Community Currencies Under the Loop

[[{”type”:”media”,”view_mode”:”media_large”,”fid”:”2501″,”attributes”:{”alt”:”Money butterfly”,”class”:”media-image”,”height”:”343″,”style”:”width: 250px; height: 179px; margin: 5px; float: right;”,”typeof”:”foaf:Image”,”width”:”480″}}]]The second Villarceaux Monetary Forum held in June 2014 invited discussions under the theme of  ”the challenge of scaling up” at Villarceaux bergerie, 27-29 June 2014. Wojtek Kalinowski (Veblen institute) explained the Veblen Institute as an organizing partner is interested in social and economic transition using social innovations, in the case of these meetings carrying a focus on complementary money. The theme of last years Villarceaux Monetary forum was democracy, whereas this year the theme of scaling up was central.

The forum wanted to look at the thematics from a transdisciplinary approach, and the meeting included as such participants from think tanks, historians, and anthropologists, coordinating practitioners and researchers. As a result, an international interdisciplinary association on complementary currencies is in the process of being set up. It aims at having its statutes voted upon at the end of 2015 in Brazil, during the next international conference on complementary currencies which will take place in October 2015, in Bahia, Brazil.

1. Scaling up – but in service of what?

The meetings started with a contribution by Celina Whitaker (CEDAL/Monnaies en débat), touching upon issues which remained central to the discussions, and started off with the question: Scaling up, in service of what? If the objective is paradigm change, then it is important to put this upfront.

How do we then see that Complementary currencies are ways to lead to transformation? For some complementary currencies are seen as something to fix the system. Other initiatives are putting their currency forward as a tool for transition; as a tool for leverage, to step up. As such systems like the time banking network in France ’l’Accorderie’ (see more below) sees itself as successful when not needed anymore.  Or are they seen as the key that is going to make for new social organisation? These functions can of course be overlapping.

To enlarge can also mean different things, Celina continued.  It can be referring to a larger size, geographically, or then in number of users. Or perhaps it refers more to adaption. Often it is said complementary currency systems can have an optimal size; small systems might want to be replicated. Or perhaps referred is to percolation, meaning the moving of ideas, so that our way of looking at things also transfers into other areas.

However Celina then asked, instead of talking about scale, how about addressing increasing desired impact? This goes beyond scaling up. As such objectives can be charted as changing behaviour, supporting local business, or democratising the public, in order to pinpoint where one stands.

(Managing) tension

Celina went over several tensions, which arise when scaling up.  A first major tension she defined as being one of quantity versus quality.  Of course an initiative wants to make sure it has an impact, and as can be heard there is the need to scale up, or “otherwise we die out.” But is there a want to grow at all cost?

Second major tension Celina identified was one of security. Recognition by authorities can have a big impact on circulation, but focus for a currency should be on trust. Recognition by authorities can be like the setting up of a trust procedure, but in this process trust is externalized, and becomes based on authority and technology. This can result in a loss. The result can be the developing of a pretty conventional system, which is not necessarily moving people to change.

Celina defined a third tension as being an issue of velocity and time. A currency process will want to gain visibility. On the other hand, real co-management of a currency takes a lot of time. Somehow a balance needs to be struck between quick time and slow time.  

Also this is a valid observation in the case of the development process of Helsinki Time bank. The time bank came to a writing down of its values and principles as happened over a process from fall 2011 to the spring of 2013, a necessarily as participatory as possible ‘slow time’ process. Before this it would not have been able to express itself for instance on taxation. It was some 3 months after the coming out of this Helsinki Time bank’s ABC of values and principles that tax officials announced on national TV news end May 2013 that tax authorities would be turning their attention towards time banking in Finland, and set out new guidelines. This announcement just before summer put a strain on the time bank for whom the coming to a more comprehensive position on taxation that would have been a logic next step of deliberation after its ABC, even if the issue in itself had of course been an issue accompanying the discussion around the time bank in Finland from the very beginning.

Finland has a large taxable income base, and the time bank also in response to the discussion on taxation developed its internal time tax going to ethical actors in the time bank already in 2012. In Sweden and Denmark for instance hardly any time banking activity has been developed due to taxation issues. When Finnish taxation authorities then presented a draft of their guidelines on time banking in August 2013, three weeks were given to the time bank (and other actors) to comment.

This kind of timeframe put a considerable “quick time” strain on the time bank to come to participatory, joint, written down opinion forming. Helsinki Time bank then managed to produce a position paper on the draft guidelines soon after they came out, produced a statement on the final version of the taxation guidelines, and drew up a paper in which restating its request for a euro taxation free time for Helsinki time bank in order to assess its potential to work towards the objective of a change towards more communal culture and ethical local economy building in the city, including also an assessment of the potential of its (internal) time tax, whilst identifying a host of issues and questions it needs to deal with.

A fourth tension Celina identifies as a supply and demand tension. Thoughts are usually that need a diversified supply, because then people will take part. But as soon as supply is the focus, are looking at things from a conventional system point of view. A mapping of needs can then be a much better starting point.

A last tension then is with regards to wanting to change the scale of the money. But when focusing on the goals, a currency is only a tool. And the question then is: scaling up of change, or of the money?

Celina suggested a tool question could be useful to manage these tensions. Every step taken, it is important to ask the question: what do we gain, what do we lose? Making a currency easier to use, might then also be losing out on something else.

2. Eusko (local currency), L’Accorderie (time bank), Solidarity economy and some conclusions from Greece

Two initiatives were introduced in the plenary of the meetings. Xabi Chamino, Eusko (www.euskalmoneta.org) introduced the chart of this largest of twenty-two local monies in France as a very important feature of this process. The local currency has 3.245 users, of which 2.700 local.  The Eusko is meant to be a tool for local development, for local economy and creation of jobs, and circulates 4 times more than the euro. As was referred to and pointed to several times during the meetings, the Eusko has a clear political nature, which it puts upfront:  to strengthen local Basque identity and development. It has also developed an elaborate participatory governance structure of the currency.

There were different time banks present at the meeting. A presentation happened by Zoé Renaut-Revoyre, the national coordinator of l’Accorderie (www.accorderie.fr), which originates from Quebec, 2002. L’Accorderie was brought to France by the Macif foundation, where it started in 2013. L’Accorderie defines its mission as being to struggle against poverty and social exclusion; to strengthen tissue between inhabitants and develop solidarity, and to promote mixing of the social, cultural, and intergenerational. To valorise all competence of everyone is core, and the agreement is also that no professional work, nor work related to health, is done through the time bank. To start an Accorderie group one needs a certain budget, location, and a salaried coordinating person in place.

Exchanges done were categorised in three groups: Individual exchanges; associative exchanges between individuals and l’Accorderie; and collective exchanges, like for example organic foods bought in gross, resold for Euro’s to members, but then also paid for in time credits for time used.

The time bank said in its presentation that with regards to scaling, challenge of this young time bank was that 43% of people do not exchange and as such want to promote their participation. The time bank thus wants to promote more diversity, and instead of the predominance of associative exchanges between accorderie and accordeurs (currently 30%), promote more individual exchange, and collective exchanges (currently 0%). 81,5% of the users said that through l’Accorderie could get services that otherwise not. 79,6% said the time bank was to valorise talents and 77,5% said it served to get new competence.

L’Accorderie presented thoughts on governance recognisable also from Helsinki Time banks development path. So the importance is to find out how can be as open as possible to all, and to promote that all can participate. Zoé expressed the governance process in itself as a laboratory, and coming with the challenge on making that sustainable, which was in this case associated with the concern around funding.  The Accorderie movement also has the commitment to spread l’Accorderie to other French speaking countries. Differences between existing groups can lie in whether or not working together with local authorities.

Juliana Braz, of the Nucleus for Solidarity Economy in Sao Paulo, Brasil, and who is currently coordinating a national project on platform formation for complementary currencies in Brazil, opened up on the experiences of Banco Palmas in Brazil and the context of Solidarity economy building.  Juliana told how in Brazil the neoliberal policies of the 90’s made the social movements of the 60-70’s thinking again on economic dimensions. Different solidarity economy initiatives sprung up like union recovered enterprises, and cooperative incubators. In 2000 Brazilian President Lula at the time put forward a new agenda to fight against poverty and established the national secretary for solidarity economy, SENAES. Banco Palmas was set up in 1998, and in 2002 the Palmas social currency. Since 2003 a process of replication has been ongoing, and today there are some 103 community development banks.

Main goal is territorial development, not the currency. Characteristics are that the initiative is based on previous community organisation, and carries as objectives economic democracy, access and control of financial instruments as well as self-management. Main goal as such is territorial development, not the currency.  The mapping of local consumption and production is a tool in this process.

Juliana explained how these developments have passed from being a local institution to a national institute. And in this quest for another model of development, public funding is given for initiatives now still for two years. Juliana furthermore told that in this phase, not more quantity is wanted, but quality. Wanted is to come to more solidarity financing on a national level through other financial solidarity economy actors.

Also Helsinki Time bank has been empowered and inspired in its development by Solidarity economy envisioning and methodology.  In particular by its pointing to the fact that economy is ‘simply’ a discussion for and of everyone as to how we organise life together; that around us are layers and instances of economic organising which are putting other values than monetary profit upfront, and that by increasingly acting through and linking of these instances like through a tool as a time bank, this other already existing economy can be growing. As Noel Longhurst (University of East Anglia, UK) noted at a summing up moment of the discussions, there are a host of grassroots innovations, or processes for instance around local organic food which are putting similar values upfront as is happening in the complementary currencies discussion.

There was also an interest to understand better the situation with regards to complementary currencies in Greece. Irene Sotiropoulou (independent researcher, Greece) started off by saying that  Movements against privation, environmental degradation, and unemployment are being suppressed in Greece, with Greek economy always having being described as being in crises.  Irene told there are no historical studies on multiple currencies or non-monetary transactions in Greece. There was one time bank in Greece in 2014, now Irene takes it some 40 schemes are working. Local city councils have been establishing more time banks, but they are not working, as people are suspicious towards them.

At large, Irene said there have been complementary currencies in Greece, which she said had see an ”implementation by the book”, but named a range of issues that influenced their level of success:

  • it is a necessity that public goods as health and education are secured
  • solidarity structures in Greece have been showing the limits of self-help ideology
  • the demolition of the welfare state means privatisation of social services
  • privatisation of the commons and public facilities brings burden to the poorest; in water & electricity schemes participation is undermined
  • land rights and homelessness; parallel currencies are not workable for people who are homeless
  • working conditions & collective rights
  • small enterprises & freelance producers are devastated by neoliberal policies
  • problem of value and prices; pegging complementary currency to the euro recreates same differential valuing

Irene referred to the euro as a currency applying aggressive capitalism in Europe, and the complementary currencies we create can then either be supporting the system, or make for emancipatory tools. Further in the meetings it was remarked that one cannot speak of national currencies in Europe.

The meetings split into three workshops held on the scaling up and development of timebanks, local currencies and the issue of recognition, which brought out different overlapping issues reported on in the below.

3. Promoting the use of local currencies

Promoting the use of local currencies, which are backed by national currencies. How to come to more users? Discussions put forward there is no magic solution. It takes time.

Political dimension. Interesting was the discussion on whether or not putting the political, values upfront is an encouragement or a deterring factor in the use of a complementary currency. The EUSCO is clearly a political project building up Basque regional and identity development, and this is put upfront. For the part of Helsinki Time bank, shared was in the meeting that in the beginning only the basic time banking values of everybodies time, work and needs being of equal worth upfront, and that it was discouraged at the time to talk more on values. However, it were practical experiences of a small selling rink of a larger cosmetic firm wanting to join the time bank which brought more evident the need to discuss values as to what kind of activities wanted to be supported through the time bank and its credits. So also Mark Burton (Bristol pound, UK) said that from the start Bristol pound has situated its project politically, and that this has definitely contributed to being widely used. Most experiences shared during the Villarceaux meetings seemed to point to the fact that it is important to keep the political nature of the project upfront, and be upfront about this.

Interestingly in the case of local currencies it was mentioned it is easier to find entrepreneurs to join the network, then individual users. As Tom Shahkli (Brixton pound, UK) put it, entrepreneurs are just asked to use currencies. A lot more is being asked from users. In a time bank however the issue seems to lie different. Economic actors like a cooperative joining the time bank will be opening up its working also to other people joining in the activities of the cooperative, which will bring own challenges.

Physical access. Discussed was whether making the currency somehow ending up in hands of people, and starting them unintentionally off in that way, would be beneficial. Eco-iris currency for instance gives out for free when starting out. Discussing this issue with Helsinki Time bank led to the discussion that in how far does this promote idea of time credits as commodities which one somehow needs to have in other to spend? Promoting that one can go into minus from the start, that this simply implies a commitment to the time bank to also give when one can, has felt to be a good way to go about it. 

The question was raised that bringing in routine with regard to usage of the local currency would be important to promote use of local currencies. Contradictory feelings will be surrounding the issue of putting the political upfront, access and creating routine, – nevertheless the meetings concluded pragmatism was overall not thought to be a wise way to approach the growing of the use of a local currency, being growing without meaning.

4. Valuing work in time: a full or partial alternative?

During the discussions the issue of Time banking and its valuing of time, of what is work, and what it is we remunerate in a time bank, was present.

One side of the discussion is for instance what activity it is we (start to) value with our time credits? It is a discussion, which also frequently has come up around Helsinki time bank, sometimes in the form of criticism of time banks supposedly monetising relations, which were not monetised before, like volunteering, or caring. As shared during the meetings, time credits in Helsinki time bank have felt to be a pedagogical tool enabling us to create relations based on different values. There where relations are good, there is absolutely no need to put a time bank on top of that. However time banking can be well put to use to address those relations which are not yet based on equality and, as in the case of Helsinki Time bank, any other values attached to the currency.  As such, it is of no significance whether we describe the activity as caring, volunteering, working, developing skills, or just an activity. Starting point can then be the fact that we all have 24 hours in a day, and the question can time banking be one tool enabling a more meaningful use of those hour

Another side of the discussion is then what kind of work is done in a Time bank, which typically is not taxed, and not considered to be taxed. As is common, Grazia Pratella (Banche del Tempo, Italy) told the timebank to be about giving ”value to valueless” work. In Italy a law has been adopted recognising advantages of time banking. Grazia also told of how there is an agreement on a local government level which gives certain infrastructure as a places, energy, telephone in exchange for certain services, and some 100 hours are exchanged in this way.  

The issue of no professional work being done is a core part of the agreement in l’Accorderie. However, coordinator Zoé also said that obviously a degree of flexibility was needed with regards to many people today practicing a variety of ”professions.”  Underlined was nevertheless that the ’valorising of skills’ was the baseline. Activities in l’Accorderie are also not meant to be in any way related to health. Both issues presents an interesting contrast to development in Helsinki time bank, also if take into consideration the development of the Aika Parantaa network (Time heals, www. Aikaparantaa.com), which also wants to address overprofessionalisation and the potential of co-production.

As Laurent Dombret (La Minuto, Belgium) told, in the Minuto time bank in Belgium, professionals and individuals take part. Agreement is that taxation will be paid when required. Also when products are required, idea is to pay in euros and time, making Minuto somewhat a hybrid model, which is to a certain extent also the case in Helsinki Time bank.

Also Lofti Kaabi (Special advisor for Tunisian Presidency on social innovation – Project Time Banking, Tunisia) speaking on the Time banking experience in Tunis attached to wider democratising local platform referred to the want for work and activity at large to be possible in time banking, in order to promote alternative. As part of a larger whole working towards local empowerment, time banks for instances are promoted in start up phase of cooperatives.

The latter experiences together with Helsinki Time bank put to the forefront a view on time banking as a more comprehensive tool in alternative building. Linked to this is then Bruno Théret (CNRS, université Paris Dauphine), reminded of a fundamental in the meetings, that time banking values human activity in contradiction to market values. Valorisation in hours is a profound countering of market vision.

With regards to whether or not time banking was for the present coordinators a case of complementarity or transformation, everyone agreed the latter was the objective.

5. Recognition

As Pepita Ould-Ahmed (Institute for Research and Development, France) brought up, seeking recognition for complementary currencies goes both ways. Authorities might recognise your project, but in that way you are also recognising (the) authority. And if a process feels to be requiring recognition, are you changing the project in any way, becoming more pragmatic?

Acknowledgement as such allowing for scaling up is connected to legal and institutional challenges, connected to goals, and ideas on transformation. Certain initiatives have been striving straight from their start of recognition by authorities, others are of a more spontaneous, open and experimental nature and feel autonomous development and dialogue is to determine what kind of recognition and how this in practice is worked out, is sought for.  Yet other initiatives want to keep a very low profile.

Leander Bindewald (New Economics Foundation, UK) explained on the project of Community Currencies in Action (www.communitycurrenciesinaction.eu), partnering in four countries.  Leander told the initiatives taking part in this project are described as being non for profit exchange systems, be they of a local money; time bank, or business to business character.  The project focuses on the issue of impact assessment. For the public sector to become interested in the currency, to will want to see if it works. Secondly the project focuses on legal compliance.

Susanna Martin Belmonte (Eurocat, Catalonia), told more of the process of development of Eurocat, which now for 1,5 year has been working on a social money for Catalonia.  The initiative has strived to want recognition from the start from authorities, discussions have been held for instance with trade unions. A coalition of supporting actors has as such been tried to set up.  The initiative is now inviting parliamentarians to open an account, and the concept includes that the currency can also be used to pay public taxes.  Susanna spoke of the importance to engage actors which one would expect to be interested from Green and Left, but which have been to engage in the discussion.

Pepita then asked the question – Why do we need recognition? Need to make a difference between legal recognition and legitimation, and to be aware of the power struggle also accompanying the processes. Authorities won’t be able to ignore the currency if it has a large volume, and the currency will then become legal. Pepita pointed to what also experiences with Helsinki Time bank brought to the forefront; different countries will carry of course different perceptions on the state, influencing with this the political economic narrative being built around any currency

Tom stressed the Brixton pound engaged from the beginning local authorities in the initiative. As such it is now possible to pay local taxes in Brixton pound, but the tax is then spent in sterling. Now they are trying to convert that situation. As Tom said, if can pay taxes in the complementary currency, that changes all.

Dominiqie Doré (SEL, France) told there are more then 500 LETS groups in France, of which 450 registered in a database, and 50 not wanting to be official. There have been two sides in SEL: One promoting business; the other social function. The network has annual meetings, but the groups have diverging approaches to different issues, and as such the network for instance does not even have one logo. Many consider it good to be like that, to stick with a low profile, and not stick ones nose in other groups’ businesses. Then again, other groups get costs funded from local authorities and actively ask for subsidies. Dominique referred to a current process ongoing around the creation of an”utilité social”- label for an association, and put forward that it would be important for actors to be participating in determining the criteria.

Xabin told that also in the case of the EUSKO, recognition was straight aay sought after, and the currency was launched in the town hall. Xabin told that for the moment the currency is understood as citizens currency and a level of partnership on a local level established. The bank of France has ruled the currency not to be seen as a means of interpayment, so for now all is ok. The currency as such is legal, but, as he said, should become increasingly legitimate and ’become part of the landscape’.

Carlos de Freitas (Palmas Institute Europe/FMDV/Monnaies en Débat) commented also on how direct strategies for aligned ”intelligent” recognition were important, pointing to the fact that timing and agenda in the process matters

Different institutions as such might be wanted to gain recognition of, and different dialogues will be necessary, with local authorities, central bank, State, users, academics…

Arguments speaking for the currency will be different in different dialogues:

  1. Interest free spending.
  2. Fiscal control not going to tax havens.
  3. Access liquidity.
  4. Not illegal. This was the argument used in the Bangla Pesa case, which proved itself to be working from a developmental perspective. WIR is another powerful example; international examples are important.
  5. Effective.
  6. Efficient.
  7. Established (not new) yet innovative.
  8. Defend values, democratic, social, ecological, local identity. Make currencies for the commons good. As Tom put it, normal money is a passive use. Local currency gives opportunity to exercise own value creation.
  9. Right to experiment with some flexibility, and to a certain threshold. Innovation debate.

In addition to this, Susanne put to the forefront can we see the right to the creation of other financial systems which work for people as a human right?

As monetary historian Atriz Beaubou Nanterre asked, can we draw the conclusion that scaling up calls increasingly for acknowledgment by authorities? Whilst perhaps also, that as size grown, the more general the currency process might find itself getting? (Is that so?)

Bruno brought up the issue of struggles between monies. Monies should be understood as institutions as well, they are not just a tool.

Complementary currencies, notably also time banks, have typically been associated as being something that is to be funded. Connected to this can be policies of Big Society building. During the meetings the challenge of funding and independence was addressed, as a funder will have an economic vision of how things should be. As such it was stressed it is important to develop own network. Discussions on funding during the meeting also touched upon how there can be struggles over funding between different processes.

In terms of what gains recognition, it was commented that public authorities invest in what provides access to all. Recognition comes not necessarily from numbers, but because did not collapse or because got partners.

6. Role of the State, citizens’ engagement, local creation and taxation

Discussions contrasted as Bruno brought up, the issue of authority vs. freedom, and a sliding scale was suggested regarding the protecting and furthering of our commons, with the Role of the State on the one end, and citizens engagement on the other. The matter as such was pointed out to be not being one of merely remedying what the State can’t do, but about creating locally. A time bank as such can be seen in a particular way as useful for citizens’ engagement, and the issue of coming to more collective authority.

An interesting reflection and proposal for a time tax is further presented in work done by Bruno as in the article “De la democratie formelle a la citoyennette participative. Réduction du temps de travail, fiscalité et monnaie-temps au secours de la démocratie participative” (Conférence au Collège Belgique, Bruxelles, novembre 2011). The article addresses the development of participatory democracy and sustainable development by way of a reduction of salaried working time (basically the time spent working to pay (a part of) taxes), and the reinvesting of this liberated time into socio-political activity, coming as such to a time tax. Activities as such done are here seen as a co-production of non-market services, but also activities that relate to study, deliberation, decision-making and political governance. In the articles referred is to how these activities of an individual, collective and associative nature can be seen as approximating activities done in a time bank, in which all hours done are of equal value, and as such mixing in with the democratic egalitarian principle of ”one man, one vote”.  

These thoughts resonate also with thoughts which have been an inspiration in the thinking around Helsinki Time bank and for instance the notion of a partner state as described by Michel Bauwens, referring to a state which guarantees the basics for all, but increasingly provides infrastructure for citizens to act, and as such enabling and supporting not a privatising, but a commonifying of the public. And Helsinki Time bank contested  the Finnish taxation guidelines on time banking which came out last year, which in short state that taxation is to be paid on all skilled work done in the time bank according to market value, and to instead wanting to promote a dialogue with authorities to via an euro taxation free time assess potential of time banking towards communal cultural change, and strengthening social and ecological economy, including an assessment of the potential of its (internal) time tax.

As came up, one could imagine in this discussion potential being augmented if conversion rates would be existing from local currencies into time currencies, as the CES platforms on which also Helsinki time bank operates, already enables.

The meetings at large felt to be an encouragement to the developmental process around Helsinki Timebank, and testified to a growing movement around complementary currencies in connection with paradigm change. At the end of the meetings, and much in continuation of the second ISS complementary currencies meetings in Holland, in June 2013, Jérome Blanc (University Lyon 2, France) shared that an international interdisciplinary association on complementary currencies is in the process of being set up, which aims at having its statutes voted upon at the end of 2015 in Brazil, during the next international conference on complementary currencies which will take place in October 2015, in Bahia, in cooperation with the federal university there.

Ruby van der Wekken

 

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