FairCoin and social currencies

From local to global to local

Author: Sam Dallyn and Kapis

For those involved in alternative currency projects, these are exciting times. In the 10 years since the 2008 financial crisis that showed debt driven growth was socially unsustainable, we have seen banks and governments become still more reliant on debt driven growth. And, at the same time, we are seeing increasing scientific consensus that this debt driven growth model will lead to an environmental catastrophe that we are increasingly likely to experience over the course of our own lives, but which will definitely be experienced by our children and young people. In this seemingly desperate context, a range of alternative economic experiments have proliferated across the globe that present a different, ecologically sustainable and progressive model of exchange, which breaks from this cycle of debt driven growth. The Komun map, for example, shows nearly a thousand places accepting FairCoin and social currencies globally, a number which is steadily increasing. FairCoin -and hence FairCoop- has a significant and growing role to play in this story, because:

  1. In being an ecological cryptocurrency, it has a global reach, which means it can potentially help forge links between different local social currencies in different regions. 
  2. As a social cryptocurrency which is international in scope, it can potentially help to reduce social currency users need to use fiat currency since they can use FairCoin instead to exchange goods with other regions. 

Yet FairCoin and FairCoop efforts to build connections between these different social currencies and finding ways to do this remains an ongoing project, which is still at a relatively early stage of development. So we sent out a call and collected some experiences of different FairCoop local nodes, and asked them to describe how they developed links with different social currencies.

The majority of stories collected have come from Spain and Catalonia: in Albacete, Tarragona, La Safor (Valencia), Murcia and La Garrotxa (Girona). But productive links with other social currencies have also been developed: MACAO, in Milano (Italy), and in Berne (Switzerland). 

Here we try to summarise these broad ranging experiences to see what lessons we might take from these exciting cases for other local nodes seeking to work with social currencies. Drawing out several key aspects across different cases and stories: face-to-face relations of trust around shared values, coordination and collective planning to address people’s needs, physical location and local autonomy, are all crucial ingredients to consider.

  • The first key point is that face-to-face relations of trust are vital for these links to work in practice. In all of the cases, personal relations of trust forged through shared experiences and common values were vital. FairCoop is only really going to work effectively with social currencies that have shared values, and then it can contribute to the task of different social currencies helping each other and build interlocking networks; thereby reducing the dependence on fiat currency. Regarding the importance of shared values, in Berne (Switzerland) FairCoop was able to work closely with a local currency - the Bonobo - that was created around a festival. The Bonobo local currency would only work with businesses that had a wage difference of 2:1 between bosses and workers and was thereby spreading a political cause for more equal wages. The organisers of the local currency were sympathetic to the values of FairCoop and, on this basis, the Berne local node was able to share networks with the social currency. The FairCoop local node also needs to have a deep knowledge of, and ideally overlapping participation in, the social currency that it is working with, for the links to be built and to endure. This was the case in both the ecoxarxa of Tarragona and MACAO in Milan, two of the most well developed cases. 
  • One important feature of the most successful examples of working with social currencies was strong collective coordination in which a focus is placed on addressing people’s needs. In Tarragona, for example, merchants who accepted social currencies and FairCoin had the opportunity to sell their products as they chose, and Euros were less than a quarter of the requested payments, FairCoin were approximately a third of the total, and social currency was almost 50%. While the proportions obviously vary in different cases, some arrangement needs to be found through careful collective planning so that it works in the best interests of everyone involved. Similarly, in La Garrotxa (Catalonia), products were paid for in FAIR and the FairCoin was then exchanged for the social currency, Troks, as income. Meanwhile in MACAO, which uses the social cryptocurrency Commoncoin - created in 2015 - goods from other regions of Italy that Milano was short of could be supplied using FairCoin and then exchanged in Commoncoin . Thus in all these cases working with social currencies is about being flexible and understanding the needs and wishes of merchants and producers, so that FairCoin can help facilitate and expand social currency networks. Ultimately, it is about finding productive ways to work with merchants and producers to help them contribute to building a circular economy which addresses people’s needs. Although for this to work effectively, the local node also needs a positive balance with the social currency in order to facilitate exchanges.
  • In the most successful cases, specific physical locations were crucial to attracting people and helped to build concrete links with other social currencies. In Berne, the first ever Zero Waste shop that accepted FairCoin offers a range of products from different local nodes, which meant that people could see how FairCoin works on a global to local basis.  In La Safor and Tarragona's La Descapitalitzadora projects, FairCoin and social currencies could make use of a local warehouse in the distribution of products and, alongside careful planning, this helped to contribute to the success of the first Iberian circular route project. Meanwhile, in Milano, MACAO has provided an important base to work collectively with Commoncoin, given the shared values and common projects.

However, in several different cases, a general suspicion towards cryptocurrency amongst some users of social currencies was noted, which is unsurprising given the speculation and all the capitalistic excitement about Bitcoin in the mass media. The ‘tech barrier’ means that many people do not feel comfortable with downloading wallets and using cryptocurrency, and this was a challenge in several different places. From looking through the collection of experiences of working with different social currencies, it becomes clear that FairCoin is more a social than a cryptocurrency, which works best through shared values, proximity and face-to-face relations of trust that are built outside of capitalist relations of exploitation. 

The attitudes towards cryptocurrency are also rather different in different places though: For example, in the Swiss context there was already a high level of interest in using crypto and crypto investments, while in MACAO, through Commoncoin, there has been a longstanding engagement with using alternative cryptocurrencies to create political and organizational alternatives; although in other places such as Murcia, there has been some resistance to using cryptocurrency amongst those using the social currency, the Osel. 

Thus the situation clearly varies on a case by case basis, this is potentially a strength of FairCoin as a social crypto, which is that it can have an attraction both for some socially conscientious users of cryptocurrency and also work well with social currencies, but this strength also presents challenges, given the suspicion in some local contexts about cryptocurrencies. It is also worth stressing that FairCoin is a tool to strengthen alternative, non-capitalist values, based on trust rather than seeking to absorb different social currencies into any single overarching project. FairCoop and FairCoin can be important in helping to build links between different locally based social currencies, always working according to the principles of radical local autonomy.


Social currency and FairCoin: A long-term process of forging links

What we also see in this transition stage, is that the exchange to fiat currency remains a necessity for many merchants, and the process of linking between FairCoin and social currencies must be carefully planned because there needs to be exchange in both forms for these links to be sustained over time. That said, when these conditions are met, there are a number of cases of important and productive links being built. FairCoop and FairCoin are part of a political movement to create a common means of exchange that works in people’s interests, outside of a capitalist system that is based on exploiting people and the natural environment for profit. How we generate further links with different social currencies around these alternative values in different places will continue to be an exciting and - as can be seen from the cases mentioned above - an important and collectively rewarding task in the years to come.


(Thanks to @Al_Demon @biciAbhyanga @jessdim @NikolaNS Emanuele Braga and @rosquilletaintegral for their cooperation).

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