ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Myanna Dellinger
University of South Dakota School of Law

Friday, April 21, 2006

Let’s Barter

This CBS News story truly captures the concept of efficient exchange.  Kyle MacDonald decided to start with a paper clip, in the hopes that he could eventually trade his way up to his ultimate goal – owning a house: 

He advertised it in the barter section of, the Web site teeming with city-specific listings for everything from job openings to apartment rentals. At first, MacDonald said merely that he wanted something bigger or better for his red paper clip. No mention of a house — he feared seeming flaky.

While he was visiting his hometown of Vancouver, BC, two women gave him a fish-shaped pen for the paper clip.

Later that day, MacDonald headed to Seattle to catch a ballgame and a flight home. Before the airport, though, he stopped to see Annie Robbins, an artist who had just stumbled upon the Craigslist barter section. She admired its anticonsumerist vibe, she said, so she answered MacDonald's posting “on a lark.”

MacDonald left her home the proud owner of a small ceramic doorknob with a smiley face, made by the son of an artist Robbins knows.

Next up was Shawn Sparks, who was packing up to move from Amherst, Mass., to Alexandria, Va. Sparks, 35, is a huge fan of Craigslist barters, having acquired his 1993 Chevy Blazer in a trade for a used laptop.

Sparks offered MacDonald a Coleman camping stove. Sparks had two, and didn't want to lug both on his move. And he needed a new knob for his espresso machine.

Done. The men celebrated with a barbecue at Sparks' house.

After the stove, things began to snowball: MacDonald traded for a generator, then a party and a trip, a van, a performance by a rock band, and eventually into a year’s free rent.  Along the way, the quest has garnered publicity (which, in my estimation, probably facilitated some of the trades). 

Hat-tip: Daniel Tannenbaum

[Miriam A. Cherry]

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