Joshua Msika, coordinator of Transition St Andrews and third year student (BSc Hons Sustainable Development), replies to Elliott Miskin’s latest ‘Market Street’ column.
I’ll take the flippant questions first: I’m personally in favour of 100 SINNERS constituting 1 SAINT. However, this takes us into shaky theological territory and that is definitely not my area of expertise.
Serious questions next: no, you can’t pay tuition fees or rent or bills in SAINTS. Nor – incidentally – can you trade alcohol. That’s illegal. But these questions miss the point of this alternative currency which, as you astutely point out, is one among many.
What is being offered in SAINTS at the moment are food items, small services and craftwork. I have so far purchased a walnut-garlic spread (delicious) as well as a half-dozen eggs. A more ambitious friend of mine is saving up to commission a coffee table for her living room. “Sure,” I hear you say, “I could get all that with pound sterling.”
That’s not true. SAINTS are bringing goods and services into a trading economy which would otherwise go untraded and unvalued. The eggs I have bought, laid by a woman’s three hens which she looks after herself, were not available in any shop in St Andrews until the Saint Exchange was set up. “Sure,” you’re still saying, “now that you’ve found her, why not buy her eggs in GBP?”
I could. Of course, there’s a de facto exchange rate between GBP and SAINTS (just as there is an exchange rate for Bitcoins) as people spend some money to make the products with which they earn SAINTS. The chickens were probably fed with commercial feed bought from somewhere, their bedding and cage did not come free.
However, the highly localised and personal nature of SAINTS make trading in them more attractive to me than trading in pounds. And here’s my explanation.
The Saint Exchange, soon to go online and embracing new technology, provides its members with perfect certainty over where their SAINTS are going. I personally believe that the goods and services listed in the members’ directory deserve to be traded.
Since hoarding is useless – you don’t receive interest on SAINTS – I know that the SAINTS I have spent on my half-dozen eggs will soon be spent on another service listed in the directory, valuing the skills of someone else in the network.
By contrast, when I spend pounds, I can be pretty sure that they will soon end up in the bank accounts of the 1%. By using SAINTS, I am promoting creative self-employment – entrepreneurship if you’d rather use modern econspeak – as well as receiving goods and services money can’t buy.
So no: SAINTS can’t replace pound sterling (nor will Bitcoins, for all their virtues) but they provide a way of valuing St Andreans’ time and skills again and again as they circulate through the system. They promote mindful and creative production where so much of our time is spent in passive and homogenised consumption.
In a time when the future is uncertain and everyone is saving their pounds despite the government’s best efforts to restart the engine of the economy, a currency that is actually circulating is not to be lightly dismissed.