Given my enthusiasm for the launch of the IMA, I regret not being able to conference with you in Glasgow. Its a field I've dedicated my life to for almost a decade. I started a nonprofit, Community Forge in 2009, in partnership with the Local Exchange Trading System (LETS) in Geneva, to build and host web sites for LETS. Back then I didn't know any theory, but exchanging without money felt to me like kindling a revolution! Soon we were hosting sites for a cluster of SEL in Belgium and now for over 300 active groups, all for free.
I've seen the aging LETS membership advance by another decade and continue to struggle both developing and using relentless waves of new technologies; I have stood by as numerous competitors told me it can't be done for free, then wasted millions on community software that no-one wanted. I chose a different path. Quite literally, visiting community economy projects in over 10 countries, often for months at a time, to offer training, advice and free open source software. On the side I taught myself some community economics and published some findings from my grassroots research with the UN and elsewhere.
So with that introduction I would like to share my truth with you.
What we are doing has no economic impact. I hope that doesn't come across as rude, but there is a planetary emergency going on.
Our shared conviction that monetary mismanagement is at the root of humanity's problems by no means implies that small money systems are an effective lever for change. We all enjoy imagining a new economy based on a new money, but in my opinion we are failing to learn (and to document) from perhaps three decades of experiments. Projects fail for many different reasons - poor governance, lack of resources, lack of participation, technical weight etc. but I think they all fail to thrive for the same reason, which is that our scattered efforts are much less useful than the global institutions they seek to displace. Local currencies are less useful because the global marketplace where most people buy most stuff is best served by globalised money; the few local marketplaces that could use local currencies are smaller, messier, and seem expensive by comparison.
So I would like to make a few brief points, and then a suggestion.
- If our goal is to keep money in a local circuit, then there are more tried and tested ways to support local businesses, and build healthy supply chains than issuing local pounds.
- If changing money is our goal, then selling fully backed vouchers for local shops does not seem to offer a different, let alone "independent" money system. Instead we could build upon goodmoney.co.uk which helps develop voucher schemes backed by the shops inventories, rather than Sterling.
- Aside from numerous other benefits to working at scale, economic circuits are easier to create within larger marketplaces.
- I believe a community that makes a commitment to buy from each other in solidarity is the reality for which a complementary currency is just a symbol language. There is limited benefit in constructing symbol systems without a base in reality.
- Repeatedly we see that a handful of activists in each town are unable to create those kinds of local economic circuits from which pounds can then be expelled. That is because those circuits are more likely to include a wide variety of goods and services, not just high street vendors.
So my main question for delegates at IMA and any other events in the complementary currency field is this: what is stopping us from working on one project, providing a truly independent form of money, possibly with a single brand and a national scope? Could we, for instance, see a progressive competitor to Bartercard, linking transition towns, coops, community supported agriculture, nonprofits etc? Could Bristol Prospects evolve to become such an initiative? It doesn't have to be business barter. I'm impressed by Hullcoin's work, bringing institutions on board, leveraging the blockchain discourse, and focusing relentlessly on enabling the poor. I'm impressed by a project called FairCoop and their working together to make a freely tradeable cryptocurrency (Faircoin) into a community good.
I'd be the first to acknowledge that working together is a challenge. But we have little hope of building a better society or a better money to organise that society until we can organise ourselves to become more than the sum of our parts.
This hope for combining efforts is why the three largest software platforms for complementary currencies, serving over 300 active local currencies in more than 15 countries, have federated into the Credit Commons Collective. Our network is almost entirely outside the UK, and so we look forward to exploring opportunities with the IMA, and wish it every success in invigorating the complementary currency movement in Britain.