On yesterday’s twitter chat, we mainly came to discuss the difference between price (what you pay) and value (what you get), and what kind of skills would be necessary in terms of economic collapse (when price goes out the window and only value matters). This is a worthwhile consideration; especially for anyone depending on market stability of for the next 60+ years. Just consider all the upheavals of the past 60+ years for inspiration.

I for one am not counting on it.

If the market fails, the question becomes: “What could you possibly offer to your neighborhood that has any value”. This is an eye-opening reflection especially if you are a white collar careerist; your neighbors are probably not that interested in your interview of filing skills or your ability to devise clever shampoo marketing campaigns. Nor would they care that you have a degree in some academic skills, that you are a good writer (I think I am a good writer yet nobody has ever asked me to write anything for them. At most I have edited letters, essays, etc. for grammar and spelling errors), or that you got A’s in history.

It may be that all you have to offer is unskilled farm labor.

It may be that even that would be a challenge considering that 30% of Americans are now considered obese and a full 60%+ are considered overweight and presumably out of shape. In that case, it would be a real problem!

An important quality is that the skill is barterable. For instance, I probably produce value by writing this blog, but the posts are hardly tradeable. In general, this is not the case for knowledge that can easily be written down or skills that can easily be learned after which the person can just do things on their own and never have to ask you again.

I consider my ability to fix bikes somewhat valuable. I do not know much more about bikes than what can be found in any bike repair book. However, I have all the special spanners and wrenches needed to do practically all maintenance jobs. These tools cost about $500 total and so it would be unlikely albeit quite possible(*) for anyone to just go and buy them to do the job themselves. I also have a modicum of experience that goes just slightly beyond picking up the book and the tools for the first time.

(*) Indeed, there’s a difference between “likely” and “possible”. I am told that if you argue this fine point during jury selection, you will not be selected 😀

Similar skills would be house maintenance, for instance, fixing broken plumbing, fridges, loose roofing tiles, etc. Lawn maintenance is of no value unless you own the only running lawn mower in the neighborhood. Even then, if people are struggling they may forego keeping the lawn looking pretty. Another barterable skill would be doing people’s tax returns (presumably the government will still want your money even if you don’t have any). It is also possible that you could tutor people’s children although I consider that on par with lawn maintenance. Day care is slightly more valuable. In fact when considering what is valuable, pay attention to the difference between needs and wants. Fixing a toilet that won’t flush is a need. Believe me! 😀 Trimming the rose bush or receiving a piano lesson is a want.

For an example about how it could work, consider this. Consider how such an organization would have a room for a person like you. What can you offer?

Keep in mind that you need to be more than just competent. For instance, I can bake a bread which is good enough to substitute for buying it. However, it is not good enough to sell or even barter. There needs to be a substantial or visible difference in quality to what a clueless novice or an apprentice with a reference manual could produce.

As MoneyEnergy mentioned, you may have an emergency fund, but do you actually have an emergency plan. Similarly, you may be financially independent, but are you actually economically independent or do you depend almost exclusively on your ability to shop? Who would you be without your money? Would you have any value to the people around you beyond your family?

Do you have any valuable bartering skills?

Jacob comments: I think it is important that skills are tangible. For instance, I can show someone a bicycle and say “Look this is what I can do. It was broken, but now it works.”. Conversely, it is much harder to convince someone that I have “problem-solving” skills or that I am a “quick learner” as these are quite abstract qualities. The latter is useful to get a long-term job, but it is very hard to trade unless you can establish yourself as the neighborhood consultant—and you’d need to be established—and you’d still have to produce something tangible eventually.