In these turbulent economic times, the title of the current issue is perhaps a surprising one, GOLD – but as ever, the team at Sublime have opted to take this symbol for wealth and value and use it as a springboard to assess ‘the value we place on our systems, our common aspirations, on those close to us and ultimately on ourselves.
I was tasked with reporting on the growing interest on local currency and their links with Transition Culture – if you want to know more, then go out and get what is an excellent magazine. Here’s a taster:
‘Production from local resources for local needs is the most rational way of economic life.’ Until recently, these words of E. F. Schumacher, taken from his book, Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, may have sounded like the ramblings of a fiscal maverick out of kilter with mainstream economic reasoning. In the current climate of international financial meltdown, global warming and concerns over peak oil, they read more like the oracle of a pecuniary prophet. The global free market economy, heralded for its role in bringing about ‘the feel good factor’, is virtually on its knees; gasping for the oxygen of monetary movement through its veins . . . .
The problem with sterling is that it is ultimately part of a centralised monetary system. Therefore, it has a centrifugal tendency. It is easily drawn away from local economies into the national, or even international economy. A local currency that can only be used within a designated area remains there, effectively decentralising the system. In so doing, it not only plays an important role in growing the local economy, it can act as a buffer against the vagaries and uncertainties of the global economic system. As one enthusiastic local described it to me, ‘This is about a shift in consciousness that allows people to see the true value of money. It’s about building relationships and community not just economic wealth. Ultimately, it’s an economy of hope.’
Though there is clearly a strong desire to witness the decentralisation of the economy, this ‘does not mean walling off the outside world,’ as economist and localiser Michael Shuman wishes to argue. It’s more about aspiration and priorities. Transition Towns, and other localising initiatives around the world, are simply arguing for a primary focus on producing as much as possible as locally as possible. What can’t be achieved due to local limitations is then sourced within the shortest possible distance from the point of need. So, as Ed Mayo, Chief Executive of the UK’s Consumer Focus observes, ‘Some imagine the aim of economic localisation is complete self-sufficiency at the village level. In fact . . . it simply means creating a better balance between local, regional, national and international markets . . . Localisation is not about isolating communities from other cultures, but about creating a new, sustainable and equitable basis on which they can interact.’
In Berkshire, Massachusetts, they have been trading with local alternative to the US Dollar for more than three years. Currently there are over $800,000 worth of ‘BerkShares’ in circulation. According to Robert Swann and Susan Witt, ‘SHARE’s first objective was to make productive loans to people who were unable to secure normal bank financing but who had the kind of small, locally-owned enterprises that produced quality goods and services for local consumption. SHARE members open savings accounts at the First National Bank of the Berkshires, and these accounts are used by SHARE to collateralize loans. This kind of lending requires that the community separate the functions of banking. The bank makes the loans and handles the accounting, but the lending decisions, based on a unique set of social, ecological, and financial criteria established by SHARE, are made by the community of depositors.’ In effect, Berkshire has developed an economic system based on community accountability.