes an Exchange Association, with a register in which are noted what can be supplied by whom and who wants what.
So much for the movies which do not always reflect real life.
Nevertheless, in the real life of this depression, and culminating apparently in 1933, precisely what I have just described has been taking place. First the farmers, finding themselves in possession of goods which they wanted to get rid of, and in sight of goods which they wanted to acquire, but also finding themselves almost entirely without the money needed to effect the exchanges, began to effect the exchanges unconventionally - they "swapped." First they swapped goods for goods. But they needed farm-hands too; so they repaired to the near villages, sought out the unemployed and began to swap goods for service. The unemployed themselves then took up the idea, and soon a sort of self-help movement, principally under the initiative of the unemployed, was on its way to a larger and larger cross-section of the population. A few months ago it was estimated that 250 thousand people were depending in whole or in part upon barter; and today the estimate is more like a million. Before these words, written at top speed, reach the printer, even this last figure may be outdated. A short time ago there were said to be 200 barter exchanges scattered among 30 states. At this writing the estimate, as printed in the New York Times (1), is more like 400; and no doubt this figure too will soon be out-dated.
Finally, the Mid West Exchange (founded by President Arthur Morgan of Antioch College), (2) and also an eastern exchange (The Emergency Exchange Association of New York City), have both become engaged in a plan to organize a nation-wide "hook-up" of exchanges, for the purpose of exchanging their regional surpluses.
PROGRESS IN THE METHODS OF SWAPPING
The most rudimentary form of barter is perhaps that of the farmers at county
fairs, where most of the goods and all of the dealers are in plain sight.
Next comes the Exchange Warehouse, which you can visit alone, on isolated occasions, taking what you have and seeking what you want.
Then comes the "Swap Bulletin."
Next the "Swap-Ad" appears; for the newspapers have taken the cue, and turned their "want columns" into "swap columns." "Get Swap Minded". says the Meriden Record. And the advertiser responds (these are actual cases):
"Swap: Radio Loudspeaker for Auto Clear Vision Mirror. Telephone 2501."
"Swap: Townsend Snow Plow, hand or motor drawn; Ideal for clearing Service Station property; swap for gasoline and oil. Phone 1205."
"Swap: Seven room Shore Cottage at one of Connecticut's finest beaches, for a Farm."
"Swap: Man's Overcoat, in good condition, for Slide Trombone, Piccolo, or French Horn" (and I read this one after inventing my own trombone illustration!).
But even warehouses, bulletins and the press were not sufficiently convenient. They had to be supplemented by warehouse receipts, which can pass from hand to hand.
Finally, since money, however scarce, does still exist, some of the Exchange Associations conceived the idea of printing their certificates in money-denominations. By agreement, a dollar receipt does whatever a dollar would do if you had a dollar. These certificates have even been loaned by the associations issuing them.
Perhaps the best example of such paper is to be found at Yellow Springs, Ohio, where some of the students of Antioch College use it to help pay not only their living expenses but their tuition, having earned the paper in any one of many places, just as they would earn more conventional money.
It becomes more and more evident that, if there were no money, 1933 could invent it all over again; and since Uncle Sam has developed a seeming incapacity to supply enough of it for even that amount of trade which is indispensable to keep his citizens from foraging like animals (or thieves), invention has reached the very threshold of money.
This brings me to the Stamp Scrip idea, invented in Europe and now spreading in America independently of the Swap idea. I hope the two will coalesce, and solve the "hook-up" problem, both for general reasons expressed in the foreword and also for the practical advantages listed in the appendix.
(1) February 26, 1933.
(2) Also founder of the "Yellow Springs Exchange."