NEWS

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June 29, 2006

Home-swapping: A capitalist conundrum

The New York Times has published a fascinating article today about home-swapping. Here are a few quotes from the article: "Ms. Battista's laid-back approach to vacationing, so uncharacteristic of the kind of people who spend thousands of dollars to rent villas or stay in hotels, is typical of a large and less extravagant class of travelers — members of a growing home-swapping subculture who have learned to make themselves just as comfortable inone another's homes as in their own."Although most swappers are initially drawn to the practice for financial reasons (families save an average of about $5,000 by trading homes and cars instead of booking hotels and rental cars, according to Ms. Jaffe), the deeper appeal of home exchange, at least for serious swappers, is the way living in another home changes the experience of travel. It allows a tourist to avoid what Ms. Battista described as 'the very stale experience' of a hotel stay and to live as a local.The article leads me to ask this question: Is the practice of home-swapping really a rejection of the mainstream capitalist structure of tourism, or can it still be considered a capitalist exchange?There are reasonable points to be made on both sides of the question. The fact that no money is exchanged seems to suggest that it is almost precapitalist. Indeed, it seems even more rudimentary than bartering because one is not quantifying one's goods. In other words, instead of saying I'll give you a dozen apples for your chicken, you're simply presuming an equal exchange, by saying, "Come stay in my house and then I'll stay in yours."Yet, there are obvious capitalist elements. For one thing, at the end of the article, the Times lists web services (which cost money) that provide individuals with listings. Furthermore, the system presumes the property involved in the exchange is protected and a violation of the transaction (i.e. damaging the house) could find a means of redress.I'm woefully underqualified to continue this conversation so I'm hoping Alec can answer the aforementioned question. Then again, if he is kind enough to help me out on this problem, I am obligated to answer his challenge on the minimum wage. I won't be comprehensive, but I'll give him a few quick hits later on today.