Following the collapse of the USSR, a new Russian bartering system was born : Planet Money For a brief, strange period after the U.S.S.R. collapsed, "real" money was less valuable than tradeable objects like bricks or towels. We look back at the Russian barter economy and we see the nature of money and value underneath all currency. | Subscribe to our weekly newsletter here.

When bricks were rubles

When bricks were rubles

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Yuri Mashin/AFP via Getty Images
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - JULY 26: A woman counts her new ruble notes as she leaves a bank in Moscow 26 July 1993. After the government announced that Rubles printed through 1992 must be exchanged, banks are having problems meeting the demand for new notes. (Photo credit should read YURI MASHIN/AFP via Getty Images)
Yuri Mashin/AFP via Getty Images

When the USSR collapsed, the ruble tanked and items like bricks became a more desirable form of payment. The post-Soviet economy became a laboratory for curious experiments in money. A barter economy briefly emerged. Then a gas-backed currency. All this in less than 10 years.

Today, what this strange, short period in Russia's history can teach us about all currencies, and about what makes an economy and its money valuable.

Music: "New Pulse" "A Dream of Bronze" and "Tailwind."

Find us: Twitter / Facebook / Instagram / TikTok

Subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify; and NPR One.

Want economics stories from the comfort of home? Subscribe to Planet Money's weekly newsletter.