Alternatives to that kilo of wheat

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Khari Baoli, Old Delhi, India January 9th 2009

Since we can’t all take our sack of wheat along when going shopping, some alternatives must be found. It seems that there’s an observable rise in alternative currencies occurring across the developed world, where perhaps, unlike the villages of India or elsewhere, simple barter using food grains is not a feasible option.

Worldchanging has a recent post by Ben Block covering some of these, including a fascinating one called Ithaca Hours, explained in this snippet,

The currencies take on various forms. Many function similar to the
traditional currency but are distributed at a discounted rate to
encourage participation, such as the Berkshares or the cimarrón in Venezuela. Others are designed so that each paper note reflects the per hour labor required to create the product, such as Ithaca Hours in New York or Community Oriented Mutual Economy in Hong Kong.

And the Wall Street Journal talks about the travails of a village in northern Thailand whose inhabitants got fed up with the baht after the Asian crisis a decade ago and just started printing their own notes, here’s a slide-show of images depicting their ‘village bank’ (a safe) and samples of their currency. A particular quote stands out,

The 54-year-old rice farmer Buasorn Saothong is an enthusiastic user of the local currency, which is called “bia,” the word for “seedling” in the local dialect. She says it enables her to keep hold of her precious reserves of the national currency, while spending and earning the local bills.

In the meantime, those northern Californians have put their own inimitable stamp on their local community scrip, even as they emphasize the social benefits to the local economy,

The Humboldt Exchange
Community Currency Project, a volunteer-run group promoting the use of
community currency in exchange for local services, produces the
colorful bills, featuring local images created by local artists.

”The
overall idea is not to displace U.S. currency, just to offer an
alternative currency to meet people’s needs,” said Jon Zaglin, the
project’s business outreach coordinator.

Although Humboldt
exchange has been around for about four years, it saw a jump in
participation about a year ago, Zaglin said. The group publishes a
bi-monthly directory listing of businesses that accept community
currency, or CC. That directory has grown from about 20 businesses to
around 70, with about half a dozen new businesses joining every month,
he said. There are currently $130,000 in CC bills — which are printed
with organic ink on hemp paper
— circulating in the local economy. The
bills come in denominations of ones, fives, 10s, 20s and 50s.

The
significant growth in the project is coming at a time when the nation’s
economy is faltering, Zaglin said, adding that the CC project
strengthens the local economy by keeping the exchange of wealth —
goods and services — in the neighborhood.

Finally, across the pond, residents of the English town of Stroud in Gloucestershire have invited an expert from Germany to help them set up their own currency, based on the Bavarian Chiemgauer which started life as a high school student project,

They bring added value to the community as the Chiemgauer notes have
a demurrage-fee (a fee for delaying use) of two per cent per quarter,
which means they never slow down in circulation.

“What might be psychologically annoying for the individual is very good for the community,” said Mr Gelleri. “You can spend the Chiemgauer, you can lend and invest it, but it makes no sense to hoard and speculate with them.

“It brings businesses and communities together and encourages them to support local producers.”

Imho, it seems to me that the big picture takeaway from all of these initiatives, most of which are current events in response to the global economy and not really indigenous or traditional systems per se, is that their sustainable success requires the cooperation and consensus of the people participating and many of these stories reference benefiting the local economy.

One could surmise that this could lead to tightening of the bonds in social networks that have, for the most part, been observed to be much looser in the West than among the majority of BoP societies in the developing world.

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