Complementary money, a tool for economic transition
As Bernard Lietaer points out, national currencies and conventional monetary systems serve, by definition, to generate competition and are founded on the principle of artificially-maintained scarcity. The way that a society creates and generates money has a far-reaching impact on that society’s values and human relations. In response to recurring financial crises as well as environmental, climate and energy crises, a number of what are known as alternative, social, solidarity, local, allocated, complementary or plural currencies have emerged over the last 30 years. These currencies propose alternative mechanisms for creating and managing money.
The currencies are the product of deliberations on the nature and importance of money and the behaviour it produces, and are led by citizen initiatives. Depending on the different systems, they seek to:
produce behaviour that is more cooperative and rooted in solidarity;
reinforce social ties and community cohesion;
promote the exchange of products and services with strong ecological and social value;
revise trade rules;
stimulate local trade and local sustainable development;
acknowledge skills not recognized by the market system;
provide the conditions for reintegration via work;
divest money of its speculative tendencies;
ensure citizen and democratic control of the trade, currency and savings unit.
Specialists such as Jérôme Blanc and Bernard Lietaer estimate that “in the mid-2000s, there were between half a million and a million [members of social money systems], spread across over three thousand not-for-profit organizations in around forty countries, mostly in the West, Latin America and Japan.” These initiatives often have links to other initiatives throughout the world, benefiting from their experience thanks to social networks and the internet, and have become more organized with a more systematized experimentation process.
Although they are still often marginalized, these exemplary social innovations, these “concrete utopias”, are seen by some as instruments for transition, thanks to their capacity to link up existing transitional initiatives, such as the Transitions Towns project, some of which already have their own currency. They serve to link up social, ecological and solidarity-based initiatives that would otherwise come up against the problem of the absence of an adequate discussion and assessment tool. Money thus becomes a lever for stimulating new and local economic activities, thus liberating it partially from dependency on oil-derived products, by providing access to goods, services and credit based on internal money. Others see these initiatives as one of the elements in the future transition from an industrial era to a knowledge society.