Essays about Alternative Currencies?
October 18, 2013 12:39 PM   Subscribe

A reading group I'm in is interested in learning about alternative currencies. For example, a good overview of something like Bitcoin. Bonus points if it's coming from a Marxist or left political position.
posted by matkline to Society & Culture (11 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Well, not Bitcoin, but here's a recent interview with left economist Doug Henwood that touches on the creation of "local currency" alternatives:
The local currency might be appropriate for buying locally produced baked goods, but what about the flour, what about the wheat, what about the milling equipment to produce the flour? It may be appropriate for haircuts, but what about scissors and the steel that makes the scissors? Money isn't just a substitute for barter. Money is like a system of social organization. It's a way of organizing production on a large scale. And I don't see how creating little community currencies can solve that problem. It can maybe mitigate things in a crisis, when there is a shortage of money, but as a principle of large-scale organization, it's just not up to the task.
And again not Bitcoin but maybe a helpful read about currency in general: Barbara Garson's Money Makes the World Go Around.
posted by RogerB at 12:48 PM on October 18, 2013

You can get this talk on podcast on iTunes for free. It's a really interesting lecture about the history of currency in Iowa, and all the strange things they used for currency.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:58 PM on October 18, 2013

Just looking around quickly for Bitcoin-specific discussion, most of it is obviously online: this piece from Gegen Kapital und Nation is a good one. There's also this.
posted by RogerB at 1:03 PM on October 18, 2013

Here's a Guardian article about barter in Greece.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:20 PM on October 18, 2013

Bernard Lietaer has written a bunch of stuff about alternative currencies and has done some really interesting thinking about how the design of the currency affects our use of it. His new book looks pretty good. Don't know if it focuses on BitCoin at all, though.
posted by ropeladder at 1:31 PM on October 18, 2013

You may also find this this helpful.
posted by ropeladder at 1:35 PM on October 18, 2013

Some additional search terms to help you: local currencies, LETS, hour exchanges. This article came up on google search and may give a reasonable first overview of some of the ideas behind local currencies and LETS. One of the main ideas behind a lot of these is to create plentiful currencies instead of scarce currencies (though this doesn't seem to be a good search term unfortunately): the philosophy being that communities with few monetary or capital resources still have labor and knowledge resources, and an alternative currency can help communities take advantage of this and exchange these resources in an organized way that benefits everyone rather than concentrating wealth and forcing the less wealthy to do without partly as a side effect of the scarcity merely of the medium of transaction (that being currency).

You might also find more about alternative currencies (especially with a Marxist or similar perspective) if you look for them not as the main focus but as a piece of alternative economies. Cooperative or anarcho-syndicalist economies (eg. and for a larger-scale example, some of the local economies that sprung up around factory takeovers in Argentina after the financial collapse there, the autonomous regions of Spain during the Spanish Civil War, I think maybe some peojects in Cuba?), comparable worth theory, etc. A broad search term that may be relevant here, though is probably over-broad, is political economy.

If your group is up on the role of currency in an economy in the first place, thus leading to this interest in alternative currencies, then ignore my next suggestion. I highly recommend, as preliminary reading, the book "Economics for Everyone" by Jim Stanford.
posted by eviemath at 5:19 AM on October 19, 2013

(This book has a section, though very small, on alternative currencies as well, if I recall correctly.)
posted by eviemath at 5:21 AM on October 19, 2013

Boggs: A Comedy of Values by Lawrence Weschler is an interesting essay about the artist J. S. G. Boggs. Boggs draws pictures of banknotes, and then attempts to trade them as a work of art for the face value of the banknote. It brings up some questions about the value of money and the value of art that are worth reading.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 5:26 PM on October 19, 2013

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