Monday, April 12, 2010


Sue Lowden, a GOP candidate for Harry Reid's Senate seat, raised eyebrows when she criticized the health care reform bill and said this:

"And I would have suggested, and I think that bartering is really good. Those doctors who you pay cash, you can barter, and that would get prices down in a hurry. And I would say go out, go ahead out and pay cash for whatever your medical needs are, and go ahead and barter with your doctor."

Atrios thinks she misspoke -- he thinks she meant to say "bargain." So do some of Steve Benen's readers.

But I doubt it was a slip of the tongue. I've spent some time in the Southwest, and there's a lot more talk about barter there than there is, say, in my Manhattan neighborhood. It's a Western thing and an off-the-grid hippie thing. Here's a 1993 article from Mother Earth News:

Over the past 20 years, my husband Mark and I have bartered everything from a two-week vacation in a mountain cabin to a hernia operation for Mark. Trading our time, labor, and skills seems so much more intimate and humane then selling ourselves on the free market for money (worth much less, I must admit). So that's why we moved here, to northern New Mexico, where people still maintain a diverse enough lifestyle to keep bartering alive....

When our roof started leaking like a sieve, our landlord traded us a month's rent to fix it. To figure out how to fix it in the future, we took care of our friend Tom's kids in exchange for his expertise. When the leech lines blocked up, we bartered another month's rent....

Now, Lowden lives in Las Vegas, which isn't really like rural northern New Mexico -- but there's plenty of barter there, too. Here are a few Vegas Craigslist ads: "Trade Mans Wedding Ring For Running Car"; "Trade my camcorder for yard work"; "Will Trade Web, Print, or Graphic Design For... ? What Do You Have?": "I have a slim white ps2/I need a freezer"; "will trade tools or jewelry for steel posts(used or new square tubing)." There are barter exchanges in and around Vegas with their own scrip that's redeemable for services. The Las Vegas Review-Journal covered the practice about a year ago; one barterer is a dentist who performed his services in return for fish tank maintenance.

But, see, there's the problem. It's fine to be a basically healthy person exchanging your labor for routine medical care -- dental checkups, maybe even a hernia operation. What can you possibly offer in exchange if you have, say, Lou Gehrig's disease or cystic fibrosis or Stage 4 cancer? Your house? A grandchild?

Oh, and given the fact that Lowden is rather well off -- she has $50 million in stock holdings -- how often do you think she's ever had to resort to barter?

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