Thomas H. Greco
Most small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) these days are having a hard time financially–sales are down, costs are up, and bank credit is unavailable, all of which is symptomatic of the stagflation that besets the American economy.
Our present predicament is no accident of nature, nor is it a temporary condition; it is the expected result of a flawed system of money, banking and finance. We have allowed the banks to control our credit and charge us interest for the “privilege” of accessing some of it as bank “loans.” The fact is that the dollar regime, like every other political currency, collectivizes credit. It is the people’s collective credit that supports each national currency, but the allocation of that credit is determined by forces beyond popular control, and an inordinate proportion of it is used to fund the war machine and to enrich corporate fat cats, all to the detriment of peace, equity, and the common good.
But we need not be victims of a system that is so obviously failing us. We can learn to play a different game. It is possible to organize an entirely new structure of money, banking, and finance, one that is interest-free, decentralized, and controlled, not by banks or central governments, but by businesses and individuals that associate and organize themselves into cashless trading networks. This is a way to reclaim “the credit commons” from monopoly control and create healthy community economies that can enhance the quality of life for all.
In brief, any group of traders can organize to allocate their own collective credit amongst themselves, interest-free. This is merely an extension of the common business practice of selling on open account—“I’ll ship you the goods now and you can pay me later,” except it is organized, not on a bilateral basis, but within a community of many buyers and sellers. Done on a large enough scale that includes a sufficiently broad range of goods and services, such systems can avoid the dysfunctions inherent in conventional money and banking and open the way to more harmonious and mutually beneficial trading relationships that enable the emergence of sustainable economies and promote the common good—a true economic democracy.
This approach is no pie-in-the-sky pipedream, it is proven and well established. Known as mutual credit clearing, it is a process that is used by scores of commercial “barter” companies around the world to provide cashless trading for their business members. In this process, the things you sell pay for the things you buy without using money as an intermediate exchange medium. Instead of chasing dollars, you use what you have to pay for what you need. It’s as simple as that. Unlike traditional barter, which depends upon a coincidence of wants and needs between two traders who each have something the other wants, mutual credit clearing provides an accounting for trade credits, a sort of internal currency, that allows traders to sell to some members and buy from others. According to the International Reciprocal Trade Association (IRTA), a major trade association for the industry, “IRTA Member companies using the ‘Modern Trade and Barter’ process, made it possible for over 400,000 companies World Wide to utilize their excess business capacities and underperforming assets, to earn an estimated $12 billion dollars in previously lost and wasted revenues.”
Perhaps the best example of a credit clearing exchange that has been successful over a long period of time is the WIR Economic Circle Cooperative. Founded in Switzerland as a self-help organization in the midst of the Great Depression (1934), WIR provided a means for its members to continue to buy and sell to one another despite a shortage of Swiss francs in circulation. Over the past three quarters of a century, in good times and bad, WIR (now known as the WIR Bank) has continued to thrive. Its more than 60,000 members throughout Switzerland trade about $2 billion worth of goods and services annually.