currencies for social change, from Buenos Aires to Chapel
makes the world go round we may not like it, but
theres no getting away from it. Or is there? By
using money simply as a means of exchange, it becomes
separated from the idea of wealth, and can be used to
alleviate poverty and strengthen communities. Development
studies professor Ruth Pearson had been looking at barter
systems using alternative currencies in Buenos Aires and
is now introducing a similar system into a very different
context Chapel Allerton, north Leeds.
Ruth Pearson (right) was invited to Argentina with
a film team from the Open University to see the countrys
global exchange network first-hand. Although alternative
currency schemes operate with different degrees of success
elsewhere in both the northern and southern hemispheres,
Argentina is the only country where the network has taken
off to such an extent that it now boasts nearly a quarter
of a million members and has an estimated turnover of
Pearson explains why the system has proved so popular:
"Argentina was one of the wealthiest countries in South
America, with an established professional class. However,
severe economic problems and the decimation of the welfare
state have left many people unemployed and outside the
mainstream economy, with no means of support. The barter
network offered survival, and so has quickly spread throughout
up originally by sustainable development activists as
a neighbourhood barter club, the network now covers 15
of the 23 provinces and is made up of 500 federated exchange
systems. Each region or province can print its own currency
(see picture below) in Buenos Aires these
are called créditos. Each local group or nodo holds
its own weekly market and from time to time they come
together in larger regional markets. The Buenos Aires
market is pictured left.
can join a nodo, so long as they attend two meetings to
learn about the system and agree to abide by trading rules.
People set their own prices and the currency is not for
accumulation, but purely for trade. New members are given
50 créditos equivalent to around $50
to begin trading.
idea is very simple but its proved a lifeline to
hundreds of thousands of Argentinians. The markets are
full of stalls selling food and consumables, but there
are also lawyers, dentists, hairdressers and even masseurs,
some of whom come in solidarity, but many who would otherwise
find no means of marketing their services.
system has even gained official support, as Professor
Pearson explains: "In many countries, governments perceive
alternative currencies as a threat. However, in Argentina
the goverrnment is realising that the network can keep
many people above starvation level, and provide a stepping
stone back into the mainstream economy.
government is providing technical support to help new
businesses be set up by people currently only able to
function within the networks, and also some local government
taxes can be paid with créditos. Other mainstream
businesses help out by donating unused stock or food,
or by accepting créditos as part payment. Even
Buenos Aires taxi drivers can sometimes be paid by créditos!"
Professor Pearsons interest isnt just academic.
She believes its important to get involved on a
practical level, and for this reason got in touch with
a community group in Leeds to see if theyd be interested
in starting a similar system here. Community Action Link
in Chapel Allerton held its first barter market earlier
this month (pictured below), but Professor Pearson
stresses that although the system is similar, the two
cant be said to work for the same ends.
can never replicate schemes, but you can be inspired by
them and adapt them to different situations and conditions.
It is important to understand the context in which they
will have to work.
Argentina, the system is about alleviating poverty and
giving people a way to gain value from their skills or
goods acting as a safety net because theres
no welfare provision. Although theres poverty in
Leeds as well, the system of benefits and entitlement
means that the unemployed cant easily participate
in alternative trading. Instead, the network is about
creating a sense of community and solidarity, about looking
at different ways that money can function, and about recycling
rather than just throwing away."