Sunday, November 4, 2012

Alternative Economics in Spain in Crisis and more

At last, this article on time banks in Spain came to my attention when I found it at ussen.org, the US Solidarity Economics Network site.

I looked for an article on the various countries and their crises in Europe.  The BBC had a good one:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-17549970



  At the same site, a year ago, I found an article on Greece's alternative economy, which I've added after the Spain article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/02/world/europe/in-greece-barter-networks-surge.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all



There are also various Gift and Barter economy pioneers and projects, and I added a few references after that down below.
 

In Spain, financial crisis feeds expansion of a parallel, euro-free economy




ANGEL NAVARRETE - Jacinto Garcia buys baked goods with Turutas, the social currency used in the Catalonian fishing town of Vilanova i la Geltru, Spain.

By Ariana Eunjung Cha,


Aug 27, 2012 10:05 PM EDT

The Washington Post

 

For another article on time banks in Spain, see the link to NPR.org below.


Barcelona — Psychologist Angels Corcoles recently taught a seminar about self-empowerment for women, and when she finished the organizers handed her a check with her fee. The amount was in hours, not euros.
But Corcoles didn’t mind. Through a citywide credit network that allows people to trade services without money, the 10 hours Corcoles earned could be used to pay for a haircut, yoga classes or even carpentry work.

At a time when the future of the euro is in doubt and millions are unemployed or underemployed with little cash to spare, a parallel economy is springing up in parts of Spain, allowing people to live outside the single currency.
In the city of Malaga, on the country’s southern Mediterranean coast just 80 miles from Africa, residents have set up an online site that allows them to earn money and buy products using a virtual currency. The Catalonian fishing town of Vilanova i la Geltru has launched a similar experiment but with a paper credit card of sorts. It implements a new currency worth slightly more than the euro when it is used at local stores.
In Barcelona, the country’s second-largest city after Madrid, the preferred model is time banks, which allow people to trade their services in hours without the involvement of money.
“This is a way for people who are on the fringes of the economy to participate again,” said Josefina Altes, coordinator of the Spanish Time Bank Network.
Similar projects are popping up in Greece, Portugal and other euro-zone countries with troubled economies. These experiments aim to take communities back to a time when goods and services were bartered, before things such as interest rates, market speculation and derivatives complicated the financial world.
While some local governments have enthusiastically backed these efforts, others have raised questions about their implications for taxes, the effect on local wages and the potential for fraud.
Social money or alternative currency systems have existed throughout history, mostly in places such as remote coal towns or occupied countries during war, or during times of great economic stress, such as the Great Depression.
In recent decades, a number of communities — including Ithaca, N.Y., and South African townships — have launched social-money projects as a way to strengthen civil society, promote the local economy and reduce the impact of globalization.
Many of these efforts took years to set up, and the number of people involved is limited. In Spain, however, the economic crisis has been an impetus to move faster. There are now more than 325 time banks and alternative currency systems in Spain involving tens of thousands of citizens. Collectively, these projects represent one of the largest experiments in social money in modern times.
Peter North, a senior lecturer at the University of Liverpool who has written two books about the subject, said alternative currencies — or scrips — have tended to appear during times of crisis and often disappear soon afterward. But North says the recent efforts in Spain may last longer because they are connected to the 15M, or “Indignados,” movement, originally a youth initiative organized through online social networks that was the inspiration for the Occupy protests around the world.


“Instead of just being a desperate way for people to survive a horrible economic crisis, this is part of the cooperatives, credit unions, community banks, organic farms and recovering factories — the alternate economy — that the Occupy movement is groping towards,” North said.
‘Turutas aqui si’

While each social-money project has its own accounting rules, the basic concept is the same. You earn credits by providing services or selling goods, and you can redeem the credits with people or businesses in the network.
In Vilanova i la Geltru’s central square, a growing number of stores — including a Catalonian bread shop, a deli and an electronics vendor — now post blue “Turutas aqui si” (Turutas accepted here) signs in their windows, along with the ones that let people know that MasterCard and Visa are welcome.
Started as a way of breaking with the global financial system, the alternative currency — named after a traditional wind instrument — has been embraced by only about 190 of the town’s 67,000 residents. But organizers say more are signing up as the crisis deepens.
Ton Dalmau, 57, one of the founders of the initiative, said the goal is to keep the money in circulation so the bank where people keep their Turutas does not offer any interest.
“We are returning money to its origins and making it purely a system of exchange,” he said.
Jordi Morera, 25, whose family owns the bread shop, said that accepting Turturas hurts his bottom line because his raw materials can be paid for only in euros. But he said the sacrifice is worth it because he believes in the goals of the initiative.
“Money limits our lives more than we realize,” Morera said.
In Malaga, David Chapman, 65, said social money encourages innovation because you have to start thinking about different services or products you can offer to be able to participate in the market.
Chapman, a carpenter originally from Britain who has made Spain his home for 25 years, said he recently sold six sun ovens he had made, for a total of 300 comuns, the community’s virtual currency. He was planning on cashing some of them in to pay someone to paint his house.
Launched three years ago by Chapman and some friends, the project has seen dramatic growth. From March to August, the number of people using the virtual currency has jumped from about 250 to 470, with most of the newcomers in their 20s and 30s.
Equal time
The scale of the Barcelona projects is significantly larger, with more than 100 time banks that range in size from a few dozen members to 3,000.
Many of the time banks operate like real banks — with individual accounts, ledgers, checkbooks and, in many cases, even auditors. Some conduct transactions with physical checks and are overseen by a secretary who keeps track of deposits. Others exist solely on the Internet.
Sergi Alonso, a 30-year-old computer technician who has been unable to find a full-time job, said he has helped numerous neighbors develop Web pages and troubleshoot hardware problems through a time bank. In return, he was able to get private sewing instruction and piano lessons and learn about graphic design.
Time banks help remind people that “regardless of your skills, you can always bring things to others,” Alonso said.
Melissa Privitera, a 41-year-old restaurant owner, is working with other parents in her 4-year-old son’s school to set up their own time bank. As the crisis spreads, even those in her upper-middle-class neighborhood are losing jobs. People can no longer afford to send their children to camp or to extracurricular classes or pay for extra babysitting for those nights they want to go out.
“Even here there is a lot of anguish,” Privitera said.
The one thing that unifies many of the banks is their philosophy that everyone’s time is equal— even if you’re a doctor, like Corcoles.
Corcoles is in private practice and has seen a decrease in her salary because fewer people can afford her services. She said she planned to use about 30 of the 50 hours she had accumulated to pay a woman who is unemployed to dog-sit while she is on vacation.
“We have to bend our minds to understand time banks because they change the relationships between people,” said Corcoles, 50.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/in-spain-financial-crisis-feeds-expansion-of-a-parallel-euro-free-economy/2012/08/27/53ed3552-e00f-11e1-a19c-fcfa365396c8_story.html

Also on time banks in Spain:  
http://www.npr.org/2012/09/22/161380937/time-banks-help-spaniards-weather-financial-crisis

Battered by Economic Crisis, Greeks Turn to Barter Networks


Submitted by Emily Kawano on Mon, 10/03/2011 - 9:02am

By RACHEL DONADIO, NYT October 2, 2011Angeliki Ioanniti, a seamstress, runs a small shop in Volos and participates in a network that uses barter and vouchers. Such networks build on a sense of solidarity in tough times as people seek creative ways to cope with a radically changing landscape.

VOLOS, Greece — The first time he bought eggs, milk and jam at an outdoor market using not euros but an informal barter currency, Theodoros Mavridis, an unemployed electrician, was thrilled.

“I felt liberated, I felt free for the first time,” Mr. Mavridis said in a recent interview at a cafe in this port city in central Greece. “I instinctively reached into my pocket, but there was no need to.”

Mr. Mavridis is a co-founder of a growing network here in Volos that uses a so-called Local Alternative Unit, or TEM in Greek, to exchange goods and services — language classes, baby-sitting, computer support, home-cooked meals — and to receive discounts at some local businesses.

Part alternative currency, part barter system, part open-air market, the Volos network has grown exponentially in the past year, from 50 to 400 members. It is one of several such groups cropping up around the country, as Greeks squeezed by large wage cuts, tax increases and growing fears about whether they will continue to use the euro have looked for creative ways to cope with a radically changing economic landscape.

“Ever since the crisis there’s been a boom in such networks all over Greece,” said George Stathakis, a professor of political economy and vice chancellor of the University of Crete. In spite of the large public sector in Greece, which employs one in five workers, the country’s social services often are not up to the task of helping people in need, he added. “There are so many huge gaps that have to be filled by new kinds of networks,” he said.

Even the government is taking notice. Last week, Parliament passed a law sponsored by the Labor Ministry to encourage the creation of “alternative forms of entrepreneurship and local development,” including networks based on an exchange of goods and services. The law for the first time fills in a regulatory gray area, giving such groups nonprofit status.

Here in Volos, the group’s founders are adamant that they work in parallel to the regular economy, inspired more by a need for solidarity in rough times than a political push for Greece to leave the euro zone and return to the drachma.

“We’re not revolutionaries or tax evaders,” said Maria Houpis, a retired teacher at a technical high school and one of the group’s six co-founders. “We accept things as they are.”

Still, she added, if Greece does take a turn for the worse and eventually does stop using the euro, networks like hers are prepared to step into the breach. “In an imaginary scenario — and I stress imaginary — we would be ready for it.”

The group’s concept is simple. People sign up online and get access to a database that is kind of like a members-only Craigslist. One unit of TEM is equal in value to one euro, and it can be used to exchange good and services. Members start their accounts with zero, and they accrue credit by offering goods and services. They can borrow up to 300 TEMs, but they are expected to repay the loan within a fixed period of time.

Members also receive books of vouchers of the alternative currency itself, which look like gift certificates and are printed with a special seal that makes it difficult to counterfeit. Those vouchers can be used like checks. Several businesspeople in Volos, including a veterinarian, an optician and a seamstress, accept the alternative currency in exchange for a discount on the price in euros.

A recent glimpse of the database revealed people offering guitar and English lessons, bookkeeping services, computer technical support, discounts at hairdressers and the use of their yards for parties. There is a system of ratings so that people can describe their experiences, in order to keep transparent quality control.

(The network uses open-source software and is hosted on a Dutch server, cyclos.org, which offers low hosting fees.)

The group also holds a monthly open-air market that is like a cross between a garage sale and a farmers’ market, where Mr. Mavridis used his TEM credit to buy the milk, eggs and jam. Those goods came from local farmers who are also involved in the project.

“We’re still at the beginning,” said Mr. Mavridis, who lost his job as an electrician at a factory last year. In the coming months, the group hopes to have a borrowed office space where people without computers can join the network more easily, he said.

For Ms. Houpis, the network has a psychological dimension. “The most exciting thing you feel when you start is this sense of contribution,” she said. “You have much more than your bank account says. You have your mind and your hands.”

As she bustled around her sewing table in her small shop in downtown Volos, Angeliki Ioanniti, 63, said she gave discounts for sewing to members of the network, and she has also exchanged clothing alterations for help with her computer. “Being a small city helps, because there’s trust,” she said.

In exchange for euros and alternative currency, she also sells olive oil, olives and homemade bergamot-scented soap prepared by her daughter, who lives in the countryside outside Volos.

In her family’s optical shop, Klita Dimitriadis, 64, offers discounts to customers using alternative currency, but she said the network had not really gained momentum yet or brought in much business. “It’s helpful, but now it doesn’t work very much because everybody is discounting,” she said.

In an e-mail, the mayor of Volos, Panos Skotiniotis, said the city was following the alternative currency network with interest and was generally supportive of local development initiatives. He added that the city was looking at other ways of navigating the economic situation, including by setting aside public land for a municipal urban farm where citizens could grow produce for their own use or to sell.

After years of rampant consumerism and easy credit, such nascent initiatives speak to the new mood in Greece, where imposed austerity has caused people to come together — not only to protest en masse, but also to help one another.

Similar initiatives have been cropping up elsewhere in Greece. In Patras, in the Peloponnese, a network called Ovolos, named after an ancient Greek means of currency, was founded in 2009 and includes a local exchange currency, a barter system and a so-called time bank, in which members swap services like medical care and language classes. The group has about 100 transactions a week, and volunteers monitor for illegal services, said Nikos Bogonikolos, the president and a founding member.

Greece has long had other exchange networks, particularly among farmers. Since 1995, a group called Peliti has collected, preserved and distributed seeds from local varietals to growers free, and since 2002 it has operated as an exchange network throughout the country.

Beyond exchanges, there are newer signs of cooperation from the ground up. When bus and subway workers in Athens went on strike two weeks ago, Athenians flooded Twitter looking for carpools, using an account founded in 2009 to raise awareness of transportation issues in Athens. The outpouring made headlines, as a sign of something unthinkable before the crisis hit.

With unemployment rising above 16 percent and the economy still shrinking, many Greeks are preparing for the worst. “Things will turn very bad in the next year,” said Mr. Stathakis, the political economics professor.

Christos Papaioannou, 37, who runs the Web site for the network in Volos, said, “We’re in an uncharted area,” and hopes the group expands. “There’s going to be a lot of change. Maybe it’s the beginning of the future.”

Dimitris Bounias contributed reporting from Volos and Athens.

Daniel Suelo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suelo

Heidemarie Schwermer:

Living without money


Former teacher Heidemarie Schwermer has lived without money in Germany for 13 years. Our writer finds out how she does it
Twenty-two years ago Heidemarie Schwermer, a middle-aged secondary school teacher just emerging from a difficult marriage, moved with her two children from the village of Lueneburg to the city of Dortmund, in the Ruhr area of Germany, whose homeless population, she immediately noticed, was above average and striking in its intransigent hopelessness.
....
http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/public/sitesearch.do?querystring=heidemarie+schwermer&p=tto&pf=all&bl=on

Peace Pilgrim, Mark Boyle, and Tomi Astikainan are other Gift Economy pioneers.

The Freeconomy Community was started by Mark Boyle, and there also exists the Freecycle Network http://www.freecycle.org/about/background,
  Freegle: http://www.ilovefreegle.org/
and Streetbank: http://www.streetbank.com/splash
and Timebanks (e.g. the US): http://timebanks.org/

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