The New York Times recently reported on the rise of alternative economic networks in Greece (“Battered by Economic Crisis, Greeks Turn to Barter Networks,” October 1). As the shortcomings of the mainstream economy become more apparent globally, we can expect to see more participation in alternative economies.
The Times describes how an alternative economic network in the city of Volos works:
People sign up online and get access to a database that is kind of like a members-only Craigslist. One unit of TEM [Local Alternative Unit] is equal in value to one euro, and it can be used to exchange good and services. Members start their accounts with zero, and they accrue credit by offering goods and services.
The online network includes a rating system to boost quality control. Loans and vouchers that can be used like checks are also available to participants.
The opportunities that the network engenders are especially important at a time when news from Greece tends to be grim — most recently, massive wage cuts have been proposed for state-controlled publicly listed companies. When the system fails to deliver what it promised in exchange for power, alternative economic networks offer a real social safety net for people to fall back on.
But investing in alternative networks is beneficial not just as insurance, but as a means to greater individual and community autonomy. A Volos resident described the sense of empowerment that came from participating in the alternative economy. “The most exciting thing you feel when you start is this sense of contribution,” she told the Times. “You have much more than your bank account says. You have your mind and your hands.”
Alternative economies create more options for people to use what they have to get what they want in a peaceable manner. Participants do not need to wait around for someone with money to create jobs, but can directly interact with each other to meet needs and thrive. By participating in an alternative economy, individuals make their livelihood less subject to the decisions of official banks or governments.