Mutual Banking Clearinghouse

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Mutual Banking Clearinghouse


According to Kevin Carson, in a blog entry on a strategy to create a cooperative counter-economy, mutual banking would be essential to consolidate such an alternative economy, but is currently illegal. He cites a proposal by Gary Elkin to create such a system as a derivative of the LETS systems:

Kevin Carson at

"The banking system is set up to prevent ordinary people from leveraging their own property for interest-free credit through mutual banking. Gary Elkin has argued that it might be possible to slip mutual banking in through the back door, by piggybacking it on a LETS system. Members of a LETS system might start out by extending store credit against the future labor of other members, and expand from there."

Description of the Proposal

Gary Elkin in Google Groups, cited by Kevin Carson: "Along these lines, I want to sketch an updated version of mutual banking, complete with e-money transfer capability via the Internet. As I see it, a mutual bank should grow from a collectively owned and operated barter association that is responsive to the participatory-democratic assembly of a radical urban community.

Here's a possible scenario:

The new economic system -- not yet self-sufficient but increasingly so -- is born when the community barter association begins issuing an alternative currency accepted as money by all businesses within the system. For reasons discussed below, this "currency" does not at first take the form of tangible monetary tokens ( i.e. coins or bills), but is circulated entirely through transactions involving the use of barter-cards, personal checks, and "e-money" transfers via modem/Internet.

Since it doesn't charge interest -- the source of regular banks' profits -- and since its purpose is to provide economic assistance to the community, it may be possible to charter this new financial institution as a nonprofit charitable organization. In order to get non-profit status, however, it is essential that mutual-credit organizations not be officially described as "banks" "thrifts," "savings and loans," "credit unions," etc., which would make them subject to the charter laws governing such institutions. For convenience I'll refer to an anarchist zero-interest credit-issuer as a "mutual barter clearinghouse" (or just "clearinghouse" for short). Other semantic expedients regarding the official description of its operations may also be necessary in dealing with the State.

The clearinghouse has a twofold mandate: first, to extend interest-free credit to members; second, to manage the circulation of credit-money within the system, charging only a small service fee (probably one percent or less) which covers its costs of operation. Such costs would include the making of plastic barter cards, printing personal checks, keeping track of transactions, paying its workers, insuring itself against losses from uncollectible debts, and so forth.

The clearinghouse is organized and functions as follows. Members of the original barter association are invited to become subscriber-members of the mutual bank by pledging a certain amount of property as "collateral" (referred to by some other term -- perhaps "pledge" is good enough). On the basis of this pledge, an account is opened for the new member and credited with a sum of mutual dollars equivalent to some fraction of the assessed value of the property pledged. [2] The new member agrees to repay this amount plus the cost-covering service fee by a certain date. The mutual dollars in the new account may then be transferred through the clearinghouse by using a barter card, by writing a personal check, or by sending e-money via modem to the accounts of other members, who have agreed to receive mutual money in payment for all debts.

The opening of this sort of account is, of course, the same as taking out of a "loan" in the sense that a commercial bank "lends" by extending credit to a borrower in return for a signed note pledging a certain amount of property as security. It's like fractional-reserve banking in this respect. The crucial difference, however, is that the clearinghouse does not purport to be "lending" a sum of money that it *already has*, as is fraudulently claimed, with much hand-waving and doubletalk, by commercial banks. (Hence the creation of mutual credit does not have to be officially described as "making a loan.") Instead it honestly admits that it is creating new money in the form of credit, but charging no interest for doing so. New accounts can also be opened simply telling the clearinghouse that one wants an account and then arranging with other people who already have balances to transfer mutual money into one's new account."

More Information

See our entry on Peer to Peer Exchanges and P2P Finance

Key Books

William Greene. Mutual Banking.