Dateline reports from a community that's found its own solution to the financial crisis... by establishing its own alternative currency.
Airdate: 
Tuesday, June 5, 2012 - 21:28
Channel: 
SBS One

While political parties bitterly debate Greece's future in the eurozone, some people have found their own solution to the crisis - one that doesn't rely on the euro at all.
 

Amos Roberts reports from the city of Volos, where a community has established its own alternative currency in response to salary cuts and 20% unemployment.

It's based on exchanging goods and services for TEM, which can be spent locally to keep the city's economy, and community, moving.

The ethos is solidarity, not profit, with a limit on the amount of TEM that people can accumulate, and in a time when euros are short, it's proving a lifeline.

What started out as the initiative of a handful of activists has grown to a network of more than 900 people with its own weekly market. The city council is even allowing people to pay some fees using the new currency.

There are now more than a dozen similar schemes in Greece, and with a big question mark hanging over the future, could the people of Volos already have found the solution?

WATCH - Click to see Amos's report from Dateline's special program on the crisis in Greece.

HOW DOES IT WORK? - There are many similar schemes around the world, but all with broadly the same rules. Read our guide to how they work.

TEM - TEM stands for Τοπική Εναλλακτική Μονάδα, which translates as Alternative Local Unit. The currency's website has more information in Greek (or in English via Google Translate).

INTERVIEW WITH AMOS - Amos talks to SBS World News Australia Radio about his story and how TEM has helped boost morale in Volos.

DEBT CRISIS - SBS's World News Australia has the latest coverage of the eurozone debt crisis.

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Photo (TEM cheque book): AAP

Interview With Amos


Amos talks to Darren Mara from SBS World News Australia Radio about his story and how TEM has helped boost morale in Volos compared to the situation in other parts of Greece.

How Does It Work?

There are many schemes similar to the TEM system around the world, used to help stimulate local economies and build community spirit, especially when traditional currency is short.

These Local Exchange Trading Systems, widely known as LETS, have regional variations, but broadly follow these rules"¦

Set-up

A community agrees to set up a LETS scheme and nominates people to administer it, usually on a central computer system.

Participants trade products, such as homegrown fruit and vegetables at a local market, or services, such as childcare or carpentry, and agree to a price in the LETS currency in advance.

Members advertise their products and services to the local community through the LETS network to encourage trade.

Transactions

All accounts start at zero, with people initially going into debt in order to pay someone else for their purchases. This creates the currency that starts moving around the system.

No interest is charged on debts, so the whole currency remains balanced at zero. There are limits on the amount of credit or debt each person can have to discourage profiteering from the scheme.

Money is usually exchanged through cheques and electronic transactions, rather than traditional notes or coins. All members can see the balances of each other to maintain transparency.

LETS v traditional

LETS currencies generally have an agreed equivalence with the traditional currency, so users have an idea of value. People sometimes pay in a combination of both currencies.

There’s been debate in many places about the taxation of such schemes, with differing rulings. Personal transactions are generally not taxable, but someone deemed to be carrying out a business will probably have to pay tax.

Taxes have to be paid in traditional currency, so scheme organisers often recommend taking payment in a combination of both currencies to cover tax commitments.


Official acceptance


Because of this, and the fact that many other official costs can only be paid in traditional currency, LETS can never really fully replace a region's normal national currency.

But the level of acceptance varies between different schemes... for example Volos city council in Amos's report has started to accept some official fees using the TEM currency.

The sources for this information, which also have more details on how these schemes work, were the websites of LETS schemes in Volos, Greece, Western Australia and Canada.

Resources

Transcript

The Euro might be in crisis but some enterprising Greeks are finding ways around it. In the village of Volos they have come up with a community currency - not the Euro, not the drachma, but the TEM. Here is Amos Roberts to show us how it works.

REPORTER: Amos Roberts

According to legend, Mount Pelion was once home to the centaurs. Now it's a picturesque tourist spot.

WOMAN (Translation): Have a long happy life! Girls, may your turn come soon!

And the perfect place to get married. For the happy couple and guests, this wedding is a time for celebration. For the hard-working restaurateur providing lunch - it's a lifeline.

NIKOLAS THEIAKOS, RESTAURATEUR: The effect of crisis is we have increased taxes, people don't go out that much and we just survive here.

REPORTER: So you are pretty lucky with the wedding?

NIKOLAS THEIAKOS: Yes.

Nikolas Theiakos has been working here since he was 15 - the third generation in his family to run the Ortansies Taverna. Once, it was always crowded - but since Greece fell on hard times, he's been living off Sunday lunches.

REPORTER: Is it possible that the restaurant might not survive?

NIKOLAS THEIAKOS: Yes, there is always a possibility. This business has been open for 70 years or more, from my great grandfather. If I close it, to me it means I did something wrong in all of these years I am here.

Nikolas knows that in these uncertain times, he needs to prepare for the worst.

COOKING TEACHER (Translation): Slowly add the spaghetti and the carrot.

In the city of Volos, not far from his village, Nikolas has enrolled in a vocational college.

COOKING TEACHER (Translation): Nikolas, come this way, you take this. Do the second one.

NIKOLAS THEIAKOS: Better have a diploma so I might leave Greece and get some work.

REPORTER: Just in case?

NIKOLAS THEIAKOS: Just in case. Just to make sure that I have a future.

REPORTER: Does the crisis also make it difficult to pay to study in a place like this?

NIKOLAS THEIAKOS: Well, the crisis made it hard to pay. Sometimes because our customers keep reducing there are months that we struggle even to pay our fees here in the school.

Luckily for Nikolas, he doesn't have to pay all his fees in euros. That's because in Volos, there's more than one kind of money.

NIKOLAS THEIAKOS (Translation): Good morning.

MAN (Translation): How can I help you?

NIKOLAS THEIAKOS (Translation): I'd like to sign up for the;

MAN (Translation): The network?

NIKOLAS THEIAKOS (Translation): The network. Yes.

Nikolas can pay 30% of his tuition fees using TEM - a currency found only here in Volos. The Local Network for Exchange and Solidarity, which runs this new financial system, is based in the shop of seamstress Angeliki Ioanniti.

MAN (Translation): On this form, you fill in what goods you will be offering and what sort of items you need.

Having an alternative currency isn't unique - there are similar networks in other parts of the world and more than a dozen here in Greece. But with 900 members and more joining every day, this is the largest in a country unsure of what money it will be using in a few months' time. Katia Larisaou's cafe provides a good example of how the system works.

MAN 2 (Translation): Hello, Katia.

KATIA LARISAOU (Translation): Hello.

MAN 2 (Translation): can you make me a green tea with spearmint?

As a TEM member, Katia allows other members to pay part of their bills using TEM - which have the same value as euros. In an indirect form of barter, her customers earn TEM by also providing goods or services to the network. With customers who are short of euros and a cafe where business has plunged 40% in the last year, there's a clear benefit to all.

KATIA LARISAOU (Translation): So, 3.80 for the tea. 2.30 in euro; and 1.50 in TEM.

TEM doesn't exist as notes or coins - Katia just records the transaction, and the virtual money will be transferred online. She needs at least a portion of the cost in euros in order to pay her expenses.

ANGELIKI IONNITI (Translation): In the old days we used to have exchange in villages. One person would give walnuts, another would give potatoes. So we have had this system from way back, but in a different form.

MAN (Translation): The more services provided, the better. That way we involve the whole community.

NIKOLAS THEIAKOS (Translation): I understand. Thank you very much.

MAN (Translation): Good on you. Goodbye.

NIKOLAS THEIAKOS (Translation): Goodbye and welcome, welcome to the network.

MAN (Translation): Goodbye.

CUSTOMER (Translation): Hello.

ANGELIKI IONNITI (Translation): Welcome, sweetie.

CUSTOMER (Translation): Angeliki, will you mend this?

ANGELIKI IONNITI (Translation): What is it?

Angeliki's sewing business is down 60% since the crisis hit.

ANGELIKI IONNITI (Translation): Normally, it's ten, but because you bought the zip, it is eight. So you give me four in euro and four in TEM.

YIANNIS GRIGORIOU, TEM FOUNDER: I got a tyre puncture yesterday so I need to fix my tyre today. I am going through the system.

Members of the network advertise their products and services online.

YIANNIS GRIGORIOU: So I am looking for tyre repair services, okay, here I am.

Yiannis Grigoriou was one of the founders of TEM. He manages social programs for the Volos city council.

YIANNIS GRIGORIOU: It is a social laboratory I always like to call it because that change is happening all the time and obviously as the crisis is deepening here in our country now we have more chances and maybe more opportunities to explore this ground because everything is new.

YIANNIS GRIGORIOU (Translation): Will we fix the tyre today?

Unemployment in Volos is now running at 20%. Those lucky enough to have a job have seen their salaries slashed - Yiannis has taken a 25% pay cut, which means servicing his car is not a priority.

YIANNIS GRIGORIOU (Translation): It shows on the dashboard that I need more oil. I haven't changed it for six months.

SERVICE MAN (Translation): For sure, it might not even have any oil. You haven't changed anything, it's a miracle it's working.

YIANNIS GRIGORIOU (Translation): Is it a miracle it's working?

It's a miracle it still works, he said!!

People often join TEM to make money - they soon discover that solidarity, not profit, is the invisible hand in this market.

SERVICE MAN: At first, it is only for advertising.

REPORTER: A way of letting people know?

SERVICE MAN: Yes. After a few months I want to have people.

REPORTER: Because you get more customers?

SERVICE MAN (Translation): No, because I see that... there are people who are hungry. There are people; they end up losing their jobs, so their car is a necessity. They need it to go looking for work, they have no money, so there is TEM>.

YIANNIS GRIGORIOU (Translation): I'll pay you with a cheque, it's the same thing.

There are safeguards to prevent the profit motive from taking hold and to keep the money in circulation. No-one is allowed to accumulate more than 1,200 TEM for example.

YIANNIS GRIGORIOU (Translation): Here you are, thank you.

SERVICE MAN (Translation): No. thank you. Perfect.

REPORTER: It is as good at money.

SERVICE MAN: Because with this TEM, I am going to buy marmalade for my kids, honey, or olive oil. I can fix something electric in my store. It is like Euro.

The TEM economy - unlike the national one - is always growing. The Volos city council has recently agreed to accept a portion of some fees in TEM. And the network has started a weekly market for members.

YIANNIS GRIGORIOU (Translation): So we are in competition.

REPORTER: It is good?

WOMAN: Very good.

REPORTER: What is it?

WOMAN: Chocolate cake and it is 8 TEM only.

For every purchase, the buyer and seller's details are written on a slip of paper and the TEM transferred online.

REPORTER: It is better for you to spend TEM or Euros?

WOMAN: TEM of course.

REPORTER: Why?

WOMAN: I don't have Euro. With my Euro I pay my bills. And with TEM I pay my food.

ANGELIKI IONNITI (Translation): Here we have very nice jewellery, they are all handmade. These are goods from the shop, he brings them here to exchange - they are all new. And this lady, being a housewife, and also clever, she made these goods which are also offered in TEM. It's an extra help.

The stall is filled with stock from a business that went bust a year ago.

MAN (Translation): We live on whatever we get from here. For example, what did I get from here today? I got eggs, I got lettuce, I got a tin of oil, things that we eat at home. Things that I can't buy anymore, I give and an exchange takes place.

KATIA LARISAOU (Translation): Sour orange and orange;That's what I want. You make the pastry?

Everything.

It is kind of strange to see all of this stuff on sale and really you don't actually need any - Money.

KATIA LARISAOU: It is good, isn't it?

WOMAN (Translation): It's as if a world of abundance has opened up, outside there is a crisis..

KATIA LARISAOU (Translation): Yes, yes.

WOMAN (Translation): I buy marmalade, strawberry marmalade, yes. Today I am rich, I have TEM. I don't have Euro, I have TEM. I am rich!

REPORTER: How do you start a currency from scratch? How do you create money from nothing?

YIANNIS GRIGORIOU: Because we believe that the creation of value, which means currency in your question, is the right of any individual and the right of the community.

This is still capitalism but with a kinder face.

MAN (Translation): Well, hello chief!

MAN 3 (Translation): One thing I will say is that one day's work in here is one week's work outside. If that say's something; here people buy much more easily and they help and support each other without any feeling of negativity. You buy something and appreciate the purchase you have made.

WOMAN (Translation): Outside they pressure you as if it doesn't have any value, as if the euro has value but not the product. But in here the flour, the eggs, everything has value.

YIANNIS GRIGORIOU: The mainstream economy thinks that these people have no value at all, they are not useful. We think the opposite. Everybody has something to offer.

WOMAN (Translation): You want to pay - you want to feel human again.

MAN (Translation): And you can pay with anything, either with TEM, with oil, with potatoes; as long as you have got something to exchange.

YIANNIS GRIGORIOU: It is a very liberating feeling to have to see ourselves able to do this. This is something once we realised the potential of this, maybe the whole world will change

WOMAN (Translation): Tell him that we will always be smiling.

MARK DAVIS: Amos Roberts with a different take on how to survive without the banks. There's more about that currency and how it works on our website, plus an interactive guide to all the main political parties here and their views on solving the financial crisis. That's at sbs.com.au/dateline.

Reporter/Camera
AMOS ROBERTS

Producer
DONALD CAMERON

Fixer
HARIS NIKOLAKAKIS

Editors
DAVID POTTS
PETER TODD

Translations/Subtitling
GEORGE POULARAS

Original Music Composed by VICKI HANSEN

5th June 2012