Tag Archives: trade exchanges

Local Currencies—what works; what doesn’t?

Local Currencies—what works; what doesn’t?
By Thomas H. Greco, Jr.

Community  currencies, and mutual credit clearing exchanges are key elements in the emergence of a new economic paradigm. These approaches to enabling the exchange of value are not entirely new, they have a long and varied history, but their enormous potential and possibilities have become widely recognized only within the past three or four decades. This is largely the result of increasing disillusionment with conventional money and banking systems, the emergence of Bitcoin and other non-governmental, non-bank currencies, and the growing interest in decentralized, peer-to-peer approaches in all realms of human activity.

The latest wave of exchange alternatives has seen the emergence over the past few decades of scores of commercial trade or “barter” exchanges, and hundreds, if not thousands of local currencies. The scores of commercial trade exchanges that have  been operating in many countries around the world for the past four or five decades enable moneyless trading among their business members, and collectively “clear” tens of billions of dollars’ worth of trades annually. Their success provides the strongest proof of the viability of decentralized, non-governmental, non-bank, moneyless exchange options.[i]

On the other hand, the plethora of local and community currencies that have popped-up all over the world have not been so encouraging. The avowed purpose of local currencies has generally been to keep money circulating locally instead of “leaking out” of the community. It is hoped that by keeping exchange media circulating within the local community, the vitality of the local economy will be enhanced and local businesses will be better able to compete with large global corporations and merchandising chains.

That is well and good, but it misses the main point of what ails our communities, and our world. It is the very nature of the dominant political money system that is problematic. So, localization is not the end in itself, but the necessary means to an end, which is personal re-empowerment and freedom; community resilience, sustainability, and self-determination; and the revitalization of democratic governance. Community currencies and exchange systems provide an essential tool kit for achieving those goals but they need to be designed in such a way as to make people less dependent upon political money and banks. So long as we remain harnessed to the dominant money and banking regime, there will be little chance of significant improvement in the human condition, in fact, the trend has been exactly opposite. ….  Read the full article or download the full PDF.

Advertisements

The Financial Times discovers mutual credit clearing

Journalist Edward Posnett, in an article that appears this weekend in the Financial Times magazine, describes the origins and operations of Sardex, a mutual credit clearing exchange that I visited last month and reported on here.

Posnett’s article, The Sardex factor, is fairly well written and begins with the subtitle: When the financial crisis hit Sardinia, a group of local friends decided that the best way to help the island was to set up a currency from scratch. You can read the full article here.

While I consider Sardex to be among “the best of the breed” and a trade exchange model worth replicating, it is by no means unique. Posnett’s article is well worth reading but I fault it on two counts, first for ignoring the scores of similar commercial trade exchanges that have been operating successfully around the world for the past several decades, and secondly for failing to emphasize the crucial importance of the value proposition that mutual credit clearing provides—the provision of liquidity to a local or domestic economy, independent of the banking system and without the disruptive and destabilizing imposition of interest.

There are several well run commercial trade exchanges but as I said in my interview at Sardex, most trade exchange operators are too complacent and satisfied with their modest levels of business success.

The ‘special sauce” that seems to make Sardex stand out is the underlying values and social mission of the founders. Their primary purpose in launching their credit clearing exchange was to help improve the local economy of their home island. I hope that will continue to inspire their operations and development in the years to come.

They have tried to assist entrepreneurs in six or seven other regions of Italy to replicate their design and operations, but told me that the results have been disappointing. I’m speculating that it may be for lack of that “special sauce.” If that’s the case, then successful replication will require that they work selectively with social entrepreneurs who share the same values and mission of serving the common good.

That seems to be quite a rare breed right now, so these people will need to be nurtured through a process of selection and education–perhaps somewhat akin to what the Jesuits have historically done. The need is for people who have the right values, strong motivation, and technical competencies to create the new socio-economic paradigm.

The interview that I gave at the Sardex offices during my visit focuses on The Changing Picture in Complementary Currencies and can be viewed in the post below or on YouTube at https://youtu.be/epOebHTQpDI. The pictures that I took are in my online photo gallery at, https://picasaweb.google.com/112258124863172998784/201508SardiniaItaly?authuser=0&authkey=Gv1sRgCILAwtjOyOetvAE&feat=directlink.

#     #     #

Interest and the Role of Trade Exchanges

As cashless exchange becomes an ever more significant portion of total transactions in the economy, the regulatory issue will become a greater concern. It is important that trade exchanges NOT be perceived as issuers of credit, so as to avoid running afoul of banking regulations and possible tax liabilities. Everything that trade exchanges do needs to support the position that the role they play is that of “third-party record-keepers” and that it is the members themselves who provide credit to one another.

Paul Suplizio, former Executive Director of the International reciprocal Trade Association (IRTA), has expressed it this way:

“This means members with positive balances are the issuers of credit and the exchange has only administrative powers, delegated by the members, to regulate credit extension.”

It can be argued that the credit clearing process is simply one of generalizing (collectivizing) the longstanding practice of businesses transacting trades with one another on “open-account,” i.e., selling to one another on credit and allowing some period of time in which to pay.

It has properly been a cornerstone of the trade exchange business that there is no interest charged on negative account balances and no interest paid on positive balances. Therefore it cannot be argued that trade exchanges are acting as banks or lenders of money.