2. In a complementary currency ecosystem

2.4. Historical evolution and current situation

2.4.3. Current national evolution

At the end of 2014, Neil Hughes carried out research in which he analysed the current situation of complementary currencies in Spain (Figure 15). He proceeded to count the number of existing initiatives according to several national databases and was able to list a total of 372 initiatives: 290 of these were service credit banks, 71 were mutual exchange systems, and eleven were barter markets. Each of these initiatives was pinpointed to its corresponding autonomous community, revealing a country-wide phenomenon. The most active region is Catalonia, with a total of 97 initiatives in operation: 71 service credit banks, 23 mutual exchange systems, and three barter markets. Catalonia is followed in the ranking by Andalusia and Madrid. As discussed previously, service credit systems are the most common typology found in Spain. Of the 290 service credit banks listed, 223 are dependent on the local authority. It is important to point out that, at the time this study was conducted, no local currency initiatives were identified, though there is widespread knowledge of their existence today and we have clear evidence of their operation, in Barcelona and Santa Coloma de Gramanet, for example.

Figure 17

Three historical periods have been linked to significant upturns in the use of complementary currencies. The first was during the Spanish Civil War, the second at the end of the twentieth century with the emergence of the first local authority service credit models, and the third as a result of the 2008 economic crisis. The greatest growth of this type of initiative has been seen in the period since 2008. In particular, mutual exchange systems have demonstrated the most significant growth, growing from four in 2009 to more than 70 at the end of 2014.

The origins that have inspired the different typologies are very different, however. The service credit systems, for example, are inspired by the Italian experience, while the mutual exchange systems are based on initiatives in Brazil and the UK’s Transition towns. A broad range of economic, environmental and social objectives were identified, including the battle against social exclusion, localization of the economy, creation of social capital and promotion of sustainability. Without doubt, the 2008 crisis was a crucial factor in the evolution of complementary currency systems in Spain. The lack of available money produced by a combination of lending and austerity policies was the major catalyst for the recent growth of service credit and mutual exchange systems, as well as other innovative solutions and proposals. In terms of economic and social relevance, the recent creation of the initiatives and their limited capacity seem to corroborate other previous studies that question the impact of such initiatives on social well-being. High unemployment and poverty, for example, are multidimensional problems requiring solutions based on a great deal more than alternative instruments of exchange. Nonetheless, and despite their limitations, the Spanish initiatives are playing an important educational and political role. By questioning the principles that underpin economic transactions in contemporary capitalist society, such as the maximizing of interest and profit, complementary currency initiatives are fundamental to finding new ways of doing things. Complementary currencies are rooted in progressive values such as social justice and environmental sustainability, and send a message to society that alternatives to capitalistic social relations are possible.

While they may not offer lasting economic alternatives to a strong official currency system, complementary currencies are useful money systems to aspire to for a more localized, sustainable future. Examples are found in Catalonia and Madrid (Figure 18), where the social market economy and circulation of ecoredes (ecoxarxes) has experienced significant growth in the last few years. Similarly, the 15M movement is playing an important role, using service credit banks to help to weave community fabric in Spanish cities, at the same time boosting individual self-esteem, reciprocity, self-organization and social horizontality. Initiatives such as the Association for the Development of Time Banks (ADBT), the Health and Family Association (ASF), the integrated cooperatives beginning to spread beyond Catalonia (CIC), and the expansion of the social market networks, all augur well for the future of complementary currency systems in Spain.

Figure 18