The emergence of the movement Occupy Wall Street gives us the opportunity to recall similar groups active during the 60's on the same stage. Among them stood out so-called "Yippies", fronted by Abbie Hoffman, and the Black Mask collective.
As part of the actions that the Yippies took against the established powers of 1960s America, we may recall, for its relevance to today, an action undertaken in the country’s financial heart when they pushed into the Wall Street Stock Exchange and threw dollar bills into the air. Without stopping to think what was happening, the traders forgot all about their work and the interests of their bosses and frantically scrambled to grab this free money, shamelessly pushing each other out of the way.
The action caught the NYSE authorities unawares and trading activity was suspended. This was one of the first times this happened, but not the last. Currently, in the midst of the financial crisis, its activities have been suspended several times when faced with situations such as the collapse of shares or to prevent the crash of financial giants.
Intervening in currency notes has been a popular practice motivated by numberless reasons, but always in response to the impossibility of accessing the circuits of dissemination owing to persecution, censure or the absence of political representation. The sphere of art has used these tactics, where the clandestine message, being indissolubly tied to the exchange value of the note, thus manages to survive in viral form as much as its bearer allows. From Cildo Meireles to the Occupy Wall Street movement to, among others, Joseph Beuys, all have put their messages into circulation from hand to hand.
The work “Inserciones en Circuitos Ideológicos: Proyecto Cédula” (Insertions into Ideological Circuits: Cédula Project) by Cildo Meireles consisted of the intervention through messages against dictatorial government and authoritarianism sealed in banknotes and then put back into circulation. The phrase “Who killed Herzog?”, for example, alerted to the death of the journalist Vladimir Herzog, detained by the organs of political repression. The project, to emphasise its viral nature, gave instructions on how to reproduce the action and declared: “the reproduction of this piece is free and open to any and all persons”.
Beuys, in turn, handwriting slogans such as "Art = Capital" or "Creativity = Capital", far from defending the art market, sought to point out the value of innovation (something that resides in each human being, in keeping with his conception that “everyone is an artist”) and that art is the new currency for transforming society. We should consider this next phrase of his in the same line: “Art is the only revolutionary force”.
Occupy George, a proposal that arose from the Occupy Wall Street movement and an action that is closer to the one Meireles performed, using not just rubber stamps but dissemination through the social networks of both messages and designs and calling for mass participation, proposes intervening on 1 dollar through different graphics and messages that allow us to visualise the differences between 1% of society and the remaining 99%.
Noteworthy among a currency's characteristics is its ability to circulate and penetrate far beyond any barrier. A banknote can reach what no amount of propaganda can.
This is why one of its frequent uses in all wars is as a vehicle for propaganda, whether in its real format, by printing on legal-tender banknotes or in the form of imitations. One of the variants of this particular psychological warfare has been that of issuing safe-conducts that imitate local banknotes with the purpose of undermining the confidence of enemy troops and encourage defection.
Money as a weapon of war I: From the Operation Bernhard by the Nazi Germany against Britain to the Cuban pesos forged by the CIA in the invasion of the Bay of Pigs
Money has always been a part of military conflict. As a weapon of war it has adopted a variety of formats and served different uses: a vehicle for propaganda messages, safe-conducts or as part of an operative to sow terror or confusion amongst the enemy.
But the case of the CIA in the Bay of Pigs, inspired in the Operation Bernhard, is somewhat exceptional, as the tactical objective was not only the enemy’s mind but its economy. Counterfeit Cuban 20-peso notes were printed and handed out among the invading forces trying to overthrow Fidel Castro. The CIA’s justification was that, given that this was an undercover operation in which the invaders were passing themselves off as Cubans, they had to come equipped with local money. The question, then, was why so many notes were printed, far more than the troops could spend on the island without arousing suspicion.
This military action, perhaps owing to its resounding failure, was one of the best known of Operation 40, a group created by Eisenhower and directed by Richard Nixon, whose objective was the overthrow of Latin American governments contrary to USA policies.
There are a series of countries characterised by their non-state status. Some of these are unrecognised countries, others are ephemeral, virtual fantasy lands. What is it that distinguishes a state from a non-state? It is the mere fact of being recognised or not by the governments of other countries or by the major international organisations. As with state countries, some non-state countries also claim the right to having their own institutions and symbols (for example coats of arms, flags). Many of them even issue their own passports, their own stamps, their own currency. There are thus non-states that coin their own non-state currency. It will have its own characteristics in keeping with the type of non-state country to which it belongs. For example, the United Transnational Republics, an organisation that, as its name suggests, seeks to establish a democratic transnational regime within the trend for globalisation and proposes its own currency: the Payola. This currency would be characterised by its transnational nature at a time of collapse of national currencies. Another very different type of currency would be, for example, the common currency valid within Freetown Christiania, a self-proclaimed autonomous area situated in a sector of Copenhagen. Here a currency denominated Løn is in circulation and is coined annually. Examples of non-state currencies abound. Here we will deal with the case of non-state currencies that were in circulation in the mid-19th century in a particular geographic area: Patagonia.
Patagonia has always carried the connotation of mystery and remoteness. Its history shows it to be a semi-depopulated, unconquerable territory that throughout its history has seen the arrival of all kinds of adventurers, explorers, refugees and outlaws: Francis Drake and other English pirates, Charles Darwin, Welsh pioneers, Butch Cassidy, dangerous convicts housed in the End of the World Gaol, refugees from the Russian Empire, covert Nazis, British nobles owners of estancias, Hollywood actors owners of estancias, media magnates owners of estancias. It was in fact here, around 1850, where two different currencies were registered: the currency of the Kingdom of Araucanía, also known as New France, an attempt at monarchy instituted by the noble Frenchman Orélie Antoine de Tounens, and the currency Lavaderos de Oro del Sud (Southern Gold Washers) coined by the Jewish Romanian adventurer Julius Popper, who arrived in southern Patagonia at a time of a short-lived gold rush.
Many cultures believe in the afterlife. Some of them even use to bury material goods with the deceased or make offerings burning different objects to supply their dead with things they might need in the hereafter. As an example, we have the oriental "hell banknotes", “fake” paper currency that is incinerated in order to maintain good relations with the ancestors. But this is just one example of a series of customs throughout history, from placing a coin under the tongue of the departed, bury them with their properties, even, with their servants and soldiers, whether they were real or replicated in stone. But what is the imaginary behind all these habits? What is the relationship between the desire of possession and the survival of death? Is it possible to identify “having” and “being”? What is the relationship between identity and property? Doesn´t the idea of "owning" refer to the illusion of a permanent and indestructible substance?
Is it really possible to take something with us to the afterlife? For Brahmanism, for example, the concept of ownership generates from the illusion of one is separated from the universe. For a psychologist like Eric Fromm, the desire of possession arose from a modern society that was based on the material, power, ambition, jealousy and violence. Psychology has studied at length how we relate ourselves with money. Far from being logical and rational, this relation is rather emotional and unconscious....
In the feverish days of April 1919, while the former Soviet Republic of Bavaria was struggling to stay in power, an utopian negative interest currency system was expecting for its revolutionary banknotes to come out of the print house in order to be launched.
The brand new People's Finance Representative, Silvio Gesell's initiative was never to be implemented. First an internal coup d´etat led by Moscow and then the overwhelming attack of the Freikorps, the same militias that killed Rosa Luxembourg, ended with the Republic even before its new banknotes could even leave print house.
Gesell, a libertarian anarchist author of the book The Natural Economic Order, thought that money had had lost its usefulness as a tool of trade, becoming a commodity in itself, generating social inequalities due to usury and affecting real economy negatively. He thought that the solution to this situation was to create a new monetary system in which the currency would depreciate over time, thus preventing the possibility of being accumulated. According to Gesell, money should behave as goods do. Apples, a piece of furniture, a car, lose value over time. They rot, they wear out. In order for money not being something with which one could speculate and, for the contrary, being a simple tool of exchange, it should also be subject to this entropic process.
That´s why he proposed a kind of banknote to which after a certain period of time -one month for example-, you should enclose a postal stamp with the value “1%”. That is, its value should decrease 1% every month. To avoid this expense, he who received it, should rush to buy goods instead of keeping it.
What would have happened if this kind of currency has come into circulation in Soviet of Bavaria? We cannot know. But we can analyze what actually happened years later, in 1932 in Austria.
In the context of a depressed economy, and still suffering the effects of the 29 crisis, the experiment could be carried out, this time at the initiative of the Mayor of Wörgl, Michael Unterguggenberger. Inspired by Gesell´s ideas, he put into circulation the "Freigeld" (currency of free economy or currency of guaranteed circulation) ...
by Belen Gache
Snake oil, mailboxes, and land lots on the moon: from market economy to quantum economics (through artists ‘money)
Many artists have experimented with the notion of money, whether with paper money itself or with the monetary exchange system. For example, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Joseph Beuys, Ant Farm, Fluxus, Arman or Yves Klein. We will focus here on Klein´s piece of work Zone of pictorial sensitivity (1962). The piece consisted in the documentation of a buying and selling operation of an immaterial space that took place in Paris and that involved a check that was exchanged for a certain amount of gold. After this exchange, it was established that the check would be cremated and part of the gold would be thrown into the Seine in a sort of ritual or sacrificial act.
In the capitalist system, a trade consists of a private transfer of goods or services from one person or entity to another. But history records a series of operations that have been at least, anomalous, from pure and simple scams-selling snake oil, selling state mailboxes to particulars– to ambiguous forms outside every possible economic legislation-selling stars, selling land lots on the moon. The idea behind these forms of artists´ money and transactions has been precisely to reflect on such daily and taken for granted acts as buying and selling, being these on the basis of our social exchange system.
The sale, even more, the mere idea of possession is problematized in Klein´s work which can be framed in the context of the so called "poetics of dematerialization".
From electronic money to 2.0 currency the Net allowes to imagine new exchange systems but also to repeat in the virtual realm usual errors of the actual system.
In almost 20 years of the Web existence, numerous examples of virtual currencies have emerged. On one hand, we have the currencies used in games or in communities such as Second Life metaverse. The economy in this virtual world is based on the Linden Dollar which current exchange rate in exchange offices fluctuates around 290L $ per 1EUR, varying according to the supply and demand laws and also to the currency emission of its “Central Bank”. The fact that not only the economies but also their land area of these communities lack of existence in the real world even increases the possibility of phenomena to which we have been getting accustomed due to recent crises in the real world: speculation attacks, bubbles, hyperinflation.
One different case is that of the Bitcoin, one of the first implementations of the concept of cryptocurrency, first described in 1998 on Cypherpunk email list by Wei Dai. Bitcoin allows holding and transferring values in an anonymous way. Being a decentralized electronic currency it is independent from the need of any central power making it impossible for any authority, governmental or other, to manipulate its value or increase its existence arbitrarily in order to generate inflation.
It was the 70´s in Japan. The growing demand for electricity in modern society made nuclear power plants grow as mushrooms. Meanwhile the Yakuza was making night tours around the cities recruiting beggars and social outcasts by offering them a miserable pay for doing allegedly cleaning jobs. Once taken to destiny they would discover that they had been taken to nuclear reactors whose interiors they were expected to clean. There, they were obliged to work under sweltering temperatures and were exposed to radiation levels tens of times higher than allowed. After that, they became Genpatsu Gypsies (nuclear gypsies) that once recruited were meant to wander from one central to another in order to do their jobs and receive a daily payment. That, until their body to resisted. The plot of an apocalyptic anime? No. A true story that repeats itself for more than 30 years in nuclear centrals such as Fukushima and that has caused as many deaths by radiation as the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs.