Making Money – Greece

While political parties bitterly debate Greece’s future in the eurozone, locals are finding their own solutions – one that doesn’t rely on the Euro at all. Could the people of Volos have found the answer?

In response to salary cuts and 20% unemployment, enterprising Greeks in Volos have developed a new community currency – the TEM. It’s based on exchanging goods and services for TEM, which can then be spent locally to keep the city’s economy, and community, moving. The ethos is solidarity, not profit, and in a time when Euros are short, it’s proving a lifeline. “It’s as if a world of abundance has opened up”, says one woman. What started out with a handful of activists has grown to a network of more than 900 people.”It is a very liberating feeling to see ourselves able to do this.” There are now more than a dozen similar schemes in Greece, and with a big question mark hanging over the future, could grassroots initiatives like this be a realistic answer?

The Ithaca Money System

Ithaca Money

by Linda Pascatore

©1993 The Gobbler: Autumn Blaze

In a current article, “A Tonic for the Local Economy”, we explored the idea of alternative currency. At times through history, some communities have developed their own currency systems which were used locally. There has been a recent revival of this practice.

We recently found someone who is actually operating an alternative currency system in Ithaca, New York. My husband and I met Paul Glover, the founder of Ithaca Hours. He is an ecological urban designer with a background in advertising and city management. He was presenting a workshop on bioregional currencies at the National Green Gathering in Syracuse, New York. The Greens promote sustaining the environment and building grassroots democracy (see related article, “Ten Key Green Values”).

Paul Glover explained his currency system, Ithaca Hours. The value is based on the average hourly wage of the community, which is ten dollars an hour. An Ithaca Hour is equal to ten U.S. dollars and is equated to one hour of time. The idea is that everybody deserves to be paid at least the average wage, regardless of education, age, sex, or race. Ithaca’s money sports images of local features like waterfalls, flowers, crafts, farms, and children; and reads, “In Ithaca we trust” (see illustrations). It comes in four denominations; two Hours ($20), one Hour, Half Hour, and a Quarter Hour. They are printed in different colors and some come on locally made watermarked cattail paper. All have serial numbers and are harder to counterfeit than dollars.

Paul publishes a newsletter called “Ithaca Money” which presents both offers of goods and services and requests for them. Each listing costs one dollar. By listing, you become a member and agree to accept Ithaca Hours in payment. You also receive four Hours upon joining. Offerings in the newsletter include plumbing, nursing, chiropractic, child care, car or bike repair, eyeglasses, firewood, farm produce, restaurant meals, and movies. A local credit union accepts Hours for mortgages and loan fees. Some people even pay their rent with them.

A governing body called the Barter Potluck, open to all members, controls the currency. They are a kind of local counterpart to the Federal Reserve Board. Monetary policy is set over a potluck dinner twice a month. Since October, 1991, over 700 businesses have been issued currency, which has been recycled through the community countless times. The Barter Potluck also award grants in Ithaca Hours to community organizations. An Ithaca Hour Store is now in the planning stages. This system is legal under prescribed conditions. Hours must be used within state lines and may not compete with dollars as interstate currency. Denominations must be at least one dollar. Hours are taxable income when traded for professional goods or services.

Since they can only be used in Ithaca, Hours also promote the production of locally-made goods and the hiring of local services. The income generated circulates through the economy of the community, rather than being siphoned off to some national or international corporation. Paul Glover said, “Dollars come to Ithaca, shake a few hands, then leave. But Hours stay in the community and help us hire each other.”

This system not only stimulates the local economy, it also builds a true sense of community. People put faith and trust in their neighbors. Farms have benefited from this system, with the highest farm wages in America ($10.00 per hour) being paid in the Ithaca area. Lumber mills and woodcutters produce a sustainable yield for the local market. Crafts people have better access to local materials and local markets. Services not usually valued much, like babysitting, odd jobs, or running errands earn a fair wage and give people who are usually cash-poor more access to the marketplace. At the same time, merchants make sales and get spending power they otherwise would not have.

Could you institute such a system in your community? Paul Glover makes it sound easy! You can get his Hometown Money Starter Kit ($25), video ($15), or both ($40) by sending a check, money order, or credit card number, name and expiration date to:

Ithaca Money

Box 6578

Ithaca, NY 14851

(607) 272-4330

Mathematical Treasures

by Frank J. Swetz and Victor J. Katz

English tally sticks

Box of tally sticks

Notched pieces of wood or bone were used by many ancient peoples to record numbers. The most common type of these “tally sticks” was made of wood. Tally sticks served as records or receipts for financial transactions such as the payment of taxes, debts and fines. From the 12th century onward tally sticks were officially employed by the Exchequer of England to collect the King’s taxes. Local sheriffs were given the task of actually collecting the taxes. The depth and series of notches on these sticks represented the value of the transaction. In recording a debt, wooden sticks were often split horizontally into two parts: the lender receiving one part, the stock; and the debtor, the other part, the foil. This box contains sticks that date from the year 1296 and were found in the Chapel of the Pyx, Westminster Abbey in 1808. England abolished the use of tally sticks in  1826.The accumulation of tally sticks in the Office of the Exchequer were burned in 1834 resulting in a fire that destroyed the Parliament Building.

Open box

The box opened.

Three tally sticks

Close-up of three smaller sticks from the box showing notches.

Large tally stick

Close-up of large stick revealing notches.

Largestick with name engraved

Second view of larger stick showing the name of the of King’s agent, William de Costello, Sheriff of London in 1296.

Greeks Adopt Alternative Currencies as Economy Implodes

Alex Newman | The New American | March 21 202

 

Greek TEM

As Greece’s economy and the euro continue to struggle, regular Greeks are increasingly taking matters into their own hands, creating informal underground barter markets and even alternative currencies. And the government is actually encouraging it.

Over a dozen non-euro trading networks are already believed to be operating in communities throughout the embattled nation, with more on the way. But one effort in particular — called Local Alternative Units, or “TEMs” in Greek — has attracted a great deal of international attention.

In the port town of Volos — where unemployment is above 20 percent, the economy is struggling, and tax rates are rising — a group of locals decided it was time to take action. The population still had the same skills and resources as before the crisis, just not the euros needed for commerce.

So, a handful of people got together and formed the alternative currency known as the TEM. It quickly took off. And major newspapers and media outlets around the world — from the United States to the United Kingdom — have taken notice as it continues to expand.

“Ever since the crisis there’s been a boom in such networks all over Greece,” University of Crete vice chancellor and political economy professor George Stathakis told the New York Times, adding that despite an enormous government sector, Greek “social services” were being overwhelmed. “There are so many huge gaps that have to be filled by new kinds of networks.”

The TEM system works by allowing people in the community to set up an account on an online network, connecting them with others in the area with various needs and a wide array of services to offer. Users also receive a sort of booklet allowing them to essentially write “checks” to pay for goods and services.

A real market where people can meet to trade in TEMS is also a key component of the emerging network. And efforts are currently underway to establish a daily market in an unused building for locals to engage in commerce using their system.

Babysitters, farmers, teachers, electricians, barbers, bakers, computer technicians, opticians, veterinarians, and more are all represented. Most traders accept both euros and TEMs, or some combination of the two.

Member accounts start with zero TEMs, although users are allowed to borrow up to 300 units if they agree to repay it over a certain time period. And to prevent “hoarding,” the system’s managers explained, no user is allowed to have over 1,200 units of the currency.

“It’s an easier, more direct way of exchanging goods and services,” German-born homeopathist and acupuncturist Bernhardt Koppold, an active member of the Volos network, told the UK Guardian. “It’s also a way of showing practical solidarity — of building relationships.”

Dozens of other users expressed similar sentiments about their budding system. Co-founders of the TEMs network also explained that if the crisis were to spiral further into the realm of cataclysm, the alternative-currency system could help take up the slack — ensuring that a functioning economy would allow people to continue trading for survival.

Even local officials are encouraging citizens to get involved. Volos Mayor Panos Skotiniotis, for example,told NPR that such initiatives are especially valuable during the economic crisis as the government struggles to pay its bills.

“This is a substitution for the welfare state, and that is why this municipality is encouraging it and wants it to grow,” he said. The local government has even printed leaflets explaining the system and helped promote panel discussions about it.

At the national level, politicians seem to support the idea, too. Late last year, the Greek Parliament even passed a law urging citizens to build non-traditional forms of “entrepreneurship and local development.” The legislation also granted the informal networks official non-profit status, helping to ease the tax burden on struggling Greeks saddled with massive debts imposed by national and international officials.

And around the world, the system has attracted praise from a broad array of commentators. “With so many fictional stories about how people will turn on one another in the event of a collapse, it’s great to see a real-life example of folks who band together to make things work during tough times,” wroteLauren Davis with the online service io9.com.

But in the face of increasingly vicious attacks on Greeks by international institutions — the European Union, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and others — it remains unclear how long such alternative networks may survive. Consider: When Former Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou suggested allowing citizens to vote on international demands before imposing the unpopular measures on the populace, he was promptly replaced by an unelected central banker in what observers called a “coup.”

“The real question is not whether these types of systems work during times of economic crisis, but how they can persist once organizations like the World Bank step in to ‘restore order,’” noted blogger Klint Finley, calling the TEMs network “yet another example of alternative currency thriving in a collapsed economy.”

The Greek police union has threatened to arrest international officials for attempting to foist even more misery on the nation. But that has not deterred the EU or the predatory IMF and World Bank from pursuing the same trajectory — saddling citizens and their unborn children with unpayable debts in perpetuity rather than allowing a default and an exit from the disastrous single currency.

Still, despite hostility from the “establishment,” alternative currencies are flourishing all over the world. In Germany, for example, some two dozen regional non-official monetary systems have emerged since the birth of the euro.

“We want people to think about this more … participants of the alternative currencies want to change the money system,” Christian Gelleri, the managing director of a regional German currency called Chiemgauer, told The New American in a 2010 telephone interview. “We want to promote local charities and connect local businesses — that’s our objective.”

In the United States, despite the high-profile prosecution of Liberty Dollar founder Bernard Von NotHaus, more than a few alternative currencies are already in circulation as well. Examples include Detroit “Cheers,” “BerkShares” in Massachusetts, and “Ithaca Hours” in New York. So-called digital gold currencies are also attracting more and more users. And an online currency system known as “BitCoin” has gained a tremendous following in a relatively short period of time.

And at the state level, even governments are taking action. Utah, for example, officially made gold and silver into legal tender last year. And several states are considering similar legislation as the Federal Reserve and the U.S. dollar come under increasing pressure.

Even as alternatives to the global debt-based fiat monetary regime continue to expand, however, there is a concerted effort underway by top officials worldwide to foist a world currency managed by aninternational central bank on the planet. And with the American dollar quickly losing its appeal as the “reserve currency” and the euro under more and more scrutiny, a significant change in the monetary system is almost certainly imminent.

The real question, then, is whether the world will eventually return to honest money established by the market, or allow increasing centralization of the clearly corrupt monetary system in the hands of a small group of elites. The answer to that crucial question will determine the future of the planet in ways that are virtually impossible to overstate.