News from the debt crisis in Spain and the rise of a global response
Learning to walk with money for change
Por DIAGONAL English

By Blanca & Co. / Translated by Rob Dyas & Juan Martín Rodríguez

In the middle of the current economic model’s ongoing crisis, alternatives are developing that appeal to a more human form of management. In this article we will be taking a journey through the geography of the diverse initiatives of localised social currencies in the Spanish state through the experiences of the people involved.

There are obviously variations in approaches but we want to place the emphasis here on the common elements . At the same time we hope to highlight that, although still in a minority (with just short of 5,000 users nationwide), the projects have considerable potential. We do not disclose here the sources of the information other than that they are all promotors, producers and consumers of the “puma”, the “zoquito”, the “boniato” and all the other projects within the family of the solidarity economy.

KM. ZERO, WE START WALKING. Experiences of the past can serve as stepping stones at the beginning of our journey. Innovations that have appeared throughout history in response to gaps that the mainstream currency was unable to fill: in the ’20s and ’30s in the US or in Germany and Canada in the ’80s, Argentina during the “corralito” (freezing of bank accounts)... We also have at our disposal the references provided by the social currencies of the past within the Spanish state such as the ’kas’ from the barter based exchanges of the ’80s and ’90s, along with the experience gained through the new wave of currencies: the ’zoquito’ in 2008, the ’eco’ from Monseny in 2009 and the Tarragona ’eco’.

– Hi, I'd like to settle up please. – Do you know how it works? – I think so but explain it to me… – This is a network of trust where the members make transactions with a currency that we call ’puma’. We have not created a physical currency but we all have an accounts book that reflects the transactions. The entry is negative or positive depending on whether it is a sale or purchase.

Apart from the small variations owing to different local realities, this step is all that is necessary to begin a functioning local currency. Amongst these variations would be the necessity for promotors to register to offer goods and services, contribute a certain amount to the maintenance of the network, the choice between an internet or paper based accounts system etc.

FIRST STEP: HOW DO WE BEGIN? With an account book or without, digital or physical? Now we can begin to address these small conundrums that concern any new network that aims for “equality of economic relations based on real work.” As the majority of the users of these currencies confirm, we are dealing with a tool that does not produce interest, the accumulation of which makes no sense: “This eliminates the the possibility of speculating with it and facilitates its efficient circulation (attributes that favour interchange). As such, there never occurs a lack of the currency, rather there exists as much wealth as exists real work.”

HELLO, IS ANYBODY THERE? We continue with our journey, stopping a while to refresh ourselves with a local beer, natural and organic for just one and a half pumas. We pay either with the paper tokens that can be purchased in the market that is held every second Saturday of the month or with our account book. In some of the projects the account book balance starts at zero, in others at 20 and in others tokens are used but in all there is a similar logic: “The essential concept of the currency is not to put new bills into circulation but to have a system within which the sum of the total balance will always be zero. We create wealth from nothing because every negative in one account is a positive in another.”

I TOO HAVE SOMETHING TO OFFER. Following untrodden paths is an exhausting business. Fortunately we find ourselves a therapeutic massage that leaves us like new for only 30 ecos. We take advantage of the break to share our knowledge of photography with a passerby and thereby increase our credit by 10 moras. What is more we can now give a value to this kind of knowledge. This is the kind of knowledge that we all hold but rarely contemplate how to share because it is disregarded by the conventional economy.

1+13-4+2… HOW MUCH DID I HAVE? Keeping track of the exchanges is not difficult given that nearly all these currencies have a registry system in common: the Community Exchange System, where we can both find the products and services that are being offered and requested and control our balance. This is important to overcome one of the obstacles that has been highlighted by users: the offering of services without requiring anything in return. This is something that might lead to the stagnation of the economy. All such obstacles require us to “unlearn things to relearn them afterwards”, break with the world from which we come where “we have been told since we were small to save before we spend, which makes sense for currencies that earn interest such as the euro, in order to avoid enslavement and dependency, but is almost fatal for social currencies.”

THE RICH EXCHANGE. We must now therefore reevaluate our own value in order to fully appreciate the the extent of what we can offer the community. This is something that at times we only achieve thanks to the examples and advice of those around us.

We can then contemplate in fascination the wealth of assets we can access without the need for a single euro. In the diverse lists of services, along with the offerings for things like “listening”, we can find the following:

“Individual qualified in legal rights and specialist in conflict resolution and mediation offers legal and extrajudicial advice to solve your problems” (10 moras / hora).

“Plumber. Central Heating. Gas. Solar power: servicing of heated swimming pools. Biomass heaters. Rain water recycling. Training and presentations on plumbing and solar energy.” (5% of total in boniatos).

“Graphic design for flyers, posters, emails, business cards, logos... (and for larger scale work such as websites, corporate images etc).... I would like to exchange my services for food as I am currently unemployed and don’t have enough to eat. Thanks!”

This last extract is an example of direct barter exchange whilst most people take the opportunity to grow the network by using work hours or social currency as the means of exchange.

OH MARY, A BIT OF THEORY! Like any tool, coins themselves are neither good nor bad, “because in themselves they are nothing; it is the monetary system which favours some behaviours above others”. Therefore, it could be useful, without writing a thesis, to learn certain precepts from those who have started these initiatives. In understanding these precepts we can then evaluate the initiatives properly and from there become an active part of this vibrant movement. Initiatives have been described variously as local, social, complementary; cultural, provisional, transgressive or parasitic. There are others that say “there is no need to complicate your life looking for specific differences, the essence is that, in contrast with a centralised system riddled with problems, such as the current monetary system, a social, local, complementary, community or parallel currency is that which circulates in order to meet those needs that centralized money fails to address”.

Apparently, there is consensus agreement about the importance of the mutual credit system where, unlike the trustee system, the security comes not in the form of the national currency or in the deposit of goods but rather “the security is given by the creditor by the offer of goods available for purchase without the common currency. That is to say, each person that receives credit in the moment they need to pay for something, secures their loan with the offer of goods and services available for everybody else up to the value of the credit taken.”

MIXED BUT SEPERATE. The best way to understand the respective needs and potentialities of each situation is in understanding the idiosyncrasies and individual realities of each place. In this way, new examples and experiments spread to other neighborhoods or nearby towns, never integrating the existing structures but promoting diversity and uniqueness. However, there are also attempts to coordinate the existing local currencies always with the objective of reinforcing the regional and local economy.

LOOKING BACK TO SEE AHEAD. Taking a break to consider some challenges: how to overcome the lack of basic commodities in a town such as food (because nobody in town produces it) and the lack of houses that can be partially paid for with social currency? How to introduce it to conventional stores? How to include a feminist perspective to avoid a sexist division of the goods and services and politicise the project towards sustainability?

There are still a lot of unknown factors surrounding these vibrant initiatives that are yet to be considered. Depending on the focus, we can talk about obstacles and constraints or about “potentialities and successes, because questions arise from existence, and this is an achievement in itself; we then are faced with turning these problems into wealth”.

PARTICIPATE, BEFORE THE DROUGHT. In the 2000s, the Simec currency competed with the Italian central bank in its monopolistic role, and in just two months managed to circulate Simecs with a total value of $1.9 million. It is not the government of the State that regulates its operation but rather the community decides upon the value of labour and the basic needs of the same. We have gone ten kilometers shall we keep walking?

What does complementary currency have to offer?

- Soap producer: “On the one hand it reinforces the sense of community that is already there, since we share other things in the neighborhood. On the other hand it promotes the feeling of freedom, giving you the chance to do something without depending on external organizations. Above all, you are supporting a social alternative, an activity aiming for a greater future”.

- Purchaser of bread and a ring: “Today for example, I have managed to get rid of things that I didn’t want to take to the new house I am moving to. I sold a pair of trousers and then I purchased some bread and a ring without spending a single euro. This system allows me to escape the tyranny of money knowing that I can exchange my possessions and knowledge for goods and labour from other people. I find this initiative very useful and positive since it gives an opportunity for creative projects that otherwise would have no place in any market. Personally, I prefer to buy it here than in any store which helps the classic monetary system”.

[This article was originally published in Spanish on November 9th, 2012]





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