A DE­CENT EX­CHANGE

ECO­NOMIC CRI­SIS BROUGHT ON BY COVID-19 HAS LED PEO­PLE IN FIJI BACK TO THE BARTER SYS­TEM. THERE IS A SIL­VER LIN­ING.

Fiji Sun - - BIG - Feed­back: rosi.doviverata@fi­jisun.com.fj

■ The In­dian Ex­press is a ma­jor In­dian English lan­guage daily news­pa­per. It has its cor­po­rate head­quar­ters in Mumbai and is pub­lished from sites across the coun­try.

Karl Marx thought, about a cen­tury-and-a-half ago, that so­ci­ety moved from prim­i­tive com­mu­nism, through var­i­ous forms and struc­tures of in­equal­ity, to com­mu­nism proper. Eco­nomic sys­tems moved for­ward, re­solv­ing their con­tra­dic­tions and cre­at­ing new ones. Turns out he was, at best, only half right.

Medi­ums of ex­change with fic­tional value — money, in all its forms and ab­strac­tions — are premised on a leap of faith. Peo­ple ac­cept the “prom­ise to pay the bearer” from a dis­tant au­thor­ity, and lives, com­mu­ni­ties, economies and civil­i­sa­tions are built on this trust. But when the sys­tem isn’t enough, and the mar­gins swell enough to flood the en­tire sys­tem, a dif­fer­ent, more re­lat­able form of ex­change comes into place.

In Fiji, and many other Pa­cific Is­land na­tions, COVID-19 has forced a re­turn to the barter sys­tem. In epi­demi­o­log­i­cal terms, the re­gion has been rel­a­tively less af­fected by the pan­demic: At the end of April, only six Pa­cific coun­tries and ter­ri­to­ries be­tween them have re­ported 260 cases and seven deaths.

Yet, more than 10 per cent of Fiji’s pop­u­la­tion — 100,000 peo­ple — are ac­tive on a Face­book group called Barter for a Bet­ter Fiji. Sim­i­lar groups have cropped up in Tonga, Samoa and Van­u­atu.

The tourism sec­tor in the re­gion is dev­as­tated, and peo­ple are out of work. Yet, in the absence of money, many are sus­tain­ing them­selves through work, and the dig­nity of so­cial ex­changes that en­gen­ders. Labour — whether you’re a car­pen­ter, teacher or ac­coun­tant — can be ex­changed for meat, food and other com­modi­ties.

Pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­phy lessons are be­ing ex­changed for food. The idea be­hind this net­work of ex­changes is sim­ple: An eco­nomic cri­sis need not de­scend to a hu­man­i­tar­ian one.

Think­ing of what each mem­ber of so­ci­ety can of­fer, and ne­go­ti­at­ing the value of that good/ser­vice might not lead to a Utopian ideal of equal­ity. But as the world strug­gles to treat peo­ple with de­cency amid a pan­demic, it is at least a more moral equi­lib­rium.

Rosy Ak­bar, the Min­is­ter for Ed­u­ca­tion, Her­itage and Arts, has been mak­ing suc­cess­ful barter trades on the Barter for Bet­ter Fiji Face­book page. She is pic­tured here with one her fel­low traders all the way in Nasautoka Vil­lage in Wainibuka, Tailevu. Ms Ak­bar traded ce­ment blocks for pot plants.

EDI­TO­RIAL FROM THE IN­DIAN EX­PRESS

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Fiji

© PressReader. All rights reserved.