Saturday, November 7, 2009

Alternative Money As A Macro Stabilizer, The Swiss Case

Old monetarists used to praise monetary policy in Switzerland and its macro stability, a stability seen recently with only a small decline in GDP and a 4.1% unemployment rate, despite the international crisis nearly bringing down UBS, its largest bank. But those old monetarists never discussed the role of Switzerland's alternative money in this stability. I have just published a paper in JEBO that discusses it, "Complementary credit networks and macroeconomic stability: Switzerland's Wirtschaftsring," James Stodder, Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, October 2009, 72(1), 79-95. (.pdf). I reproduce the abstract below.

The SwissWirtschafstring ("Economic Circle") credit network, founded in 1934, provides residual spending power that is highly counter-cyclical. Individuals are cash-short in a recession and economize by greater use of WIR-credits. A money in the production function (MIPF) specification implies that transactions in WIR form a stabilizing balance that makes up for the lack of ordinary currency. Thus, unlike the ordinary money, WIR money is negatively correlated with GDP in the short run. This implication is confirmed by empirical estimates. Such credit networks play a stabilizing role that should be considered in monetary policy.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Rosser: I say with no irony at all that this sounds fascinating and I would love to know more. But I don't understand what many of the words mean and simply don't have time for all the googling.

Do you think you could give us a brief post giving the gist of it in non-technical (English) language? This reader would read it enthusiastically.

Barkley Rosser said...

Well, the system is sort of like a combination of a credit union with one of these local money systems like Ithaca Hours. It involves people joining the system along with enterprises willing to accept this alternative credit form of money. It has gradually grown since its creation in 1934, and is overseen by the WIR-bank. As stated in the abstract, the volume of activity through this system goes up when the economy goes down and vice versa, thus providing a stabilizing element not recognized previously in standard literature.

gordon said...

Fascinating; thanks. I'm reminded of the barter arrangements for international trade constructed by the ingenious Dr. Schacht in Central Europe pre-WWII. Unfortunately I'm not aware of any detailed treatment of these. Even A.Tooze in his recent "Wages of Destruction" doesn't seem to cover them (though I could have missed it; I keep failing to finish the book).

And it's certainly one in the eye for the Gold Bugs.

edeast said...

Great paper.

I've been reading through your stuff, since the perimeter institute lecture and it's been very helpful. Thanks.

Anyway I've linked to this post on where Nick Rowe is working through monetarism and neo-chartalism.

Nick Rowe said...

edeast: thanks for pointing this out to me.

Barkley: this is great! This is what I have been arguing, but now you have actually done the hard work to show it checks out empirically.

Now I need to figure out how to read your paper. Presumably that means working JSTOR, or something. I'm a computer klutz.

Nick Rowe said...

"Hidden conclusion here."

Where? Is there a missing link?

Min said...

"Hidden conclusion here."

Hidden means hidden. ;) said...


Sorry, no missing link. I am not sure how to get rid of that label. To follow up, need to track down the article, but I do not have a nice public link to it.

wjd123 said...


Why would the volumn of activity go up for this alternative credit during a recession. Is the WIR-bank offering lower interests rates? easier payment terms? Is it an off-account entity where only script is counted to keep the books looking good? Who qualifies for the credit? I don't get it.

Barkley Rosser said...


The system is really a centralized system of trade credits, especially heavily used by smaller businesses, including frequently credit-constrained farms, as well as consumers. Stodder argues that M2 has been procyclical in Switzerland, as well as velocity. Thus, the more flexible WIR-credits, which are also more precisely targeted, offer an alternative to keep trade going that would otherwise be squelched due to the monetary tightness so praised by the older monetarists. It is more a matter of overcoming credit rationing than anything having to do with interest rates.

Anonymous said...

i once met the person who started ithaca hours. now these alternative dollars are getting quite popular especially via the 'transition town' concept (i.e. p(a->b, t) in the Master equation, from which one gets the 'slaving principle' which characterizes human or universal progress). i even have one ('potomac') which i'm saving for retirement because i don't think social security will be there when i retired (after elementary school, in line with feynman-wheeler electrodynamics (future past or top down causation (ellis)).

i wonder if there will be anything to spend it on, worth buying, that is.

another question is, given that the system is at competetive equilibrium already (or by the brouwer fixed point theorem equivalently a nash equilibrium, modulo details) will the system be any better with more kinds of money around? (I adhere here to the termindology or ideology expressed in an economists' view comment, that the n-body problem actually is computing the general equilibrium of the universe, though this 'arnold (hamiltonian) diffusion' has a more statistical or ergodic signature, so 'personality crises' (new york dolls) and other sorts (financial, asteroid impacts, etc...) are part of the 'creatively destructive' (TM) process. )

One can buy regular dollars with the other ones for I tbink $1.o5 (and buy the 'potomacs' for $.95) which solves the problem of the arrow of time (which georges rogescu noted doesn't exist in the usual view of general equilibrium----once the auctioneer has the right prices, why bother to trade?). One question I have is 'stability' of the financial ecosystem---how long will these last? Will they, the way dogs return to wolves and coyotes and foxes when let free, just turn back into regular cash at some point or will they perserve?
Some even argue fermions will turn into bosons (or maybe the reverse) and then there is the issue of 'rest mass'---is that symmetry invariant, or will (as O E Rossler suggested) it be destroyed by some new fangled machine (LHC)?

(as a side note, I actually wonder whether that result on nash equilibria is actually new. Its also interesting who exactly gets cited, so this may be a confirmation of both the existance of macroscopic quantum effects and the many-worlds theory---entire universes exist which are mutually unaware of each other, unless its a political issue or even should they become aware, one may have a matter/antimatter a-nihil/ation.
....why Kant we live in the sky?