Were we surprised by news last week of the Italians' special economic brand of Euro fudge? No we were not! In common with the rest of the human race I suspect, the arguments for and against the Euro have recently raged around my ears, in mounting confusion but actually I am beginning to find the whole debate increasingly off-beam. For already we deal in a multiplicity of currencies in our daily lives – smart cards, air miles, supermarket tokens and loyalty card bonus points which can be redeemed for goods, as well as local exchange trading schemes. Money is ever more represented by intangible processes with Bacs, direct debits and standing orders stealing in and out of our accounts. And so even in the most orthodox bits of Euroland who would want to be reduced to just one single currency?
Notes and coins now form only 3% of transactions and the process of making money a communal fiction has been exacerbated by the Internet where we increasingly choose to make virtual purchases in virtual shops. Consequently the concept of debt no longer hurts or stigmatises as it once did for being part of the fiction, it has been transformed into gearing. On the other side of the balance sheet our virtuous savings are whisked away to become chips in a glorious game of markets played by those interested in making money out of money rather than matching those with money to those who need it. As we now rarely have real dosh in our paws, there is a sense of powerlessness, which perhaps explains our apathy towards notices of investor meetings as well as next month's European elections. "Buy-in" that buzz phrase occurs most effectively within small units, where the distance between the manager and the managed is smallest. And so it is with money systems.
Readers of this column will know that I am a devotee of LETS. Local exchange trading schemes. There are now 50 in Scotland with over 450 in the UK as a whole. My own local system East Lothian LETS now has 130 members and is growing like a weed. It has reached the point that I always ask myself first if I can buy or supply in local currency. Our family commitment is strong, for this is a currency we have chosen, rather than one foisted upon us. We have a real stake in its success. Since January this column would have been written on the back of an envelope if not for the expert ministrations of my resident LETS computer whiz. My new website, was also paid for in LETS, a fact which left my smart London publishers touchingly mystified.
Or course friends, particularly those flying high in the cash economy put my passion for LETS down to eccentricity. 'Just use cash', they cry. But they miss the point. For if money represents units of energy, LETS currency represents local energy spent locally, unlocking local talents for local benefit. It does not disappear in a flick of a Switch card to feed profits for distant shareholders. Interest is not paid on negative or positive balances, for this money is neutral. As Ed Mayo observed recently in the New Statesman, new currencies see that interest is simply a way of allocating a charge for the use of money. LETS shows it doesn't need to be that way.
Of course being a grass roots movement LETS has until recently been treated slightly sniffily by the business community. Perhaps there has been a whiff of open-toed sandals and brown rice about it, which for those on the corporate greasy pole, has proved off-putting. Yet as society and business, becomes more partnership orientated and community-minded so LETS is joining the mainstream. This process is accelerating for now so many schemes are reaching critical mass. Stirling & Alloa LETS now has 400 members, Moray 250, Edinburgh LETS 150, Falkirk 150, and in Glasgow the various schemes are considering amalgamating for a Glasgow-wide currency. For local organisations in rural Scotland there is LETS intertrading through SOCS – Scottish Organisational Currency System run by Rural Forum. LETS has also a key role to play with local employment, for example supporting local arts and crafts also enables suppliers to the tourism industry to survive through the winter months. Interestingly Stirling LETS (dealing in Groats) has recently joined the local Chamber of Commerce deriving big benefits in help in kind. Volunteers man their Irvine Place office, and hold a trade fair and auction held every six weeks.
Perhaps the names of the various currencies have not helped business credibility. I remember bringing the house down at my local traders' association talking about Glasgow Kelvins, and St Andrew Fifies and Edinburgh Reekies. Money is too serious a subject. Which is perhaps the trouble with conventional economic systems. Money in the making and the spending should allow us to have more fun than it does at present. Our stress levels are sky high as we work the longest hours in Europe and if we are fathers, see our children on an average of 8 minutes a day, according to one recent survey. Our shopping trips to crowded malls stress us out still further, for the conventional cash economy be it in sterling or euros reduces us all to walking smartcards. Whereas LETS is a community economy which empowers all of us at local level. We, the little people, matter. It means spending power without guilt. A glorious feeling. Put that in your Duisenberg and smoke it.
Letslink Scotland 01738 62263 or 01324 636571
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