Saturday, October 8, 2011

Barter economy in Greece and Time Banks

The Times points to an interesting trend in economically beleaguered Greece - emergence of a barter trading economy among certain small communities. It writes about one such network in Volos, with 400 members, which uses a so-called Local Alternative Unit, or TEM in Greek, to exchange goods and services — language classes, baby-sitting, computer support, home-cooked meals — and to receive discounts at some local businesses,

"People sign up online and get access to a database that is kind of like a members-only Craigslist. One unit of TEM 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. They can borrow up to 300 TEMs, but they are expected to repay the loan within a fixed period of time.

Members also receive books of vouchers of the alternative currency itself, which look like gift certificates and are printed with a special seal that makes it difficult to counterfeit. Those vouchers can be used like checks. Several businesspeople in Volos, including a veterinarian, an optician and a seamstress, accept the alternative currency in exchange for a discount on the price in euros.

A recent glimpse of the database revealed people offering guitar and English lessons, bookkeeping services, computer technical support, discounts at hairdressers and the use of their yards for parties. There is a system of ratings so that people can describe their experiences, in order to keep transparent quality control."


The article attributes the recent emergence of such groups across Greece to the austerity policies which have squeezed wages and increased deprivation and uncertainty.

Interestingly, the Fixes blog in NYT recently pointed to the growth of time banks, reciprocal service exchanges that uses units of time as currency. Members of time banks register to offer certain services - financial planning, computer de-bugging, handyman repairs, housecleaning, child care, clothing alterations, cooking, taking someone to a doctor’s appointment on the bus, visiting the homebound or English conversation etc - in return for which they can access services offered by others belonging to the bank. Interestingly, distinct from the conventional markets, in time banks all works have equal value. It writes,

"A 90-year-old can contribute on an equal basis with a 30 year old. Accompanying someone to the doctor is as valuable as Web design."


Such time banks become an attractive option during times of high unemployment and under-employment. People have ample time with them, but do not have enough money to meet their needs. They see time banks as an opportunity to put their skills to work to get things they need.

The emergence of social networking sites and the ability of these platforms to bring together people and make them aware of each others needs too has the potential to create interest in such "barter craigslists". Time banks are especially effective health care. Taking care of old-aged, hospice care, shopping and other household help for old-aged etc, through time banks can lower health care costs considerably.

TimeBanks and Time Banking UK are umbrella organizations of time banks in America and Britain.

1 comment:

Nick Rowe said...

Gulzar:

Well-spotted! I think this sort of evidence is really important in confirming that recessions are a monetary phenomenon, and not some sort of structural problem, or whatever.

I was looking for this sort of evidence when I wrote this post:

http://worthwhile.typepad.com/worthwhile_canadian_initi/2010/01/is-barter-countercyclical.html