During the last decade, I could have counted the number of times I saw alternative currencies mentioned in a positive light on one hand and still had enough fingers free to flick the bird at the nearest futures trader.
But the last few months has seen them being mentioned all over the place – the latest being George Monbiot’s blog column at The Guardian, where he talks about the demurrage currencies – or “stamp scrip” – that enjoyed brief success in Europe during the inter-war recession.
Demurrage meant that the currency lost value the longer you held on to it:
The Austrian town of Wörgl also tried out Gessell’s idea, in 1932. Like most communities in Europe at the time, it suffered from mass unemployment and a shortage of money for public works. Instead of spending the town’s meagre funds on new works, the mayor put them on deposit as a guarantee for the stamp scrip he issued. By paying workers in the new currency, he paved the streets, restored the water system and built a bridge, new houses and a ski jump. Because they would soon lose their value, Wörgl’s own schillings circulated much faster than the official money, with the result that each unit of currency generated 12 to 14 times more employment.
It sounds like a crazy idea, but that may simply be because we’re so used to the system we’ve already got. And, as Monbiot points out, when our governments seem to think that the best solution to a financial crisis caused by ridiculous levels of lending is to encourage yet more ridiculous levels of lending, maybe the devil we know is best left behind this time round. [via Bruce Sterling]