Community Currencies and the Underground Antieconomy

I attended some workshops on matters economic. One, on “the underground antieconomy” was an uneducational polemic that I left early. Another, on emerging post-revolution start-from-scratch economic systems, was canceled because the instructor was apparently on some sort of Orange Alert blacklist and was detained at the airport (expect to see more of this sort of thing).

Another seminar I attended was about community currencies. These are paper money systems that exist alongside the familiar greenbacks. There are versions of this going on all over the place, and there have been attempts to get this sort of thing going for decades.

I was paying special attention to find out whether this sort of thing was a possible way to participate in a flexible, currency-based economy, without engaging in taxable activity. I didn’t think it was likely, but thought I’d pay some attention just in case.

The instructor was one of the organizers of Berkeley’s BREAD alternative currency, which had a five-year run but ultimately failed.

The long and the short of it was that I walked away without much excitement for the local currency concept (it doesn’t seem to offer many advantages over government money, and is at a great disadvantage competing against the effective government monopoly). And as a tax dodge, it’s a non-starter.

The IRS doesn’t even want you to get away with untaxed barter “income” — they’re certainly not going to decide that barter that’s mediated through some sort of notes or coupons is exempt (their guide on taxable income also includes sections on “kickbacks,” “illegal income,” and “pulitzer, Nobel and similar prizes” — they think of everything).

I got to thinking today about the legal excuse for the war — how Bush & co. insist that they didn’t need to get UN authorization or join a UN force to invade Iraq. They say that the UN had already authorized such an invasion with previous resolutions, and that the US could go at it alone or with a coalition of the willing at its leisure.

So I’m imagining this alternate universe in which back in , while US troops were massing in Kuwait and feverish negotiations were going on between Washington and Ankara… Russia invaded Iraq, supported by a global coalition including China, France, Canada, Liechtenstein, Malta, Barbados, Andora, Nauru, Tuvalu, Freedonia, Palau, Vatican City and San Marino. Or maybe Iran and Syria in a grand alliance to uphold the UN’s relevance.

Even if, as it is claimed, the UN authorized the use of force against Iraq, it never uniquely deputized the US. Russia would have been just as justified. I somehow doubt that our native hawks would have breathed a sigh of relief and been thankful that someone else was doing the dirty work.