Cashless transactions: Greeks’ creative crisis solution

Whether the EU anti-crisis plan is effective or not, for the austerity-hit Greek people a creative solution could be the answer to some of their problems. In a country where cash is in short supply, time has taken on a whole different value.

They same time is money, and now it’s being used as a currency in an emerging barter system developed by cash-strapped Greeks who want to swap goods and services.

“In the Time Bank we exchange voluntary services.Sometimes I give painting lessons for free but I take yoga for free also,” says Niki Roubani of the Bank of Voluntary Time project. “It’s huge, it’s everything we do without money. It’s looking after people and making things ourselves.”

The Time Bank is just one of a growing number of service-swapping alternatives that are providing people in Greece with an imaginative way to cope with the tough economic conditions.

Tsakalotos Efklidis, an economics professor, says a financial crisis can have terrible and divisive consequences for society.

“[It divides] public sector workers from private sector workers, it divides richer workers to poorer workers, immigrant workers from home workers. And that’s a terrible thing,” he said.

For a country in crisis, building social unity can be an uphill struggle. However, the barter networks have proven a great way of bringing together large groups of people. A popular slogan in Greece now is, "No-one's alone in the crisis."

Organizations are arranging swap-shops to exchange clothes, and one town in Greece has even started its own barter currency.

“We still have the memory of an agricultural society in Greece, where people used to do things together. They would harvest the olive tree of my family this week and then the next week we do the olive trees of your family. So they would exchange services – and people like that,” says Niki Roubani.

Nikki gives her friend Alexandra, who is also a member of the time bank, an art lesson. In exchange, Alexandra helps Nikki with the gardening, and the time is repaid.

“It’s an amazing way of receiving by giving to others,” says Alexandra.

As many Greeks struggle with wage cuts and tax increases, and with unemployment in the country now cripplingly high, there has been huge interest in the time banks and barter networks.

No wonder the idea of swapping goods and services has proven so popular – it is building solidarity at a time when the economic situation is extremely uncertain. Whilst these barter networks will not solve Greece’s financial problems, they do provide a massive amount of help and support for the participants.

“It’s not a response to the crisis, in the sense that it’s going to overturn the government, but it’s giving support and comfort to those who would like to overturn the terrible economic policies that are being imposed by the Troika. It’s giving people support to feel that they can do something,” says Tsakalotos Efklidis.

While these tough economic times are leaving many Greeks feeling worthless, there is real value in projects like the time bank. With the Greek government drowning in debt, these creative solutions are offering not only support but also encouragement to the people here, which at a time of deep economic recession, are proving priceless commodities.