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Petty capitalism, perfecting capitalism or post-capitalism? Lessons from the Argentinean barter network

Jeff Powell, 2002

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Summary :

The Red de Trueque (or « Barter Network », hereafter, RT) in Argentina

represents a sea change in the scale and–at least economic –impact of CCS. In only six years, the system has grow n to involve one million people at over 800 trading centres located in 14 of Argentina’s 23 provinces. Annual circulation of créditos, the RT unit of exchange, is estimated to be over one billion dollars. Organizers claim that individual members’ consumption is increased by up to US$600 per month– astounding when compared with a minimum wage just half of that amount (Primavera 1999b:5). More than just « weekend bazaars » however, the network’s organizers assert that its membership adheres to a set of normative principles which form the basis of

an ‘economy of solidarity’. This suggests the pursuit of a type of market-based utopia.

If true, this would dwarve any mass movement of utopian socialism in recent history.

What is particularly poignant in the RT case is that despite its massive growth and oppositional normative stance, the RT has enjoyed considerable government support.

My objectives in studying the RT are two-fold. First, an independent study is

needed to provide a deeper understanding of what exactly is going on and what the impacts are for participants. The second objective is to analyse the role that the RT is playing vis à vis the mainstream economy. Two–seemingly contradictory– dispositions appear to be at work. The dual achievement of unprecedented growth and government support would suggest that the RT is complementary to capitalism.

Some supporters of the RT see it as a way of perfecting capitalism by generating economic activ ity in the interstices of the mainstream economy; detractors argue that the RT is nothing more than petty capitalism, strengthening marginalization by bringing together the dispossessed.

Sources :

Complementary Currency Resource Center: CC Library www.complementarycurrency.org/materials.php