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Greece's New Spin on an Old Currency System

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Greece’s upcoming elections on June 17th can and probably should be seen as a referendum on whether the country will remain a part of the Eurozone. On one side sit groups in favor of keeping austerity pledges; on the other those who, to grossly oversimplify, don’t (at least not in their current form).

In the end, the events of the next few months could help determine whether Greece stays on the euro.

Some Greeks, however, aren’t around waiting to find out. In a choice between euros and Drachmas, they’ve picked neither. Instead, whenever possible, they’re using a new barter currency called the Local Abbreviation Unit (or TEM, to use its Greek acronym).
The TEM, according to the AP, actually began before Greece’s financial collapse, and was seen as a fairer way to conduct business. Since the collapse, it has seen growing support with people in about a dozen Greek towns.

Administrators claim that over 300 hundred new members have joined in the past few months.

The TEM is, basically, a barter currency, and can be used to facilitate trade of different goods and services. Users who open accounts start with zero TEMs, and can make money by offering things up for trade. They can also borrow as many as 300 TEMs.

The TEM has so far been used to buy everything from honey to doctor’s appointments. Unfortunately for its proponents, it can’t fully replace the euro as taxes and utilities must still be paid for in the national currency.

Still, the new money seems to be a net positive for its users, some of whom have seen their purchasing power go up since adopting it. Others feel that the barter currency strengthens social bonds, something that will be quite important in the event of a full-fledged Greek collapse.

Alternative currencies are not exclusive to Greece, or even to economies on the verge of collapse. Perhaps the most famous recent example is Bitcoin, the online peer-to-peer currency. It can be used to purchase a number of products including, briefly, a stay at a California Howard Johnson’s (WYN).

Recently, though, concerns have been raised about the currency’s safety, thanks to hacker attacks on a major online exchange.
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