Sunday, January 27, 2013

Grecians have turned to the Tem as barter currency in lieu of the Euro to stave off hunger.

Money. Everyone wants lots of money. Some say money makes the world go round. We sometimes wonder if there will be something better than money for exchanging goods and services. Before money there was barter, the direct exchange of one good for another without the use of money. Barter works well when your economy is simplistic, without much specialization and has few goods to trade in. Therefore, when a modern country decides it wants to go back to barter, there is something wrong.

The economy can function with a little less money.
True for Greece. She has been struggling with its worst economic crisis in modern times. It is reported that her citizens have lost up to 40% of their disposable incomes in order to qualify for international aid. Grecians are turning to barter as an alternative currency. In cities like Athens and the suburbs, the barter economy is gaining ground. One such currency is known as the Tem, a novel barter exchange system that was begun in the town of Volos, as a way for Grecians to deal with intense austerity.

It is all about the need to survive. The euro has become scarce commodity, available only for the privileged few. People do not bother carrying money at all ; they’d rather exchange second-hand clothes, electrical equipment and homemade jams through the barter system. To that spirit of exchange, one can add the drive to stand together, to go through the hard times and survive together.

The Tem is not the only alternative that exists; it is just the brainchild. Others can be found in other towns. It is a story of a country whose infrastructures are collapsing. It is not a rejection of the Euro, but for the fight to survive due to acute Euro shortages. The people have very few or no options. They have to live their lives and hope for the best. Although the barter system might be ineffective, what is more important to the people is the ability to exchange on less. Panos Skotiniotis, the mayor of Volos, is in favor of the Tem. “We are all supporting alternatives that help alleviate the crisis’ economic and social consequences,” he was reported to have said to the Guardian. The Tem won’t replace the Euro ever, but at least, for those who are financially weak and the aged, it is a viable alternative.

Greece has given up the fight.

Unemployment rate is high. It recently hit an European record of 26%, surpassing even Spain. The people are impoverished. Lost jobs translate to lost income. Insecurity, both economic and political, is uppermost in people’s mind. Disillusion reigns everywhere. The financial system has failed. Greece has surrendered to its economic crisis and has given up the will to fight back. Else, why would the people be driven to barter? The message is clear. The system has failed the people.

Even with the use of barter currencies like the Tem, it is doubtful if people will be able to dodge taxes. The informal bartering economy needs platforms in order for wants to meet need, or to satisfy double coincidence of wants. The need for a barter network requires bookkeeping and record keeping . There is also the need for a common measure of value. One Tem is reported to be equal to one Euro.

The Tem is the story of the town of Volos, a suburb 200 miles north of Athens, reputed for its tobacco. The town of Volos used to be a trading route that connected Greece to the Middle East before Syria’s ascent into Civil War. This is the story of the failure of government when it cannot fulfill its obligations and how necessity has become the platform for innovation and creativity. No matter what happens, when currencies fail and the system collapses, man has always found a way to survive, even if it means going back to the past.

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