Between the Greeks staying in the European monetary union, or Detroiters keeping their dry cleaners and doggie-daycares afloat, there is a considerable amount of talk about the role of currency. The crux of the European issue is that the Portuguese and Greek economies are so different from the French and German ones, it is difficult to keep one currency with the same rules and assumptions in play. The fringe actors are no longer able to keep up the facade required for membership in the club.
We are seeing a microcosm of this in local towns in America, and the issue comes down to the ability to maintain a central currency. We note with interest an uptick in stories about local currencies not seen since the banking meltdown of 2008 and 2009.
Last year, two Detroit tavern owners were sitting at the bar, sampling their beverages and bemoaning the local economy — no one in the city had cash, and when they did, they spent it in the suburbs. Then the pair hit on a solution: Print their own money.
It is, after all, perfectly legal for anyone to issue currency, as long as it doesn’t look too much like a U.S. dollar. Thus was born the Detroit cheer, a local scrip accepted by a handful of city businesses, including a pizzeria, an electrician and a doggy day care center.
But why would people go to such trouble? Money is money, right?
When the Treasury prints billions to bail out banks and automakers, people look for alternatives. These folks may look nutty now, goes the quip, but wait till the dollar goes the way of the Argentine peso. Then you’ll be exchanging a wheelbarrow of cash for a bay buck, local currency boosters say.
What could this mean in terms of business strategies? One of the most likely implications would be a return to local distributors, those able to deal best with the local market and even local currencies. Compare this to the recent trend of market consolidation in a variety of industries. It just doesn’t match.
First Greece and Portugal, but they are on the outskirts of civilization. First Detroit and Western North Carolina, but those places aren’t prime time.
Next…California? Spain? Iceland? New York State?