I have never been one much for shopping and what little I did, I liked to do personally. I prefer small shops, individuals and small companies ’cause I like to connect with the person and make the transaction more personal. Within reason, of course. Price is always an issue.
My Opthalomogist seemed to have the same feeling. He suggested I buy glasses from some local guy he knew but, it seems, he also knew we lived up the coast, he knows what that means and he knows what that means to cashflow. “Or, you could go to Costco. They are the least expensive.”
I laughed. “Hey! We may be a bit skint living as we do and all but if the little guy is just as good and much the same price, I’d prefer to go there!”
“Sorry. Just sayin’. I feel the same way. But I have lived up the coast. I know what that means. And sometimes the big box stores are the only way to go. Plus, I happen to know that there is a 1000% mark-up sometimes in the little shops. That is just silly. Especially for…….un, well, unh……..people living out of the mainstream. You folks just don’t get to dip into the moneyflow much.”
He was being sensitive, considerate and, surprisingly, knowledgeable. And he obviously knew of the two economies.
Almost the whole of the economy of the city is dollar-based. You exchange goods or services and do so with currency. This saves time, helps maintain consistency in markets and values, makes things competitive and is a more natural form of transaction amongst those who do not know each other and are unlikely to have a relationship. Money works there.
But it is also impersonal. It is one of the reasons that we, in modern society, say, “Buyer beware.” And that is simply because there are fewer social safeguards against cheaters and strangers.
But in rural communities relationship is inevitable and so few transactions are merely exchanges or impersonal encounters. When people out here need and want and others fulfil, it is often at least partially personal. It is relationship. And, as a consequence, it often has less to do with money. We still need money, to be sure, but it is lessened and it is greatly lessened the closer within the community the transaction is made.
Is this all due to niceness and altruism? I think it is partly. People come here, to some extent, for that very thing. But, essentially, it is more pragmatic than that.
If I have a winch for sale (and I do), there really is no market. Hell, we barely have any people! And if someone does want a winch, it is unlikely they are looking for exactly what I have to offer. So, should someone be in need of a winch, I am more inclined to say, “Here. Take my (excess) winch. See if you can make it do the job for you. See if it works. If it doesn’t, bring it back. If it does, well, you know……………just pass on something sometime and we’ll be square”.
The value of the winch cannot be readily determined by market forces so the value just ‘floats’ in space until the recipient has something else of value that is no longer needed and they might then say, “Hey, Dave. I still have that winch. Workin’ good. I just milled up a bunch of nice Fir and Cedar. Need any?” And, if I do, I will get some weirded-out value exchange for my winch. And, if I need more wood than the winch was worth, I’ll say, “Well, I am gonna need a lot of wood. Why not use the winch value as some kind of ‘coupon’ and I’ll pay for the rest with real money? Or I could send over some more winches?”
And it just works out.
And, if it does not work out right then, there is always more time for another opportunity to arise to ‘settle accounts’. We aren’t strangers. We are neighbours. “We know where you live!”
Of course, over long periods of time, the ‘fairness of it’ can start to feel not quite right and some members of the community may carry a grudge or a feeling of discontent but, largely speaking, that is rare and usually temporary. Most of the time – if there is a feeling of responsibility or obligation or debt to the transaction – it is on the part of the recipient. They do not want to feel beholden. They are looking to pay it back. They want the accounts settled. We rarely encounter freeloaders.
99% of the time it is just forgotten. And that is because we have an ‘economic leveling device’ built into the community. People just give and share freely on so many small items that it doesn’t take much or a long time to feel ‘fairly done by’. Free fish, oysters, a trip to town, a bottle of wine and a regular flow of goodwill and considerations tends to blur the books just the right amount. After awhile it all just feels right.
Or it doesn’t.
But it usually does.
I mention all this because, as you know, I am looking for a boat. But doing so is essentially an exercise in the impersonal and distant – money exchanges with strangers. Difficult and not fun. I go to Craigslist or some website to find something that is suitable and then contact the seller. Going to see it is almost always prohibitively expensive so I endeavour to learn more about the item by way of the e-mail. I explain my circumstance when required (they almost always say, “just come see it tonight, why don’t you?”) and, sometimes, the seller is intrigued by the answer. Or is at least curious and asks questions. And so we exchange e-mails. It becomes a bit more personal. It starts to ‘feel’ better.
I have made a few purchases this way and all of them have been great. Human. Personal. Relationship. Better than going to a small shop actually. Similar, anyway. The lady from whom our community bought the woodworking tools will be coming to visit in the summer. It feels like a friend coming. The old fellow who used to build wooden boats and sold me his bronze fastenings met my son (who picked up the stuff) and, liking him, threw in a few extra tools and things. This is good. This is really good.
And it is a good deal. This is way better than getting a ‘deal’ at Costco.