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Obols or No Balls

While policy-makers struggle to increase the flow of money in stagnant national economies they fail to see that it is not the quantity of the money that is the problem but its quality. The imperialist currencies of dollar and euro were designed to serve the interests of elites, so we should not be surprised that they do nothing to support the livelihoods of citizens of countries the world over. In The Ecology of Money, Richard Douthwaite suggested a sophisticated multi-layered currency world, where different types of money played different roles. Although ignored at the time, this may be just the sort of proposal we need now to resolve the crisis in the global economy, and particularly the crisis in the Eurozone.

The structural flaw with the Euro was always clear to economists: a single currency means a single interest rate, a single price for money across a number of diverse econonomies. The overheating, subsequent bust and unpayable debts in Greeece, Spain and Ireland were bound to result from such a system from the start. For this reason the UK Greens campaigned hard against the Euro proposal as soon as its design and inevitable consequences became clear. Our policy was to support the Euro as a common currency rather than a single currency, and a shift to such a policy remains a viable option for the Eurocrats now, enabling them to save face by claiming that the Euro can survive with its membership intact, while allowing the countries of the periphery to escape ongoing suffocation.

So Greeks would still be able to spend Euros, and the tourism industry, for example, might continue to accept them. But the Greek government would initiate a new currency for the purposes of running its national economy (I would suggest that they not call it the Drachma). Governments need a currency in which they accept taxes, and they need to have control over this currency, Greece could issue Obols to pay the salaries of public-sector workers, and accept the same for payment of taxes. This would immediately liberate the country from the death spiral it is currently enduring. Traders would prefer to have Euros, but a currency which you can use to pay your taxes always has an intrinsic value and would be accepted faute de mieux.

Meanwhile Greek citizens are already finding creative solutions to the desperate shortage of currency: they are creating their own.  The best known example is the TEM (an acronym from the initials of the Greek phrase 'local alternative unit') which circulates widely in the Greek town of Volos.  The currency is a typical example of a community or complementary currency, circulating within a defined local economy. This system, like many LETS schemes in the UK today is run entirely electronically. It has provided a lifeline to many Greeks for whom the Euro is now unattainable. Its success provides evidence of the need to end the national and now international monopoloy over money and shift to a pragmatic policy of creating a number of moneys appropriate to the role that money should play in the economy: facilitation rather than strangulation.

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