Special Issue “Monetary Plurality and Crisis” in the Journal of Risk and Financial Management (JRFM)


In addition to our commitment to the implementation of innovative currency ideas and the ongoing educational work on money and monetary reforms, it is above all the academic treatment of these two fields of activity that will ultimately pave the way for a new monetary and economic order in the long term. Especially in the young scientific field of complementary currencies research, the linking of practice and science was considered from the beginning. Thus, since the early 2000s, the international conferences on this topic have seen themselves as a forum for both activists and academic researchers. Under the auspices of leading universities in France (2011) and the Netherlands (2013) these conferences lead to the establishment of RAMICS, the “Research Association on Monetary Innovation and Community and Complementary Currency Systems”, founded in 2015 during the conference in Brazil. Since then, the specialist journal IJCCR, which has been published since 1997, has also been taken under the wings of this association.

However, it takes time for a new field of research to establish itself, both in the academic discourse and institutions, and in the awareness of academics and students. Publications in one’s own circles help, but full recognition in the discourse of the scientific establishment cannot be fully achieved this way. Therefore, it is a great achievement to place the rather unknown topic of monetary diversity in a conventional and broad-based business journal such as the Journal of Risk and Financial Management. The recently completed special issue on “Monetary Diversity and Crisis”, made this possible. This has not only motivated established scholars to consider new topics and share their thoughts on monetary theory and the practice of complementary currencies, but it has also given young authors the opportunity to publish the results of their work.

To ensure that these articles are not only accessible to a specialist audience with access to institutional libraries, it is of particular value that this journal operates according to the “open access” principle. This means that every article can be viewed in full by anyone at any time, and downloaded free of charge. Since such an approach eliminates the retrospective funding of publishers via subscriptions and “pay per view” fees, their editorial effort and costs of publication are commonly be paid in advance by the author or their institution. Unfortunately, for young and independent scientists this is often an insurmountable financial hurdle, even for many scientific institutions outside the industrialized nations. Therefore, it was a stroke of luck that for this special issue we were able not only to gather the interest of the journal, but to gain the financial support of the editorial team’s organisation. The funding of most of the publishing fees, for articles that passed the rigorous scientific review process, were financed in equal parts by Prof. Georgina Gomez’s research group at the University of Rotterdam and monneta.

Most of the articles now published deal with the economic benefits of monetary diversity. These are examined, on the one hand from a theoretical, macroeconomic perspective (see the articles by Simmons et al. and Kuypers et al.), and secondly on the basis of practical local examples – supported by data from established complementary currencies such as the REC in Barcelona (see Martín Belmonte et al.), the Sardex in Italy (see Fleischmann et al. and Simmons et al.), the Chiemgauer in southern Germany (Zeller) and Sarafu in Kenya (Ussher et al. and Zeller).

Historical examples with parallel currencies are also examined (see Kokabian and Sotiropoulou), as well as lesser-known monetary practices such as the obligation clearing in Slovenia (see Fleischmann et al.). And beyond the economic advantages of complementary forms of currency, some articles examine more fundamental issues, such as the legal definitions of “money” and “currency” as a basis for a sustainable and more equitable monetary order (see Bindewald), the effects of profit-oriented creation of currency on the stability of the financial system (see Kuypers et al.), and the influence of economic inequality on the diffusion of innovations and the importance of cash (see Srouji).

What all these authors seems to have in common is that their research questions are formulated with a concern for social justice and ecological sustainability. The monetary innovations here examined are not evaluated solely in terms of their micro- or market-economic efficiency but are seen in the light of their contribution to a sustainable world.

[The author of this article is also co-editor of the special issue described, and author of one of the articles published therein.]


From November 5-7, the American Monetary Institute (AMI) will host the 2021 International Monetary Conference, which will consist of a series of Zoom events.

Register here.

The speakers’ list includes Laurence Kotlikoff, Miguel Ordóñez, Katharina Serafimova, Ahamed Kameel, Ronnie Phillips, Joseph Huber, Lilian Held-Kwaham, Richard Robbins, Tim Di Muzio, Sergio Rossi, Virginia Hammonand many more luminaries. The participation fee is $35.

There will be threeZOOM sessions starting Friday at 4 pm (Central Time US) and Saturday and Sunday at 9am, with a meal break midway each day. Each day willend in the early evening. The conference will utilise ZOOM, and the sessions will berecorded.


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More about the author Brett Scott on his website: https://alteredstatesof.money/

“The other day you said on the phone: Give me a problem and I’ll develop a complementary currency with which you can solve it. And I have to tell you this: Your imagination, your inexhaustible ideas on how to design, invent and transform money, simply amaze me every time. ”  Margrit Kennedy in a letter to her long-time work colleague and friend Bernard Lietaer

Review of
Peter Krause: Bernard Lietaer – Life and Work
(Berlin: epubli, 2020. Volume I: 400 pages, Volume II: 250 pages) – links to order the books online below

Bernard Lietaer passed away on February 4th 2019. For many who deal with new forms of economy and money, this means a trend-setting intellectual beacon and reference point of international standing has died. Like no other, Lietaer’s career and personal journey had encompassed all areas of finance: a celebrated Harvard graduate in 1969 and central banker in the early 80s, he became the most successful hedge fund manager of 1989, and ending as one of the sharpest system critics and simultaneously most creative visionaries of a new, socio-ecological monetary order.

However, only a few were aware that Lietaer’s expertise and reputation were not limited to finance and monetary reform. The recently translated biography of Peter Krause is the first publication for which Lietaer explicitly allowed insights into all areas of his life and work. From two personal conversations during the last weeks of Lietaer’s life, to countless interviews with friends, colleagues and family members, as well as numerous documents found in his bequest or sent in from all over the world – Peter Krause put together a holistic portrait of a most remarkable man. The topics for which Lietaer was publicly known now appear in unison with a much  wider spectrum of lived experience and intellectual prowess. Only very few close friends seem to have been granted glimpses of this wealth and depth of Lietaer interests before, while some elements were published under his literary pseudonym “René de Bartiral”.

In partly factual and partly poetic prose, the two volumes of this biography reflect the author’s fascination with the person he describes, and as if through a retrospective prism, they illustrate an extraordinary and courageous life in all its colorful richness. The first volume contains the actual biography. The second volume supplements it with a treasure trove of pictures, illustrations and previously unpublished texts and interviews. It may seem under-representative that only about a quarter of the text is dedicated to Lietaer’s life in chronological order. But it makes up for brevity by being vividly and lifelike embellished with information from interviews, archive material and an unexpectedly large number of personal details. This conveys intimate insights into Lietaer’s personal, professional and intellectual journey – from his youth in Belgium, through his studies and career, especially in North and South America, to the last months of life in northern Germany – which harbours ever new turns and astonishing developments.

The remaining three topical parts of the first volume sum up Lietaer’s work under the headings “Knowledge”, “Wisdom” and “Mystery”. Layer by layer, they complete a picture of Lietaer that was previously imperceptible to the public. In the section “Knowledge”, his professional career in the financial economy and his role as a pioneer of a new monetary paradigm is mapped through his early and best known publications. Even for those who have already read most of Lietaer’s books, this anthological approach offers new topical links and an appreciation for the incremental development of his arguments.

In “Wisdom”, the psychological and historical approaches that Lietaer already mentioned in some of his publications (e.g. in Mysterium Geld, 2000, Riemann) are introduced and traced through both their biographical and ideological backgrounds. Among other things, it deals with general philosophy, the arch-types of Gustav Jung, and the historic transition from matrifocal to patriarchal societies. In a separate section that is dedicated to the future,various utopian and dystopian scenarios that Lietaer developed in several of his publications are brought together.

The last part of the first volume, “Mysteries”, provides the most astonishing insights into the person Bernard Lietaer. Based on his little-known work on Rembrandt’s self-portraits, this chapter outlines a large number of topics, fields of engagement and influences, all of which were of central importance for Lietaer, but were largely left out of his previously published work. These include art and architecture, Freemasonry, spirituality, metaphysics and practices of personal development. Remarkable here is the depth of the knowledge exhibited in areas that are predominantly considered “esoteric”, i.e. secret and exclusive, and commonly treated as such. This turn towards transparency, if only posthumously, is one of the last gifts of Bernard Lietaer.

The second volume primarily offers accompanying pictorial material that underlines the text of the first volume. It makes the life and work of Lietaer tangible, especially where art, architecture and esoteric knowledge are concerned. It contains a large number of photos – of Lietaer and the objects of his interest – as well as drawings, manuscripts and graphics from his own hand. The effect of this material should not be underestimated for the overall impression of both Bernard Lietaer and this biography. The second half of this volume contains texts through which Lietaer himself, directly or indirectly, is allowed to speak. Two interviews with Tesa Silvestre from 2008 are included here to which Lietaer himself had repeatedly referred to as comprehensive summaries of both his contributions to monetary reform and his personal, spiritual convictions (this latter interview was previously unpublished). This part also contains the first translation of an archaeological-anthropological study about a pre-columbian temple complex in Peru, for which Lietaer first used his pseudonym in 1982.  Finally, Lietaer’s master’s thesis on the management of exchange rate risks, on which his early international reputation and professional success were based, is reviewed here in detailed yet comprehensible language.

The author ends his text with words by Bernard Lietaer, which, published in 2008 under the name René de Bartiral, have only become more topical again in the second half of 2020. Through them, the appreciation and legacy of the life and work Bernard Lietaer lives on:
“As I see it, we are at a key juncture, just a step away from ‚rupture‘; on the edge of the chaos of a major change. This involves a choice between what the English so neatly call ‚breakdown or breakthrough‘ – either we break through to a new level of complexity or collapse backwards to a lower level.» The contribution of one remarkable man to the positive continuation of this human journey on this planet is traced and illustrated in this biography.

This review first appeared in German, in the Zeitschrift für Sozialökonomie, on 08/17/202

You can order the books “Bernard Lietaer – Life and Work“, Volume 1 and 2, by Peter Krause (ISBN-10: 3753443379), through your local bookshop. In Europe, you can also order them through the self-publishing site Books on Demand. In other parts of the world you might have to turn to Amazon for now (Volume IVolume II).


This summerschool, organised by AEMS and credited with 5 ECTS, is open to motivated applicants from all fields of study and focuses on alternatives to the economic status quo. International participants deal with limits of growth, as well as the instabilities of our financial system and learn why a drastic system change is necessary to stabilize the world climate at 1.5°C. There will also be an additional focus on possible solutions to the financial crisis triggered by Covid-19.

AEMS 2021 will take place July 19 to August 6 online – registration is already possible!

More information on the program and application process can be found here.

The report from last year’s Online-AEMS with 36 participants from 17 nations can be found here.

At a time of uncertainty about the future and increased precarity in the present, we at RAMICS believe that complementary and community currencies have become and even more relevant tool to build community resilience and hopefully help us transition towards a more sustainable future. read more

Since most events were cancelled in March 2020, very few have been scheduled, most online. We hope this situation will change soon.
If you know of an event related to our topics that should appear here, let us know.


The Sardex currency initiative was launched in response to the economic decline that affected the island of Sardinia, Italy, in the aftermath of the financial crises.1 In 2010 four young entrepreneurs with little background and experience in finance or business launched the initiative as a limited liability company (Sardex s.r.l.) to leverage collaboration and network effects for the benefit of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) on the island2⁠. The Sardex took inspiration from other complementary currency initiatives and its creators actively participated in the business-to-business trade sector3, and were also amongst the few business orientated currency initiatives well received in the community currency research community4⁠. After years of increased investment and fast growth, which even placed the company amongst the Financial Times “Europe 1000” in the year 20175⁠, Sardex became a joint-stock company (Sardex Spa) in 2016 with over 50 employees6⁠.


The primary aim of the initiative was to provide employment opportunities within the local economy of Sardinia by supporting local businesses, and to create a viable company in itself7⁠. Secondary goals in support of this objective are around the creation of a collaborative economy as an alternative to the dominant competitive market ideology8⁠ by connecting and supporting local economic actors9⁠. This was to be facilitated independently from the availability of conventional financial services and liquidity with a monetary tool, the Sardex currency, that is built on trust and enhances the economy as well as social sustainability10⁠.

How does it work

Participation in the Sardex network provides businesses with a credit line in complementary currency that can be used to purchase goods and services within the network. The credits are denominated in Euro but cannot be exchanged for Euro or bought with Euro 11⁠⁠. Transactions are executed via an online banking site  12 or a mobile phone application that also produces account statements or functions as a point-of-sale payment station that identifies payer and payee through the use of QR-codes and the mobile phone’s camera 13⁠. For offline payments, a cheque book is provided to record and submit payments to be executed at a later point. For taxation and accounting purposes, all income in Sardex is declared as equivalent to income in Euro. By 2017 the transaction volume of Sardex had surpassed 212 million units worth the equivalent value in Euro 14⁠.

To facilitate trade between members, the website provides a company register and promotional advertisement-section for special offers. In addition, a brokerage service is offered from the company’s main office in Serraman in southern Sardinia. They provides an orientation during the individual onboarding process for new members and assistance in sourcing and selling goods and services within the network15. Other promotional tools include printed brochures, flyers, a kitemark sticker that identifies businesses accepting Sardex for payment (see picture above) and a regular newsletter that introduces new members and offers to the network. In addition to that, Sardex hosts networking events and tradefairs to bring members into contact and promote participation16⁠.

Organisation and Network

Users of the Sardex network are all located on the island of Sardinia, so no outside entities can open accounts in the system. The initiative differentiates between individual traders, SMEs, large companies and third and public sector entities17⁠. Across these constituencies over 3800 member accounts were registered in 2017 18⁠. Sardex also allows individuals to hold accounts and make payments in Sardex, but does not grant credit lines to those. These accounts need to be credited as part of the salary for business member employees or as a profit share for individual traders. In 2017 over 2300 individual accounts were registered in the network.

On its website, a number or partner organisations are named, many of those being funders and investors of the different stages of the company’s development19⁠. The European Commission is listed amongst them as Sardex had been a partner in a research and development consortium of the EU co-financed Digipay4Growth project20⁠. The regional government of Sardinia was another partner in this project, further establishing the joint development options of both organisations. The international partners in the consortium included local authorities and currency initiatives from the UK, Austria, Spain and the Netherlands which provided Sardex with opportunities for knowledge transfer and joint learning across different currency models and implementations21. Sardex is also a member of the International Reciprocal Trade Association (IRTA)22, a body representing over 100 business-to-business currency companies predominantly in the USA 23⁠.

On the national level, Sardex has set up currency initiatives in eleven of the regions in mainland Italy (Sardex, no date f)⁠. The currency initiatives are collaboratively launched and co-owned between the Sardex Spa and local partners. These affiliate systems build on the technology and intellectual property developed for the Sardinian system and adhere to the same ethical codes24. Trade between members across the whole national network is possible and if this use of the currency grows, future analyses of the Sardex initiative could become more relevant on the scale of the whole group rather than the regional network.

The Sardex initiative benefited from close collaboration with academic researchers, like Paolo Dini (LSE) and Laura Sartori (Universita di Bologna) cited above, and the media25⁠⁠. Due to its success and growth in the first 7 years of its existence and its innovative approach to alleviating the economic repercussions from the financial crisis, the initiative has had a large appeal to the national and international media including the financial press and financial and innovation awards26⁠.

The initiative also lists Banca Etica amongst their partner organisations. This bank is the only commercial bank in Italy fully dedicated to ethical investment27⁠ and has entered an agreement to provide Sardex members with preferential conditions on its banking services28⁠. Since Sardex credit cannot be exchanged or bought for Euro, its issuer falls under the technical category of ‘closed loop payment systems’ and is generally seen as “unregulated” in countries of the EU and the USA29⁠. The units traded are deemed to be neither ‘money’ nor a ‘security’ by financial regulators and the operators of the initiatives are seen as “third party record keepers” devolving the liabilities and obligations for use of the systems, for example for tax reporting, to participating businesses30⁠.

The technical details

The monetary rules in Sardex reflect the issuance mechanism known as “mutual credit” in the complementary currency literature31. Users start with a zero balance on their accounts but are granted a credit limit to which they can go into a negative balance on their account, akin to the overdraft facilities on conventional bank accounts, but without any interest charged on negative balances. When they make a purchase with Sardex, their account is debited by the amount of the purchase. Conversely, when they make a sale, their account is credited. As transactions always involve two member accounts, one that is credited and one that is debited by an equal amount, the sum total of all balances is always zero. There is no central account of the operator of the system that is involved in the currency issuance or transactions. In this model, the aspect of issuance that is described above as determining the maximum amount of currency in circulation thus becomes a function of the aggregate credit limits set for all user accounts.

Sardex does not publish the individual or aggregate credit limits that it grants businesses in the network32, but several general rules to determine those have been published in articles co-authored by the founders of the system: Credit limits are determined on an individual basis when a new member joins the network and roughly at 1% of the member’s annual turnover. Unlike other mutual credit systems, Sardex also operates with a maximum limit for positive balances, which is about 10% of the member’s turnover33⁠⁠. On its website, Sardex introduces a “golden rule” for trades within a network that members are expected to observe: only to spend as many units in Sardex as they foresee to earn back in a given period34⁠. As there are no interest payments on positive balances, refraining from spending does not provide any benefits for the members. On the other hand, if a negative account balance is not recouped within 12 month, this can incur penalty payments in Euro35 and members failing to comply with these rules can be taken to court36⁠.

These rules encourage members to keep their trading activity up and their accounts balanced which in turn makes the ‘velocity’ of the currency, an econometric expression for the ratio between transactions volume and the total amount of positive balances, significantly higher than that of conventional currency (1.5 in Euro vs 11.56 in Sardex in 2016)37. Individual members, who are only permitted to join as employees or associates of an existing business member or governmental agencies, are not given a credit limit and need to earn a balance through sales or as part of their salary before they can spend38⁠.

As the Sardex currency is nominally equivalent or ‘pegged’ to the Euro, prices do not have to be changed for sales within the network, however, special discounts and offers are common. Purchases of a value greater than 1,000 Euro can be paid part in Sardex and part in Euro. VAT and other taxes are due to the full equivalent value in Euro, which is another reason why a business is limited in its acceptance of Sardex as it requires revenue in Euro to fulfill its tax obligations39.

In regards to rules pertaining to the governance of the initiative and management of the network, a particular set of espoused values stands out. They include transparency, cooperation, mutuality and trust40. Some of those seem to be in conflict with the nature of a for-profit company. For example, not publishing the membership terms and conditions and the heuristics for setting credit limits contrasts with transparency and symmetric information. However, the ownership composition of the company is disclosed in the press-kit on the Sardex website, where also a comprehensive “Code of Ethics” can be found41⁠. This sets out the principles of internal processes and stakeholder relationships and can serve as a touchstone for the self-description of the company as a “social enterprise”42⁠⁠.


(This article was re-published from the PhD thesis of Dr. Leander Bindewald, Lancaster University 2018)


More information and updates about Sardex on their website: www.sardex.net


I gave this article that title on submitting it, on May 5, 2020 – 20 days before the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and the subsequent steps to both revolution and violent crackdown. I can no longer say something that light, but I can say that current circumstances make it all the more painfully obvious that the end of this globalized racial capitalist world is long past due. And that deserves its own treatise, which will not be found here today.

I first left this article needing one big last rework when the COVID pandemic became visible in my part of the world [USA]. Feeling it had been made obsolete along with the rest of the old world, I moved on and into using what I’ve learned, and more importantly connecting with who I’ve met, in the world of cooperative economics, in order to take this moment to transform the world into what we’ve been dreaming all along.

In my article I wrote about the many people, including lots I failed to name — especially women, and indigenous people, and immigrant communities, and “poor” families, and squats, and tent communities, and black communities, and indigenous land rights organizers, and on and on — who have been enacting the “new” economy all along, at their peril, invisiblized and subjugated by the form of patriarchal extractive exploitative capitalism most of us mistakenly refer to as “the economy.”

I refer to many “failed” experiments in complementary currencies, and many efforts that continue to ebb and flow, like our own timebank here in Madison Wisconsin, and ones that turn into plain old relationships where people help each other out, and ones that get eaten by the non-profit industrial complex. I finally came to the conclusion that the efforts that embrace what’s known as “emergent strategy” – working with their communities, expressly building relationships and tapping into group process and collective intelligence, honoring the wisdom of each participant, aiming for diversity of perspectives, adopting clearly communicated values systems, explicitly aiming to redress wrongs and create solutions that work for everyone – are the ones that continue to live and thrive.

And now, these are some of the ones springing into action to support people in time of COVID-19. Some are providing infrastructure and guidance for new mutual aid networks, some are able to tap into membership where ready networks of people already know how to help each other out in an organized way. All the nutrients of all the various projects in different stages of birth, life, death, decomposition, are beginning to come together now to create systems that can relieve some of the suffering from the crisis, then help mitigate the damage, carry out transformative work, and usher in a lasting economic transformation.

And then, before the final edits were made, the world completely changed again with the 5/25 police killing of George Floyd. All showing even more starkly the dynamics covered here, and opening of new possibilities — beautiful as well as horrific— that were  virtually unfathomable before.

Like the solutionary work I refer to below, it is all emergent, and you’re invited to participate.

But first, here is what I wrote back in February 2020…

Sometime in 1995 my spouse and I, then two 20-something spanking new owners of a little neighborhood coffeehouse, stumbled on a tiny magazine piece on the Ithaca HOURs currency. We were floored by this great idea that you could create your own local money. Amazing, and so clearly needed! We joined up with a local group to make and launch our own local currency, Madison HOURs, to a lot of excitement and fanfare.

Then we spent 20 years dragging the thing behind us like a dead elephant — finally, joyfully laying it to rest with much relief in 2012.

That was my introduction to the world of complementary currency, a world in which I’ve continued to operate precisely because I don’t want people to make the same mistake we did.

That mistake was in starting with an answer to a question nobody was asking.

With all its tremendous flaws, the dominant capitalist economy IS built for business, even when it’s disadvantaging locals through its economies of scale. The market economy has not been crying out for an additional way to accept payment, especially not one that requires an extra drawer in your till, extra training for your staff, and fewer ways to spend it.

What our world IS crying out for is ways to encourage, value, and reward care. For ways to make sure our vulnerable and sick neighbors get what they need, ways to facilitate equitable distribution of resources among people especially including those who have been shut out of today’s dominant economy (black, brown, old, young, immigrant, differently abled, neuro-atypical, ‘unattractive’, lots of women, lots of men, lots of LGBTQ folks, the list goes on…). Our world is crying out for an economy that doesn’t create a fake battle of ‘jobs v. environment’ battle, an economy not built on slavery, stolen land, and a prison industrial complex. We need an economy that doesn’t steal people’s time and life energy in exchange for very basic access to very basic needs (still hard to obtain for many in the US even at full- or more than full-time employment). Our world is crying out for an economy that’s not built on eating and excreting said world.

A local currency provides a friendlier way to do business and is an excellent learning opportunity – but it does not provide the regenerative economy the world needs. However, principles of it can be a key player in the ecosystem that DOES provide that economy.

That’s the understanding that underlies my current work with Mutual Aid Networks, and the global cooperative network we’ve formed, HUMANs (Humans United in Mutual Aid Networks).

My work in mutual aid began in earnest about 10 years into the Madison HOURs experiment, when I read Bernard Lietaer’s “The Future of Money”. I was completely convinced by his description of a robust currency ecosystem, where different forms of currency are used to facilitate different types of exchange.

The perspective I gained from that book drove me to start the Dane County TimeBank, a mutual credit exchange where members exchange time instead of money, where everyone’s time is valued equally and no monetary value is attached to time. This showed me how elegant, powerful, and transformational – both on an individual and a community level – this form of equal exchange and mutuality could be.

I also saw that, like nearly every other community effort, in order to do timebanking we had to begin to play the non-profit game: applying for and reporting on funding from foundations and government sources, being dependent on their requirements, largesse, and shifts in direction. Plus, while timebanking is excellent for rewarding those infinitely abundant things like care, creativity, civic engagement, and community building, it is NOT built for business and shouldn’t mingle too much in that domain.

That’s why we started looking at how other solidarity economy tools fit into the picture, and developed our vision of the different ways of exchanging that fit together like a food chain in natural ecosystems. We realized that with a comprehensive approach to sharing, exchange, and ownership, we could much more meaningfully and systemically change how we approach work and compensation, and could more effectively change the economy by changing our own work lives and the work lives of people in our networks. We realized that, in combination, the various means of sharing and exchange already available to us could meet our needs pretty well.

To explore these ideas and also to build solidarity, the Mutual Aid Networks team (a rotating cast of collaborators since 2009) have been traveling around the US, parts of Canada, Europe and New Zealand, meeting people in person and learning about projects.

Especially in the US, but everywhere, we’ve found timebanks, local currencies, transition towns, and eco-villages that are struggling with scarcity and competition, working hard to facilitate sometimes vanishingly small amounts of participation, and burning out.

We know it’s time to put Mutual Aid tools to work for us, all who are struggling to show the world that they work, laboring away in our ‘free time’ while we work day jobs in the exploitation economy. Or working for free while the exploitation economy eats our future security (like savings or equity or familial goodwill).

In fact, a major theme throughout my solidarity economy work has been the sheer number of strong leaders and project stewards – by far a majority women – who are leading their respective projects without monetary compensation, or with sporadic and insufficient monetary compensation, or with giant strings attached to their funding.

At the same time there is the dawning of our collective consciousness that we already have what we need, have always had it, and it’s the invisibilization of that awareness that is the crux of the problem. And that we’re at the heart of the problem by defining our success and ourselves in the old capitalist paradigm, by capitalist measures. We complementary currency activists say we know these models can provide a solution, yet most of us use them marginally at best. We say we have what we need yet we don’t employ these tools to support our own efforts. Instead, you’ll find many complementary currency activists mired in endless funding pitches, competing with one another to be turned down for yet another big grant.

The complementary currencies in the US and elsewhere, almost to a one, are moribund to varying degrees – higher profile systems like Bay Bucks CA and Hudson Valley Current in NY make lovely public cases for local economies, while vanishingly small numbers engage in their exchange. From my vantage point, this is a reflection of my previous case that business already has plenty of exchange mechanisms at its disposal and the convenience costs don’t outweigh the benefits of another currency in their tills. Timebanks are faring somewhat better but tend to have very few exchanges recorded. This is also true for my own “very functional” timebank which has almost 3000 members signed up, of whom just about 100 record exchanges in any given year.

However, there is a magic in the timebank, and Madison HOURs before it, and every other limping or defunct cooperative economy experiment: it’s the dawning awareness that the economy is US, what we offer, what we share, what we receive, and that we’re free to enact it however we want. And once we have relationships with one another, and knowledge of each other’s gifts, we tend to choose to share and exchange with minimal paperwork and maximal joy.

We’re right that money is the problem. But at its heart, the problem is the central role that money has taken in human society, sucking in the rest of life like a black hole. So the solution must rest in removing it from that central space, and filling in the social vacuum around it.

When we start from that place, we make smarter choices about what economic tools to use and when. For example, we start using the formal timebank just to invite new community members and to find and build new services, but not to log transactions among people we’ve come to know. Many timebanks have begun to offer shared savings (of regular old bank money) once the need becomes apparent (LA’s Arroyo Seco Timebank is a great example), and those start with a community who already know one another and how to cooperate. And many timebanks morph into cooperative enterprise-generating organizations (e.g. in Lake County CA, or the Nuria Social in Catalonia) when the need becomes apparent and the community has built their organizing skills.

The local business-oriented complementary currency project “rCredits” morphed into a much simpler yet more powerful model, Common Good, that skips over the creation of a new currency, and combines cooperative saving-giving-lending, and a debit card. The complementary currency just wasn’t needed.

The common thread I’m witnessing is that people and projects who embrace (or at least roll with) change, unpredictability, fallow times, and emergent strategies are the ones who are flourishing.

When we recognize that defunct or barely-there currency and community projects aren’t “failures” after all, but nutrients for a more verdant garden, the picture shifts. Besides the examples in the previous paragraphs, we can point to many of our own partners who have recently obtained their own public spaces where ongoing in-person organizing, building, and emergent strategies can flourish – including our Mutual Aid pilot in Hull UK, our partners in BC-area Working Group on Indigenous Food Sovereignty, friends at STIR Magazine UK, and my own local Madison Mutual Aid Network and Dane County TimeBank. In addition, peer-to-peer support and learning opportunities are abounding:- Commons Transition, Shareable, People’s Hub, our own HUMANs network — and actively connecting formerly disconnected approaches and communities. We’re about to witness a whole new level of effectiveness, complexity, and, even more importantly, social justice and equity in our cooperative economic ecosystem.

At Mutual Aid Networks we’ve always had the ‘pave the cowpath’ philosophy – in other words, invite people to experiment freely, then document the commonly successful modalities and make them more replicable. You are invited.

Now that COVID has so clearly shown the world that the highways and byways of globalized capitalism lead us off the edge of a cliff, we can go fast in the other direction – toward creating enjoyable new livelihoods that provide clean food, water, and air, care, comfort, joy, security, and beauty. For everyone.

While we have the world’s attention, let’s show that mutual aid not only gets us through our crisis with less pain, it gets us a whole, healthy, beautiful world on the other side of it.

You can join us by offering and requesting stuff in the HUMANs global cooperative network, participate in one of our newly-hatching Common Funds, start or join projects within our collective framework, and start enjoying life as a lively human. All you need to get started can be found at mutualaidnetwork.org