Emergent Currencies in Times of Crisis.

We are on the verge of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. The depths and consequences of it are yet to be known. The Crown Virus (english word for the latin Corona, as the COVID-19 virus is called) is transforming the world at the pace faster than that of globalization itself. The temporality of the present moment will change the human world forever. As the economy comes to a stop, people will mutually need each other in order to maintain their lives.

Within weeks and months, money will become a scarce commodity for sale. Major currencies like the US dollar, Euros and British Pounds will feel the hit. What would the world standard be if the US dollar loses its value? 

Already affecting the poorest and most precarious, it is only a matter of time before cashlessness affects all working people everywhere.

Historically such a crisis was tackled in the following two ways:

The first one is big government intervention, epitomized in the New Deal made by the Roosevelt administration in the 30s and its Green version in current political discourse. Today, the main governments and central banks of the world continue to issue bailouts to the defaulters. They continue to issue consumer credit to private banks. Without a clear credit guidance towards productive investment or  given as an Unconditional and Universal Basic Income, it seems unlikely this approach will work this time around.

The second option calls for the issuance of local, community inclusive currencies that encourages trade within and between towns, cities and rural areas. The idea of community currencies is not new and they emerge in times when people run out of a means of exchange, or when the government money evaporates in value due to hyperinflation. Roosevelt himself called them “emergency currencies” (See the work of Irving Fisher for a detailed history). Time Banks, Mutual Credit, LETS are some of the different systems that exist today. Some living examples are the WIR in Switzerland, Sardex in Italy and Sarafu in Kenya, to name a few.

Local currencies can be issued by any collective, cooperative or community group anywhere with people willing to accept it. Local currencies allow wealth to stay in the community that produced it and exits when trading with surrounding communities, complementing each other in novel ways. A confederation of such local currencies, alongside the parallel relocalization of economic relations could be called a Money Commons. A money commons is a counter-movement towards the democratization of the institutions that underpin monetary creation today: central and private banks. This would mean people would have a stake in the decisions that affect them and would no longer be dependent on globalized supply chains.  Emergent local currencies are a practical tool that allow for the democratization of resources in times of crisis. 

Is it possible to create a basic income from bottom-up? One that commons wealth through direct democratic participation and action.

There is no better time than now to build alternatives. 

Find out more here and here for a mutual aid economy handbook.

Julio Linares 
Economic Anthropologist
Social Outreach – Basic Income Earth Network