Local Currency in Greece

BoingBoing linked to a fascinating Guardian piece on the emergence of a new local exchange system slash “cashless currency” in Greece: “tems.” Economic Sociologists won’t be too surprised by the features of the currency (chalk another one up for Viviana Zelizer!) and the arguments in favor, but it’s still cool to see it in action. It’s also interesting as a counterpoint to Bitcoin as an internet-enabled special money. In some ways, tems are the diametrical opposite of bitcoin: rather than enabling anonymous (and thus potentially illegal/sketchy) transactions, tems fosters local community and builds support networks to help folks deal with Greece’s economic collapse:

Tems has been up and running for barely 18 months, said Maria Choupis, one of its founder members. Prompted by ever more swingeing salary cuts and tax increases, she reckons there are now around 15 such networks active around Greece, and more planned. “They are as much social structures as economic ones,” she said. “They foster intimacy and mutual support.”

Another interesting comparison is that like Bitcoin, tems run with the help of open-source software. The Open Source/Free Software movement(s) have long been an interest of mine, and it’s fascinating to see them having potent offline consequences, and thus perhaps overcoming one of the biggest criticisms (that the movements required too high a technical savvy to be of much use to non-programmers). Here, a bit of open-source software is integrated with the construction of a physical market, and the trade of traditional goods and services. Pretty neat, right?

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