Before the Spanish conquest of the Americas, many pre-Columbian civilizations were organized economically on the basis of barter. If a family harvested a certain type of food, they traded it with another clan that had a different kind, or perhaps swapped it for lands, cattle, or garments. Today, in the midst of a dramatic economic crisis in Latin America, that wise approach has apparently revived.
In Argentina, more than 50 percent of the population is poor, and unemployment is above 40 percent. Barter clubs began to appear in 1995, but expanded enormously two years ago during a social and economic crisis, at about the same time that President Fernado de la Ra was ousted from power following a massive popular uprising. According to a study by Centro de Estudios Nueva Mayor’a, more than 6 million people were part of the barter economy in 2001. Barter has also encouraged many people to become small entrepreneurs, developing production systems by exploiting their best skills.