Local Currencies Appearing In Greece, Like They Did In Argentina after the 2001 Debacle
IN FOCUS, 11 Jun 2012
When it becomes clear to everyone that the all-powerful economists have little to offer other than more cuts, more austerity measures, more insults (“go pay your taxes” or “you’re poor because you are lazy”), then people realise it’s up to them, and real human creativity takes over. That’s how a crisis becomes an opportunity.
A small but growing movement in Greece is being borne out of the economic crisis and the likelihood of an exit from the Euro. A few towns are using an alternative currency to help them survive the country’s deep troubles. Members take payment for their goods and services in Local Alternative Units, abbreviated in Greek as TEMs, and use them to obtain goods and services from other members in the network.
The idea is of course not new. In 2001 when the Argentinean economy went into meltdown each province produced its own currency, bypassing in this way the banks that had closed their doors to prevent people from withdrawing their money.
It is at these moments when it becomes “known” to everybody that “one’s money” in the bank does not actually exist, that those rock-solid numbers that appear in our accounts are rather virtual electronic swallows navigating at enormous speeds the world’s stock markets whilst making profits for the speculative casino-brokers.
In southern Massachusetts, US, the Berkshires – another local currency born as an alternative to the U.S. dollar – is among the most successful of the country’s local currencies.
The cimarrón in Venezuela, the WIR in Switzerland, LETS – Local Exchange Trading Systems – in the UK, and many other schemes arise out of a decision of a region to respond to an economic crisis by creating a local exchange mechanism which allows the local economy to keep moving, people to be fed and services to be maintained.
On the same ideology Credit Unions tend to arise in local communities on the principle that saving can be at the service of funding local projects – rather than speculation, or accumulation in off shore accounts, as Polly Toynbee so poetically describes in her piece about the Royal Jubilee:
”Meanwhile, defrauding ourselves and world’s treasuries, the sun never sets on the Queen’s dominion over more tax havens than any other country, an archipelago of shame from the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, the Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos, Gibraltar, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands – and the City itself. Beneath the splendour, the squalor.”
Another interesting form of alternative economics becoming a great favourite as the system crumbles is the concept of the Commons, or the Common Goods. Many examples show that when shared resources (pastures, fisheries, and the internet) are managed on the principle of mutual interest regulation rather than privatised unregulated profit, fields do not dry out, fish stocks do not collapse and a lot of capacity building springs seemingly out of nowhere for everybody to use, e.g., Wikipedia’s use of Creative Commons licence, the Linux/Ubuntu systems, etc.
The American political economist Elinor Ostrom has been doing research on Common Pool Resources leading to some interesting conclusions. In fact, according to her the success of a CPR project rests on the following factors:
- 1.Clearly defined boundaries (effective exclusion of external un-entitled parties);
- 2.Rules regarding the appropriation and provision of common resources that are adapted to local conditions;
- 3.Collective-choice arrangements that allow most resource appropriators to participate in the decision-making process;
- 4.Effective monitoring by monitors who are part of or accountable to the appropriators;
- 5.A scale of graduated sanctions for resource appropriators who violate community rules;
- 6.Mechanisms of conflict resolution that are cheap and of easy access;
- 7.Self-determination of the community recognized by higher-level authorities;
- 8.In the case of larger common-pool resources, organization in the form of multiple layers of nested enterprises, with small local CPRs at the base level.
The question is, of course, weather No 1 leads to the inevitable exclusion of “outsiders” and “foreigners”, depending on the scale of the shared project. More information about these exciting developments in the world of alternatives to the present economic system can be found in Wikipedia.
Needless to say that different Working Groups of the Occupy/Indignados movement are busily perusing such new ideas (or perhaps not so new, as in 1649 the True Levellers aka the Diggers were already having a go at it) as the threats of the Markets continue to impose their discipline on ordinary people for the benefit of Financial Institutions.
In spite of the draconian austerity measures already in place we are not yet making enough sacrifices, the new head of the IMF Christine Lagarde – who pays no income tax – has blamed the Greeks for causing their financial crisis by dodging their taxes and the Germans keep resisting to help, and insist on more austerity, for the first country in the EU to go down the drain because they are “lazy”, although recent (2008) data from the OECD shows that that Greek workers on average worked 48% more than people in Germany.
It would not be the first time that the system “resolves” one of its crisis with a war (so, what is really happening in Syria?) or by scapegoating migrants (cue to rise of neo-fascist movements in Europe?). Therefore there is some urgency to study and put into practice experiments in alternative economic models, our lives may depend on it.
Silvia Swinden – Author of From Monkey Sapiens to Homo Intentional: The Phenomenology of the Nonviolent Revolution – Adonis & Abbey, London 2006.
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