Living in Dresden at these times is like sitting in…
End of June there was a meeting of interested folks with the initiators of a regional currency in Dresden called the Elbtaler. They met in the new Lose store, which only sells produce without plastic packaging. Here they discussed the benefits and limitations of the Elbtaler.
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What is money made for? What happened, when money changed from being a medium of exchange into the purpose of economy? Who benefits? And who loses? How do we co-create the economy through our consumer behavior? And how does a regional currency influences its region?
These questions were discussed by 15 people on the last Friday of June. We met in the Lose store and were guided through the evening by Benjamin Hermsdorf from Stories of Change. The other guests next to Lose proprietress Berit Heller were Norbert Rost as one of the initiators of Elbtaler and Frank Großkopf, co-owner of the health food specialty store “Nahrungsquell”.
The audience could direct their questions to the guests and the whole evening was graphically recorded by Antje Dennewitz.
Berit Heller talked about the crowdfunding campaign to start the Lose store and how this helped her feeling supported to run the store by the many people right from the start. Norbert Rost explained the development from Dresden’s regional currency Elbtaler since the start in 2005. He stressed the experimental character of local currencies. Frank Großkopf talked about the practicalities of using the Elbtaler in his shop and how he had to be inventive when figuring out how to do the VAT accounting in two different currencies. He appreciates the latitude in using regional money.
“Through regional currencies we can rediscover money as a creative design tool and not just as an imposed system of rules we have to obey. With it I can organize my business and influence my region more independently.” says Frank Großkopf
Regional currencies can help leveling the disparities in local economies caused by the global financial system. According to the Regionetzwerk there are 26 local currencies registered in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, the Elbtaler being one of them.
The Elbtaler association exists since 2005 and has 80 members so far. About 58 local businesses are currently using the Elbtaler to trade between each other, whereas a minimum 20 % of their commercial operations should be handled in Elbtaler. Digital accounts and money transfer forms are provided by the Elbtaler association.
The next big step will come this autumn: Money printing! They want to provide Elbtaler for the wallets of the end-consumers . Then also this larger group of people will be able to pay in Elbtaler and thus support the local economy.
Norbert Rost and Frank Großkopf support the Elbtaler because they view local currencies as more resilient to shocks through global financial crises. At the same time they appreciate the locally limited range and the complementary character of it. For them the Elbtaler is also a networking tool, offering new customers for local tradesman and manufacturers. To customers buying with Elbtaler gives the security of supporting the local economy. As this money can only be spend in the region, jobs and prosperity stay regional, which stabilizes the local market. This circulation of money is further encouraged by a negative interest rate, since 2014 even common in the EZB. This strengthens money as a medium of exchange and keeps it circulating.
To give us an impression about exactly that Benjamin introduced a trading game to us. There were different products on cards and everyone had to trade with everyone else to collect certain products to fulfill a task. I had to go travelling for example and had to trade my products to get a backpack, a map and so on. In the first round of the game, there was no money. Everybody had to talk to everyone about they could offer and about what they needed. A lot of contacts and trading networks developed and there was a lot of bargaining.
In the next round money was introduced and everybody was observing, what changed through that newly introduced piece of paper. We observed how trading took place much faster and became independent from the physical products. Bargaining and talking diminished because now everything could be traded for money.
Everyone felt a bit different about the observations of the game. For some it was the first experience of not needing money to fulfill their needs, because exchanging goods did just the same (more here). Others preferred the exchange of physical goods because of the networks of people that developed through that. And again others liked the faster trading enabled by money.
Money makes the world go round, doesn’t it? Didn’t we create it? Aren’t we the ones to decide, what money is, how it goes around and for what? Let’ rethink money together.