Money College: The best things in life are free ... really

really, really free marketsMama always said that nothing comes free. But really, really free markets do exist.

"Really, really free markets" are otherwise defined by the exact, literal term "free market," not to be confused with free-market capitalism. This isn't economics class, though as we'll see in a moment, your econ prof might wish he was professorial enough to attend one of these giveaway bazaars on a regular basis.

At free markets, people gather and bring whatever items they want to give away. These items might include anything from old T-shirts to music tapes. Nothing has a price tag, and everything is meant to share. Groups across the country, and on many college campuses, have held impromptu free markets to encourage community building.

Senior Halle Petrone helped to organize the first really, really free market at her school, Loyola University Chicago. "It happened pretty spontaneously last semester," said Petrone, who learned about really free markets after she visited several in Chicago and Cleveland. She thought the non-hierarchical idea would work well on her college campus.

"Basically the idea is that people have things that they don't want or need, so it's easy to get those things for free," she said. "And people throw them away, and you say 'Oh, I needed that book for class,' 'Oh, that's a cute dress,' or 'Look, it's a microwave.'"

The mini-phenomenon where collectives meet up to trade items without cost or any price hang ups, is brainchild of the 2004 G8 Summit anti-globalization protests. Really free markets began with the SouthEast Anarchist Network, said Janine Christiano.

Christiano helps to organize the really free markets through the Arroyo Time Bank, a group of 100 residents from Pasadena and northeast Los Angeles who exchange community services and help at local events through its Web site. The really free market is a way for the local community to mobilize based on simple needs. Some are very organized, planned and promoted; other really free markets occur naturally, without preparation.

"It really goes back to our older ideas of community where people came together to share and help each other get by with the resources that were available to that particular community," Christiano said. "I think [that] today people really want an alternative to our broken, materialistic, capitalist society. We're sick of waste and over consumption. There is a myth that resources are limited, there is so much that we as a society carelessly and systematically wastes."

Today free markets are held in U.S. cities from San Francisco to New York and Naples, Florida. Worldwide, the movement has sprung in countries including India, New Zealand and Singapore.

Really free markets often include more than just bringing items to give away. Free music and food are also commonplace. Bicycle tuneups, tarot card readings and hairstyling are commonplace at Salem, Ore. free markets. Bartering isn't part of the free market and trading isn't a caveat either. The only rule is that people shouldn't take more than they need.

This general rule is typically followed, said Christiano. Really free markets have encouraged community and wacky trading between Christiano and fellow Arroyo Time Bank members even on days when there aren't free markets.

"I have a time bank member regularly drop off her coffee grinds on my front porch to add to my compost," she said. "Last year, before I composted, I probably would have thought that was pretty crazy. Oh wait, one of our members gave away her giant tortoise once, but not at the market, she posted it on our site. That was pretty crazy."

For Petrone, really free markets have become a practical way for her to furnish her home without spending a cent.

"I think its really about communicating with people and hearing their stories about their things," she said. "It's a fun way to communicate with people. It's a community activity."

Often people approach Petrone at really free markets with questions, or confused because they don't understand the free concept.

"They'll say, 'What's the catch? And we'll say, There is no catch," Petrone said.

One of the next really, really free markets will be April 24 at Memorial Park in Pasadena, Calif. in part of Pasadena's Greening the Earth Day Family Festival. In addition, the Arroyo Time Bank has created its own freecycle Web site, where community members can post items they hope to give away.

To learn more about really free markets in your neighborhood, visit reallyreallyfree.org.

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