Thursday, April 16, 2015

Algorithmic Impact: Aggregation

Reposted from my G+ page once I realized it belonged here.  And, my apologies for the lack of posts to this blog over the last few years.  Life has been keeping me busy!

I awoke this morning with a simple half dream where a list of numbers was shown to me, representing an aggregate score.  I immediately recognized upon waking that there was a problem represented in this dream and my mind ran down through several scenarios where data aggregation has been misused by accident, and abused by design.  But it's not all bad.

First, what's the problem with data aggregation?  You might easily see that it obscures the details.  While that is the point, the obscuring of supporting details can hide valuable and meaningful information.  I have a project under development presently that provides some good examples of this: time entry and reporting.

Let's say I have two employees who have both logged 40 hours this week.  Just looking at that aggregate number, 40, I can't tell much about how that time was spent.  Did one employee come in late every day but then stay late to make it up?  Did the other work late to meet a deadline Wednesday and then knock off early on Friday?  Do these things matter?  They might matter, they might not, but the point is simply that their meaning is lost through the process of aggregation.  

Let's look at something that impacts nearly every American, your credit score.  How is this score derived?  What rules and measures are used?  If I rely upon your credit score as a measure of your credit worthiness, is that a good thing?  The abstraction of details into an aggregate score means I don't know a great deal about you.  The credit score provides a fairly anonymized way of presenting you as a number that I can infer my own value judgments upon.  But is this a good thing?  Are you comfortable with that?  You may say yes when your score is good, and no when it is bad.  Whether it is just or not, it is computed by rules set by someone, perhaps kept secret, and rightly or wrongly provided as a service to those who need to get to know you quickly to decide whether to do business with you.  It's the cost of doing business if your business includes taking out loans establishing credit cards.  But it has also been used to screen renters, students and customers to decide if there is some bias free way to weed out bad customers.  Here, the judgment of the aggregate data has a real impact on human life, just or not. 

So as a merit, aggregation provides an abridgment of tedium.  In doing so, as with the case of the credit score, it buys for us expediency in commerce, but it comes at the cost of clarity  which is an imperfect, impersonal representation of data lacking in deep understanding of our circumstances and recent efforts to perhaps repair damaged credit.  We can't tell from a timesheet how hard someone worked and we can't tell from a budget how well it has been followed.  We can't tell from a savings account balance how frugal or unlucky someone is. 

Aggregation, to be sure, is a shortcut with real value, but it slips neatly into a category of summary knowledge that enables lazy thinking.  It provides a seemingly scientific footing for ill founded assumptions that lack a cognisance of the detailed algorithm used to arrive at a particular aggregate number.  A wholly ignorant man can speak with authority and mastery he does not possess, and nevertheless be correct in the speaking of the number itself, and yet completely wrong in what merits or demerits he attributes to or derives from said number... and horrifically, an uninformed and dispassionate audience would be none-the-wiser.  And therein lies the danger of aggregation.  In seeking to provide a good by publishing such information, we enable evil by the looming masses of idle minds, desperate for some measure of recognition of their imagined intelligence.  

So, use great caution in both the creation, presentation and consumption of statistics and data presented to tell a narrative.  As we tell our children when they go to put something in their mouth they found on the floor: "you don't know where that's been", or the implicit reason for not accepting candy from a stranger: "you don't know where it's from or what it contains".

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Insured Deposit Accounts (FDIC)

It seems that many folks these days confuse the presence of a promise with the ability of that promise to be kept.  Just because I tell you we're going out to lunch doesn't mean I can pay the bill.

A more commonly accepted-at-face-value promise is the FDIC, or the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. FDIC was created to negate panic triggered runs on banks.  Since all modern banking is fractional, if we all asked for our total deposits at one time, there would not be enough currency in circulation to pay everyone back.  To prevent this sort of mass hysteria, the government implement the FDIC, which at the time sounded like a good idea and in fact was a stop gap for consumers against banks failing.

However, the FDIC was in crisis mode just a few short years ago when a number of banks were on the cusp of failing.  It could perhaps absorb the failure of a few regional banks, and did back in 2008, but the strain placed on the system then led FDIC to establish stress-testing standards for banks of all kinds that places a further cost burden on those banks, forcing some of them to deleverage their fractional lending and reinforce their cash liquidity.   Meanwhile, the Fed has so retarded interest rates, notably the prime lending rate, that Banks can't pay any reasonable savings to depositors, and their margins on what they lend out are the slimmest they have been in some time, making their failure more likely, or at least diminish their ability to provide that cash to depositors.

Credit Unions are viewed as a better choice, but they have the same mechanism, a federally backed insurance program, the National Credit Union Administration.  Same program, same pitfalls, same guarantees.

But most people don't need to worry about this since your average person lives from one paycheck to the next, never setting aside any emergency funds of any kind.  Only the frugal and the farsighted need be concerned, and if you're one of those, you probably know enough not to put all of your proverbial eggs in one basket.  Diversify your wealth and any single tremendous upset will only perturb a portion of your estate.

A good personal plan for diversification, if your means allow would look like:

- Cash on hand: Enough to cover a month or two of living expenses at market rates

- Cash in the bank: just enough to cover your insurance deductibles and one months worth of bills.

- Physical commodities on hand - that which you or those in your immediate geographic area will need (and that you can use for barter).  Think beans, bullets and bandaids.

- Own your home, or some land, clear of any mortgage or lien if possible.

- Reliable foreign currency, preferably in cash.

If you choose to invest, you choose to gamble, which is foolish, but if you want to and can't think of anything else to do wiht your money, mix it up.  

- municipal bonds

- penny stocks if you want to day trade, fortune 500 if you want to invest for the long term

- sovereign debt

- commodity contracts

Some safe-guards:

Obviously, don't put it all in one place.

If you can't stand in front of it and physically defend it with a gun, you don't really own it, so anything fitting that description should be considered gambling if you choose to engage in that.

Don't mouth off about what you've got.  I only tell people what they can discover in public records. I own land, I almost own my home, I have bank accounts.  If you make it known you're a prepper of any description, you're making yourself a target.  Not wise unless you relish the prospect of the above.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Recommended Reading: Long Wave Cycles

If you're interested in a bit more historical take on finance, and would like to understand more about our current situation economically, this is a lengthy but interesting read.  I'm not through it myself yet but at about a third of the way through, it became clear that it's something to be shared.  I'm indebted to Jeffrey Schwartz for sharing the link via Google+.

The consequences of the economic peace

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Free Market Wins

My family partook of the typical Easter egg hunt yesterday at the request of the children.  We usually do not setup this event around our house unless we're at the Grand parents where it was a tradition.  In our home, my wife and I have tried to shed some of the trappings around the holidays that distract from the meaning of the event being observed.  Two things motivate this, an aversion to things that create clutter and a desire to elevate meaning and reflection over things that promote greed and consumption based happiness.  We are firm believers that joy is found in Christ, and that happiness is fleeting.  The emphasis is on a strong foundation which provides a joyful outlook which produces conditions for happiness. Teaching our children to follow this path is not without challenges, but often the challenges provide opportunities to educate.

My usual anxiety with an Easter egg hunt is the emotions that swell when children are sent out to scavenge on the day of our Lord's resurrection to find the most loot.  Bickering, complaining, crying... bleh!  But I decided this year, since the children put the work into coloring the eggs with only a tiny bit of help on mixing the dies, and since they requested it, we would have an egg hunt.  My wife even hid the eggs and some sweets in the front yard so all I had to do was sit back and observe.

It wasn't long before the youngest had found about 9 of the dozen dyed eggs and the oldest had found 7 of the 8 sweets.  Tears flowed at the injustice and the oldest proposed a limit on how many eggs you could gather.  My ears perked up.  I asked: "do you propose forced equality?"  It took a while for that question to process on the receiving end and the sentiment took even longer to fade, but the desired effect was had.

Shortly after that, the youngest was bemoaning the injustice that the oldest had the majority of the sweets.  I re-framed the situation to help them think it through. "So you're competing in the market place and your opponent is better than you at finding sweets.  What is it you would propose to make things better for you?"  I got a quick reply (our youngest human-in-training is a sharp one) "Make a rule that [oldest] can't stay out in the yard as long."  

My somewhat triumphant reply came quickly: "Do you know that you just embraced crony capitalism?"  Blank stare. "You just petitioned the government to make a law that favors you and punishes your competition.  Is that what you want?" Deep thought ensued.

Both of these exchanges turned tearful wailing into some personal reflection, which was better than I had hoped. The best part, in my mind, was the last exchange we had.  

Sitting in the living room, the issue of who had how much of what came up again.  So I proposed a scenario to put it in perspective for them.  To both: "When you have an oversupply of something, you have more than you need.  That means you can sell some of it for something you want or need."  Eyes lit up.  To the youngest: "what price would you set on your surplus eggs?"  The oldest piped up with an offer "I'll trade you 1 sweet for 3 eggs". Hastily, the youngest accepted the deal.

I pointed out that they had just negotiated and executed a contract. Whatever, Dad.  My wife was delighted that I inserted some economics education into the midst of the moaning and whining. 

I'm starting to see two things as I get older.  As a parent, every struggle our kids face is an opportunity to learn.  What they learn from their struggles is up to us to provide and shapes their character.  The second is as the title suggests - the free market provides the answers to a lot of struggles.  Moreover, when you apply Biblical truth in how we should treat one another - Love God with all your heart mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself - you can derive good, fair answers that are the right answers from free market principles.  

I believe this goes to show that we can apply the same approach to more issues with broader scope if we could let go of the things we cling to, like overly large and complex legal codes and behemoth governments to execute them.  The Bible and the free market provide simple and straight forward approaches to dealing with life.  If we all were committed to peaceful coexistence and creative problem solving, I think the need for many of the burdens and shackles we willingly accept would diminish greatly.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Hard Skills and Soft Skills

A couple articles back I talked about Assaying and Bartering, essential soft skills for surviving the economic Armageddon that seems to be upon us.  There are other so-called soft skills you will need to survive. There are also hard skills which we'll cover in the second section of this missive, things I think you should try to learn in order to improve your chances of surviving and sustaining your family.

This is a bit long, so here are some bookmarks.

Soft Skills
- Negotiating
- Leadership
- Teaching

Hard Skills
- Gardening
- Building
- Repair and Maintenance

- Negotiating Example
- Negotiating Tips from Christopher Johnson
- Leadership Example

More Soft Skills


Negotiating is probably one of the most widely applicable soft skills you should begin picking up.  If you've ever tried to haggle your way to a better price for your car, you've negotiated.  If you are like me, you got a token concession from the dealer and felt like you pulled one over on him, when really you just took his give away threshold and felt good about it.

Negotiation is a skill useful not only in trade but in establishing treaties.  That's right - if things continue to go south, you might be in the position to negotiate treaties between your block and the next or your town and the local farmers.  You can also use this skill to mediate disputes between other people and could safely be called Mediating where you are both the mediator and one of the parties to the mediation, except then we call it Negotiating.

When negotiating, you're looking to improve your position while allowing the other party to feel or perceive, in fact or not, that their position suites their needs.  Whether it does or not is not your concern but you should endeavor to discover as much as you may about their actual needs and goals before or in the opening of negotiations.  This is information that will be difficult to extract from experienced negotiators.  Seasoned negotiators will never fully reveal their bottom line unless you have long standing rapport with them.

Once you have as best of a fix on their end game as you can get, you need to work them towards that line.  Negotiating is essentially the art of telling the story from your position in terms that are reasonable and difficult for the other party to argue with.  Observing and pointing out facts that illustrate your position as being the natural mid-way point works to bring the other party away from their favored position towards their bottom line position.  You may decide to approach negotiating as a series of barters with the same trading partner, each time learning a bit more about them to more effectively trade profitably with them.  It's also worth noting that sometimes it is good to make sure they get the better end of the deal so that if you like trading with them, they'll continue to feel the same way.

There's an example of negotiating in the appendix below.


Vast quantities of writings have been penned on leadership.  The basics you need to know are that in order to be a leader, you have to be willing to sacrifice your pride and your personal goals to the service of those you lead.  You will have to make difficult decisions that mean you may have to tell someone what they can or can not do.  Being a careful and just judge of what is right and best for the group while respecting the pride and honor of whomever must be corrected will be key to maintaining the respect the group has for you and the cohesion of the group.

Frequent communication, but not fawning or authoritarian communications, is needed to keep the group focused on where it is you are leading them.  Direction needs to be clear and concise, but should be rooted in either governing documents and law or consensus and common sense.

An example of a typical leadership judgment call can be found in the appendix.

Being a leader also means knowing when to act and when to not.  Many situations resolve themselves with little need for leadership when the rules of conduct or charter or by-laws are understood by all.  As such, awareness and adherence to the rules isn't just for the team, it's for you as well.  Even when it's difficult, order is maintained by being a respectable leader who respects the rules and the troops.

Leaders sometimes need to have vision as well.  If the direction and mission isn't defined for you, it may be that the team or your group is expecting you to provide that vision.  Here I can only suggest you prayerfully consider what is best - earnestly.  Some will be inspired by God, some by history, some by the needs at hand.  Do what is best and right.


Respect and kindness are critical in all relationships - most clearly in the teacher-student relationship.  Learning to be a teacher is no easy task.  You have to respect your pupil enough to see the world through their eyes, then interpret what knowledge you have to impart with kindness, speaking to their point of view.  Like negotiating, this means knowing your pupil.  You need to know their strengths and weaknesses, their goals, dreams and ambitions.  You need to know something of their preferences and world view.  Getting to know them will make you more able to be kind and more able to give and receive respect.

Teaching then is the art of creatively illustrating complex or difficult subjects in terms suited fully to your audience.  Learning to teach and how to teach others how to teach is an essential soft skill in surviving as a group through hard times.

Hard Skills

Hard skills are those thing which you will need to know and be able to do for yourself.  These are the raw skills of survival that will clothe, feed and shelter you.


Learning to collect seed, germinate it to sprouts, harden it off, transplant it and grow it to maturity to bear its  fruits is one of the basis of civilization.  When the Native Americans began moving from hunting and gathering  to agriculture, they began settling down and becoming less nomadic.  The size of their tribes grew with this stability and eventually they connected with the world at large through trade.  For one person to sustain themselves by hunting and foraging alone, they would need exclusive access to 30 or 40 acres of woodlands and meadows, and they would be living on a minimum of calories.  By adding gardening or farming to the program, a family of four can live on 5 acres comfortably.  It is only through mechanization and industrial farming that our current vast population is sustainable.  Small scale operations have much needed nutritional diversity but suffer a penalty where economies of scale benefits are not applicable.  Learning to grow  food and teaching your neighbors to do the same will mean nutritional security during times of economic scarcity.


Shelter is the paramount concern in a survival situation.  Shelters, Shacks and Shanties, by D. C. Beard (founder of the Boy Scouts of America) is a great primer to learning the basics of constructing viable emergency, short term and long term shelter.  Ideally, your house will be where you left it when the economy collapses, but if you  find yourself displaced or in need of making repairs, you'll want to master some basic structural engineering concepts and learn how to use, at minimum, a hammer and saw.  From these two basic elements you can expand your skills as tools become available and by mastering additional tools you can improve the comfort and quality of your shelter.

Repair and Maintenance

Understanding how things work and how they may have got broken are essential skills.  If you can whittle a replacement handle for your hammer or ax, you retain the use of that tool.  If you can keep a gas powered rototiller in running condition though fuel supplies may be scarce, you can cultivate more food.  If you can properly mend a roof, your shelter will weather more than one storm.  Repair and maintenance skills are often taught more by experience and of necessity than by pure academic effort.  That's not to say there are not many excellent books on a variety of related topics but I would consider machine, tool and home repair and maintenance to be the most basic and critical of hard skills outside of those already mentioned.


Surviving a depression or total economic collapse will require more than just these soft and hard skills.  You'll also find you will have need of a reason to keep going.  It is good now, while things are still somewhat fair and decent, to decide what it is that will sustain you mentally and emotionally till the end of your days.  Chose wisely - place your hope not in things that are easily destroyed or stolen such as material wealth, and place it not in one person who can become ill and die or have a change of heart and leave.  Put instead your hope and energy into altruistic values that will create and sustain a world in which you will want to live and leave to your children if you wind up having any.  Put your energy towards a better future and your hope in the knowledge that you are building and leaving a legacy of that which you are best able to provide, whatever it is that constitutes your strengths and character.  Worry not for things you can possess but for the things you will leave behind - your reputation, your mark on the world and the lives you touch.  And when there is nothing left to you, ultimately, you may decide to trust in that which can not fade, waste away or be taken - trust in God.  Many of us have looked down the long road of the future and already decided that our focus is best kept on Christ because he charted a most excellent way where we focus on our standing with Him first, and in doing so we put others before ourselves, and take concern with our own needs last.  This is the basis for kindness and respect that is not subject to whim because it is rooted in an eternal concept that does not change nor is subject to fashion.  It is the rock upon which we stand, and when the world falls down around us, the foundation upon which  we will rebuild.


Negotiating Example

Let's take the example of negotiating trade between a town and the surrounding land owning farmers.  The town will need food, and the farmers will need a variety of services to operate their farm from labor to security to technical support, tooling, mechanical service, etc.  Let's look at goals.  The goal of the farmer is to prosper and sustain his operation and family.  The goal of the town is to avoid starvation.  The town could band together and raid the  farms, but this would mean no future production from the farm.  The town would essentially eat for a day and starve for a season.  Better to enter into a treaty with the farmers so that there is a reliable supply of food coming to the town.  The farmer may start the negotiations with the understanding of what it takes to run his farm, but may want to limit how much food he trades for goods or skilled labor so that he can trade with other towns.  Negotiating will require the town to illustrate the value it represents to the farmer in meeting his apparent needs.  The town may also intimate that there is intrinsic, indirect value in allying with the town when it comes to defending the farm from raiders from other parts.  The farmer may need to point out to the town that his food supply will be providing sustenance for those who will not work directly for it - children, the infirm, etc., and therefore the labor required to satisfy his needs will be perhaps more dear - that is more labor will be needed to be provided by the town - than first proposed as the value of the food has been assayed by the farmer in the context of the needs of the town.   Bartering skills will provide the basis for the negotiations, and negotiating skill will help craft a treaty or contract that provides well for the long term goals of both parties.  It will also have the foresight to provide a periodic review of the terms so that adjustments can be made as needed.

Negotiating Tips - kindly provided by Christopher Johnson
More than a few years ago I was able to learn something about haggling from a street vendor in Italy.  He was the only vendor in that ally that had prices marked on his goods and was not haggling.  He had gone to university in the United States and was willing to talk with me.

In the course of the discussion he agreed that we would attempt haggling but that I would not actually be buying the item we were haggling for.  (I did buy a sliver necklace at the posted price as a thank you)

He said "pick anything" so we were haggling over a quartz chess piece, very nicely done (made in China).  We began.  He said 10,000 I said "5,000" he said "sold".

The first rule of haggling is know what it is worth to YOU.  You don't base your offer on what he is asking but on what the item is worth to you and with an idea of where you want to end up.

The second rule of haggling is to realize that it is not about meeting in the middle.  It is about getting the right price.  Just because they drop their asking price by 1,000 doesn't mean you should raise your offer by 1,000.  If they are off by 10,000 from the price you are willing to pay and you are only off by 1,000 then each drop of 1,000 is worth only a raise of 100.

The final rule of haggling is to know that at times the best choice is to walk away.

P.S.  Most vendor's are not offended by an offer that is too low. 

Leadership Example

Let's look at an example of having to correct a member of your group.  You're part of a team governed by a charter document which sets up the rules by which your team will operate.  One team member has volunteered for extra duty.  They are skilled in both this new duty and in their current duty and you don't have anyone else that can take either over.  But the charter specifies that the two roles must be handled by separate people for security purposes.  You are faced with having to tell this person that they have run afoul of the charter.  You have a choice.  You can chastise them for contravening the charter, or you can approach them in the spirit in which they have volunteered.  The course that will earn their respect and maintain the team will be to inform them that you have to ask them to make a difficult choice in how they will conform to the charter.  By taking this approach, you have neither corrected them by telling them what to chose nor condemned them by telling them they have chosen incorrectly.  You are simply bringing the reality of the situation into  focus for them and asking them,  difficult as it may be, to chose how they will resolve the conflict between themselves and the charter.  If you came at it heavy handed, the conflict would immediately be between you and the team member.  The respect from them for you and your position would be diminished and they may be embittered against the charter, you and the team.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Health Care or Health Insurance?

How do you use health insurance?  As a health plan or as catastrophic insurance?  

Walmart recently posted rising costs for employees who take coverage benefits.  This has proven to be the same for me personally lately as well through my own employer.  

We use it as the later.  The rising costs of the company provided plan we were on, which didn't provide the options we wanted anyway, forced me to get individual coverage from the same carrier.  We were able to get a high-deductible, 100% out of pocket with no life max plan that had an HSA attached.  That means my deductible and all costs are tax deductible, for now, and we just keep that HSA growing as we know with age will come higher health care costs for us individually.  

Using health care as a "plan" is a bit of a bad investment.  Consider what you pay for a health club membership and compare to what you pay for insurance.  If you expect insurance to cover every sinus infection, you're using a product intended as a safety net incorrectly and perhaps are contributing to the overall rise of health care.  Consider this - paying for your own Dr. Office visit incurs very little administrative overhead for the Dr., especially if you pay cash or use a debit attached to an HSA account.  When you use insurance, there is a cost in man hours and paper work to get that claim processed, and guess where the cost gets passed on to?

Part of fixing our country is reducing welfare use, but also wising up and using the tools we have in a more intelligent fashion.  Paying out of pocket and taking out catastrophic coverage will get you in the mode of saving up your money for that higher deductible, but it also makes better use of your dollars in the short term.  Be frugal and spread the word.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Assaying and Barter

Last time I talked about cash and how our perceptions of value shape its use and adoption.  We looked at how cash as a medium can be manipulated, even in a very basic system and how most of our world system of commerce today is based on fiat currencies - those which have no intrinsic value of their own but the "full faith and credit" of the issuer.  This time I want to talk about how we determine the value of things and how that can substitute for cash when there is no agreed upon or suitable cash denomination to cover the transaction.


Assaying is the art and science of determining, to a high degree, the condition of something precious or worth having.  Mostly this is applied to precious metals, but you can assay antiques, stamps, coins, baseball cards, farm equipment, fire arms and more.  Knowing how to assay requires knowing foremost what a fake is and how to identify it, and secondarily, what something in mint, good  or fine condition looks like when it's the genuine article.  We see this a lot with car dealerships and gun shops.  Owners will usually take items on trade.  They specialize in assaying the condition of these specific items so that they can ensure they remain profitable in their business while offering meaningful value to their customers.

Perhaps ironically, assaying also involves having a current knowledge of what something is worth in a particular currency.  Most things in the US are assayed in US Dollars.  This is also common coin in Liberia and other African countries and parts of central America and the Carribean.  In Europe, it's likely Euros, British Pounds or Swiss Franks.  Russia, China and India and the middle east variably trade in gold, oil, US dollars, Euros or an agreed upon barter, rarely in their own currencies when dealing with each other.  The variety of currencies one can value material goods in should give you an idea of the potential to substitute other material goods for currency in this equation.  If you have a good idea of the accepted value of something : oil, wheat, goats, water - you can estimate the value of something you assay.  Catch that distinction?  Assigning value is a separate but related step from assaying.

So you come to me with a shotgun.  It's a break action, single-shot gun.  On it I find a makers mark and a model number along with a sort of serial number.  Breaking open the action and looking down the barrel, I observe pitting indicating either the age or lack of cleaning during it's lifetime of service.  The firing pin sticks a bit but otherwise appears to be in good shape.  Assaying would be my ability to understand that the gun was made by Savage arms in the 1930s or 40s, that the 16 gauge variety was a common give away item of the time, was going to be fairly useful for hunting small game and fowl and that given it's condition, which I rate to be fair given the beauty of the outside of the gun and the minimal impact on the function of a shotgun pitting in the barrel has, estimate it's value at about $200.  Since I want to profit if you are bringing this gun to me in trade, I will offer you $125 to start and might go up to $150 on trade.  Your ability to barter will get you closer to the price you want.


This is where bartering comes into the picture.  If you want to barter successfully, you need to be able to assay a bit yourself, and you also need to know what losses you are willing to take, or what profit you need to make on a trade.  You need to be up on a wide variety of topics and material goods in order to become successful at bartering.  Market prices are certainly part of this knowledge, but sometimes the market can lag behind the true value of something, especially in situations of sudden demand.  In the morning, a pound of rolled oats might be worth $3, or three two liters of pop, or a dozen twenty ounce bottles of water.  If there's a blackout in your area due to a storm, regional or national market prices won't move very much, but you might be willing to give $5 or a whole case of bottled water for those oats if your pantry is empty.  Demand and supply are quick manipulators of value, or the perception of value.

For a travelling trader, having a stock of small, portable trade-able items ensures a higher degree of successfully meeting someones needs and executing a trade. Successful trades where you both get something you want make you a successful trader.  Bartering skill is crucial if this is going to be your trade.  Simply surviving in your area by bartering with neighbors gives you a lot more flexibility in terms of what you can offer.  You have the option to offer labor or skilled services in exchange for goods or access to tools and equipment.  My neighbor and I often operate this way as cash is just impersonal and really not what we are after.  I like being his IT guy and he likes sharing stuff from his garden.  Beyond the material value, we enjoy the comradery and trades we execute in this fashion strengthen our bond and sense of community.

Naturally, cash is more portable than goods, and some people count their success in dollars rather than in honest haggling and swapping of goods or services, but in doing so they neglect their ability to assay, estimate value, barter and the opportunity to build and strengthen relationships through good faith trade.  There's nothing wrong with that, and during stable economic times with strong currency, it may even be much more suitable.  But we're more and more talking about unstable times these days - hence the topic.

Now, a word of warning.  If you operate a business or make a substantial amount of income by barter, you need to estimate the dollar value of received goods and report it on your taxes.  I believe there are some specific forms for this - consult your CPA on this point as my knowledge is sketchy in this area though I'm aware there is a threshold you eventually cross where you need to be reporting to your taxing body.  Our friendly neighborhood exchanges never come close to approaching the bulk of our income - seldom even the amount of half a days pay.  But, we like to keep in practice with these skills for that potential point in the future where dollar bills are nothing more than conveniently sized tinder for starting the evening fire.

Sharpen Your Skills

Gun and knife shows are a great way to start as many vendors will consider trading if you bring something to the table.  It will have to be something good that they want, and you'll get less than top dollar, but it will provide you the chance to assay their wares, as well as your own, and pit your skills against seasoned veterans in a friendly exchange.  You could also try this approach with garage sales though I don't think many people do so.  Got some old tools you want to unload?  Take them with you when you go to the next rummage sale in your area and see if they'll trade with you.  Know what you are looking for, what it looks like in poor, fair, good or mint condition and what you're willing to give for it.  Have fun!  The beauty of barter is the relationship you build over a simple cash in hand transaction where you pay the asking price and walk away.  Engaging in conversation can yield up a wealth of information you might otherwise not come by.