Complementary Currencies as a Pathway To Creating New Sustainable Monetary Systems

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Contribution for the Economics and the Commons Conference May 22-24, 2013


Margrit Kennedy:

"I would like to help in changing some of the fundamental problems concerning one of the most ingenious inventions of mankind - money. I am suggesting that monetary stability and sustainability will be greatly enhanced by a diversity of currency systems rather than national or international money monopolies.

First we need to understand the problems created by an almost ignored aspect of the present system, which is one of the root causes for its impetus on exponential growth: the compounding of interest. Compound interest leads to the assumption that money must and can keep growing or accumulating forever. Over the last decades - in which all barriers to the mobility of financial transactions have been removed - this has led to a global financial system in which speculation is more powerful than trade, has more financial clout, and depends on individuals running the system who have more to gain from instability rather than stability. The present worldwide financial and economic crisis, inflation, monetary speculation and an uneven growth of various economic indicators - like monetary assets, GNP and the net income in real wages and salaries - are just some of the problems associated with this development.

Secondly, historic evidence as well as new examples for monetary designs show how these problems can be avoided and how some of the most pressing social, financial, and ecological problems can be resolved together. I suggest that “Complementary Currencies” (CCs) - defined as means of payment with a built-in target - offer qualitative different solutions than those which can be achieved through tougher regulations of the conventional money system. CCs do not replace the existing national or international currencies but complement them. For social, cultural and ecological programs new liquidity can be created without burdening the taxpayer or governments with additional costs. CCs can be seen as powerful tools for strengthening the economic viability of a specific social sector or geographically defined region but also for economic activities on a worldwide scale. In many instances, they already have proven their potential to support and strengthen the economy over several decades.

The differences between complementary and conventional currencies are marked:

  • Instead of being profit-oriented they are use-oriented, their primary goal is to connect underutilized resources with unmet demands.
  • They are clearly marked as not being legal tender, and thus their acceptance is voluntary.
  • Their limited - instead of general - acceptance provides a ‘semi-permeable membrane’ around the function or the geographical area for which they are designed.
  • Most of the complementary currencies do not charge interest but use a demurrage mechanism to keep money circulating.
  • As they are always 100% covered by services or products, they avoid inflation and offer a proven means to counteract economic boom and bust cycles.
  • They can stop the drain of financial resources to low-wage countries and offshore tax havens.
  • They are designed to create a win-win situation for everybody.

Proposals for worldwide complementary currencies prove that more fairness and sustainability can be achieved on a global scale. In a time, which calls for new solutions to the pressing problems of inequality we are facing globally, the unusual move toward giving up a powerful central monopoly and cooperating with smaller partners in order to create life enhancing monetary systems – a paradigm shift for economists and bankers – may well have a chance for the first time in our recent history."