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= this Japanese project "stands out from most other LETS through its use of an Internet-based currency and its clear aim to create an alternative to capitalist society".

URL = http://q-project.org/


Carl Cassegard:

"The central project among New Associationist Movement’s exscendent activities was the so-called Q-project, the establishment of LETS (Local Economic Trading System) that would bypass the official monetary system of Japan using an Internet-based electronic currency called Q. The idea of LETS was initiated by Michael Linton in Canada in 1982 and gained popularity in Japan in the late 90’s. LETS resembles a system of reciprocal gifts, since the currency is freely issued by the purchaser at the time of buying. As soon as a transaction is made, the amount is subtracted from the account of the seller and added to the account of the buyer. The seller thus immediately gets his or her money, while the “minus” post of the buyer represents his or her “debt” or commitment to the LETS-community.

The Q-project – which was based on the theories of Nishibe Makoto, an economist from Hokkaido University – started trading in 2001 and today survives under the name LETS-Q . It stands out from most other LETS through its use of an Internet-based currency and its clear aim to create an alternative to capitalist society. One advantage of Q over the official national currency, Nishibe points out, is that it is not issued by the central bank, but by the “workers-as-consumers” themselves. It therefore works as a countermeasure against social exclusion and helps local initiatives in times of scarce capital. Moreover, since there is little point in accumulating Q for its own sake, Nishibe hopes that it will create a new form of market in which money won’t become a “fetish” or turn into what Marx called “capital”, a means of generating surplus value. Finally, since it allows a mixed use with the national currency, Nishibe believes that it will be able to grow gradually, without needing to replace the capitalist market at once with a full-scale non-capitalist economy (Nishibe 2001).

Karatani Kojin’s endorsement of the Q-project reflects his wish to revive exchange mechanisms that resemble the gift economy of small-scale communities, but without their parochialism. Since electronic currencies can extend over large areas, the transactions would – he hopes – eventually become just as impersonal as in a capitalist market. “The death of the capitalistic market economy”, he stresses “is not the death of the market economy” (Karatani 2004:456).

To Karatani, the potential “market-like” impersonality of Q was one of its chief advantages. To understand why, we should recall that he has long criticized older Leftist movements for hewing to the idea of a community to which even critics must belong and to which they must address their criticism. “Even those who criticize […] class-society imagine a beautiful community in which people are mutually dependent and help each other” (ibid 1989b:235). For NAM to break the hold of this idea, it was important to grope for some more impersonal form of association. As mentioned, already in the 80’s Karatani started to conceive of the market as an “intercrossing” space existing in-between communities and constituted by the interaction between “strangers”. Such impersonality now became the ideal of Q, and even of NAM as such. Associations, he states, are based on contracts between mutual strangers, just like transactions in the capitalist market (Karatani & Sakabe 2001). Through such “market-like” traits, associations like NAM would be able to outgrow capitalism by utilizing tendencies within capitalism itself.

Modeling associations on the market economy, Karatani can be said to mimic the tendency to privatization typical of capitalist markets. [13] Already in Yoshimoto, we saw a defense of the masses’ right to indulge in private pursuits. What is new in Karatani is the attempt to incorporate this pursuit into the modus operandi of a social movement. The counter-acts against capitalism become possible not by denying privatization and resurrecting the sense of community and solidarity, but by harnessing privatization to the goal of fostering a new economy. The “solidarity” and “common aim” so often stressed as defining features of social movements (e.g. Melucci 1996) are downplayed in favor of a respect for the participants’ privacy. An illustration of this is Karatani’s statement that the motive for joining Q is irrelevant – “it’s fine if people join for personal gain”. What is important is not the moral or idealistic reasons that drive people to participate, but the growth of alternative systems as such (Karatani 2002:207, Karatani & Suga 2005:209)." (http://apjjf.org/-Carl-Cassegard/2684/article.html)