Photo courtesy Valor y Cambio.
What began as a conversation about value and the solidarity economy has resulted in the launch of a community currency for Puerto Rico, Valor y Cambio (VyC). Although the bills do not generate new money into the economy — they simply swap new bills for US dollars — they are serving an important purpose. Frances Negrón-Muntaner, the Puerto Rican artist and Columbia University professor who designed the bills, surveyed Puerto Ricans to determine their preferences. “What kind of stories, and what kind of values does currency carry?” she asked. The faces selected — including poet Julia de Burgos and baseball player Roberto Clemente — represented the values the bills’ creators were seeking to uplift: justice, equity, creativity and solidarity.
Author and community currency expert Thomas H. Greco Jr. comments that while Puerto Rico’s new complimentary currency is symbolically powerful, the real effect of community currencies far surpasses symbolism. Local currencies can become a tool to fully empower democratic communities by creating exchange mechanisms independent of conventional money.
Creating an independent system decentralizes and democratizes the control of credit. It decouples local economies from a global banking establishment whose very nature hollows out communities. Greco explains in an article in his Beyond Money website:
“Selling a currency for cash, as [convertible local currencies] (CLCs) do, does not create any additional liquidity (payment media) for the community, it merely exchanges official money for a voucher currency that has limited usefulness. … Private or community currencies that are SPENT into circulation by trusted issuers, like utility companies, goods producers, or municipal governments, have much greater potential for promoting local community prosperity, resilience, and self-determination because they allow a community to monetize the value that is created and sold by local businesses and professionals.”