Most of us take for granted that
those rectangular green slips of paper we keep in our wallets are inviolable:
the physical embodiment of value.
But alternative forms of money have
a long history and appear to be growing in popularity. It's not merely barter
or primitive means of exchange like seashells or beads. Beneath the financial
radar, in hip U.S. towns or South African townships, in shops, markets and even
banks, people throughout the world are exchanging goods and services via
thousands of currency types that look nothing like official tender.
Alternative means of trade often
surface during tough economic times. "When money gets dried up and
there are still needs to be met in society, people come up with creative ways
to meet those needs," says Peter North, a senior lecturer in geography
at the University of Liverpool and the author of two books on the subject. He
refers to the "scrips" issued in the U.S. and Europe during the Great
Depression that kept money flowing and the massive barter exchanges involving
millions of people that emerged amid runaway inflation in Argentina in 2000.
"People were kept from starving [this way]," he says. (Find out 10
things to do with your money.)
Closer to home, "Ithaca Hours," with a livable hourly
wage as the standard, were launched during the 1991 recession to sustain the
economy in Ithaca, N.Y., and stem the loss of jobs. Hours, which are legal and
taxable, circulate within the community, moving from local shop to local
artisan and back, rather than leaking out into the larger monetary system. The
logo on the Hour reads "In Ithaca We Trust."
"complementary") currencies range from quaint to robust, simple to high
tech. There are Greens from the Lettuce Patch Bank at the Dancing Rabbit
Ecovillage in rural northeastern Missouri. In western Massachusetts one finds
which are convertible to U.S. dollars. More than $2 million in BerkShares have
been issued through the 12 branches of five local banks, according to Susan
Witt, executive director of the E.F. Schumacher Society, the nonprofit behind
the currency. And in South Africa, proprietary software keeps track of
Community Exchange System (CES) Talents; one ambitious plan is to make
Khayelitsha, a vast, desolate township of perhaps 1 million inhabitants near
Cape Town, a self-sustaining community.
An alternative currency is generally
used in conjunction with conventional money; one may use local currency at the
farmers' market and regular greenbacks at the supermarket. "It doesn't
try in any way to replace cash," says Christoph Hensch, a Swiss
national and former banker living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Rather, it
offers a way "for people to share and redeem value they have in the
community." He says the currencies are most useful in geographical areas
or social sectors where money doesn't flow sufficiently, citing, for example,
New Zealand's Golden Bay, which is so remote that it sometimes nearly functions
as its own economy.
Advocates of alternative currencies
say they are a means of empowerment for those languishing on the margins of
fiscal life, granting economic agency to people like the elderly, the disabled
or the underemployed, who have little opportunity to earn money. For example,
in some systems one can "bank" Time Dollars for tasks like child care
and changing motor oil. It's not whether you're employed or what financial
assets you have that matter, says Les Squires, a consultant on
social-networking software who has been working with groups developing
alternative currencies. Each person has "value" that is
"exchangeable" on the basis of time spent or a given task.
Alternative Currencies Flourishing
Since the introduction of the
European single currency, 23 different regional currencies have started
circulating in Germany as people aim to revitalize local economies, lessen
dependence on the euro, and challenge the established global monetary system.
At least 40 more are in development. The individual currency systems
vary, but they do share some common features.
For example, retailers who accept
them usually agree to bear a small loss — around three to five percent — in
exchange for the increased business the currency is supposed to provide. Most
of the currencies also lose value over time if they are not spent, supposedly
an effort to encourage people to spend more. Some of the currencies also help
fund charitable activities.
Alternative currencies gaining
popularity in the Netherlands
The phenomenon of alternative
currencies is spreading, and not only with the (current) worldwide success of
the bitcoin, which is growing more popular in the Netherlands.
In the Netherlands, Amsterdam has
the makkie, which started up in 2013, joining the older noppes currency from
the nineties. In the last three years, plans have been made to get the gulden
in Groningen, gelre in Gelder, achthoeker in Achterhoeke, zonnemunt in Leiden,
bataaf in Nijmegen and schokker in the Noordoostpolder off the ground, with
varying amounts of success. Now people in Rotterdam have
developed two different local currencies to the euro.
French Adopt Alternative Currencies
Amid Euro Distrust
Europeans are fed up of austerity,
and there is a growing distrust of the Euro. Increasingly people are turning to
alternative currencies and barter. In France more than 20 complimentary
currencies are in everyday use across the country.
The video is a good overview of what
is happening in Europe right now. The details on alternative currencies start
at 2.13 into the video.
NOTE: This article is originally published at this website: