David Graeber argues that the inefficiency of barter in archaic society has been used by economists since Adam Smith to explain the emergence of money, the economy, and hence the discipline of economics itself.[2] "Economists of the contemporary orthodoxy... propose an evolutionary development of economies which places barter, as a 'natural' human characteristic, at the most primitive stage, to be superseded by monetary exchange as soon as people become aware of the latter's greater efficiency."[3] However, extensive investigation by anthropologists like Graeber has since then established that "No example of a barter economy, pure and simple, has ever been described, let alone the emergence from it of money; all available ethnography suggests that there never has been such a thing. But there are economies today which are nevertheless dominated by barter."[4]
Though trade and bartering are both methods that have been used for the purpose of obtaining required goods and services over the years, there is some difference between barter and trade. That is, while bartering involves the exchange of one product for another, trade involves exchanging money for goods. Trade is also conducted in commodities, currencies, stocks, etc. Trade and bartering may sound similar but there are a number of important differences between barter and trade. It is important to clearly understand each concept in order to grasp their similarities and differences. The following article offers a detailed overview of each and highlights their similarities and differences.
The barter system is a type of trade that involves the exchange of goods and services without the use of money as a medium of exchange. Trade, on the other hand, is a broader concept that includes not just the barter system, but also, international trade, commodities trading, currency trading, etc. The main difference between barter and trade is that while barter trade does not involve money, other forms of trade occur with currency used as a medium of exchange. An important point to note is that the invention of trade whether barter or otherwise has developed a useful system under which individuals, businesses and nations can exchange or sell off the products or goods held in excess and purchase or obtain desired products, goods and services. The invention of currency has greatly simplified this process making trade convenient and fair.
On paper, this sounds a bit like delayed barter, but it bears some significant differences. For one thing, it’s much more efficient than Smith’s idea of a barter system, since it doesn’t depend on each person simultaneously having what the other wants. It’s also not tit for tat: No one ever assigns a specific value to the meat or cake or house-building labor, meaning debts can’t be transferred.
Economists since the times of Adam Smith (1723-1790), looking at non-specific pre-modern societies as examples, have used the inefficiency of barter to explain the emergence of money, of "the" economy, and hence of the discipline of economics itself.[3] However, ethnographic studies have shown that no present or past society has used barter without any other medium of exchange or measurement, nor have anthropologists found evidence that money emerged from barter, instead finding that gift-giving (credit extended on a personal basis with an inter-personal balance maintained over the long term) was the most usual means of exchange of goods and services.[4]
As Orlove noted, barter may occur in commercial economies, usually during periods of monetary crisis. During such a crisis, currency may be in short supply, or highly devalued through hyperinflation. In such cases, money ceases to be the universal medium of exchange or standard of value. Money may be in such short supply that it becomes an item of barter itself rather than the means of exchange. Barter may also occur when people cannot afford to keep money (as when hyperinflation quickly devalues it).[14]