CCMag, Big Picture Interview: Rolf Schilling

This interview appeared in the Community Currency Magazine (archive link), Oct 2011

The western most province of Austria, Vorarlberg, is home to the reputable “Talente” currency system. From its start as a province-wide timebank in 1996 it succeeded to combine different targeted currency models and even got the local authorities to accept some of them for tax and fees. We sat down with Rolf Schilling, long standing developer and outreach person of the Talente model, to talk about the state of the movement, particular in the German speaking countries.

Find additional facts about Talente Vorarlberg here.
What are the questions you would most want to explore with fellow movers and shakers in the complementary currency movement?

The most important issue is that of practical implementations of CC ideas.
As much in our own system as in the Regiogeldverband we are now trying to move from science and theory into practice, which is never as straight forward as theory makes us believe. And top-down implementations will not really work, we need to meet people at eye-level.

What recent developments in the field do you find most exciting?

Politicians are starting to turn to us for support. Particularly timecredit-saving systems are of particular interest for them. Even on the national level the advantages are catching some attention, there is a stark need for solutions to the social security question and we are somewhat ahead of the game with experiments and experiences.

And what do you see as key challenges, obstacles or blind spots which hinder the movement’s success?

Legal frameworks are a serious hurdle. In Germany, the central-bank law out-rules all CCs, while banking regulation also prohibits us to give even micro-credits. In Austria, only private regional currencies are allowed, which had not been the case during the experiment of Wörgl. National tax and social security pose additional issues because they make it hard for individuals and businesses to engage. Ten years after adopting the Euro, many are deterred even by the slightest inconvenience.
And finally there are even administrative regulations that prohibit e.g. local authorities to keep there accounts in anything but legal tender. This might only be a practical problem but accountants and tax-attorneys are our greatest burden right now.

Where do you see untapped resources and unmet needs within the field of complementary currencies? And do you have any suggestions about how to bridge them?

There are many micro-enterprises that could be saved from the liquidity traps through local economic circuits, only that would require a degree of practical savviness, that is hardly ever found. We need to work on the locally anchored SMEs which still have some spare capacities to develop long-time relationships and locational advantages. Even the local bank branches cooperate with us to establish there image as a local service provider.

Besides financial support, what would help the acceleration of the monetary shifts that are needed?

When the local support systems disintegrate, people will be left without even basic sustenance in times of crisis. It will take a huge mind-shift away from a big-is-better mentality to reestablish the regional embeddedness of our urban centers.
The rural and remote regions, like our mountain-valleys and eastern Germany will be hit first by structural deficits but are more likely to compensate losses in purchasing power and infrastructure with regional currency systems. And when all private pensions scheme brake down together with the Dollar or the Euro there will be huge need for paradigm shifts to replace the failing intergenerational contracts.

What could bring about a tipping point in the shift from a monopoly of bank debt money toward a monetary ecology? And is the idea of a “tipping point” the best way of thinking about that change?

The money issue has already started to shift. Representatives of all mayor political parties are listening up. But unfortunately any tipping point will come too late for most. We need to be prepared beforehand and have all the tools ready. In this sense rural regions and small towns will also be better of then the big cities, who will have extreme difficulties.

There are those who feel we need to organize ourselves more efficiently (the way the Right has done in the United States), and those who suggest that there is strength in our natural diversity or that networked systems organize themselves. Where do you stand on this question?

Both is important: Theory should develop divers models, practice should test these out and we need currency associations to act as the mouthpiece towards politics. In any case all the individual initiatives need to communicate there experiences, this is still happening way too little. Else science can´t start to draw conclusions from practice and will just develop ever new models without implementation. Any umbrella organization will only ever be as convincing as the individual initiatives

But again, talk is cheap, the crucial part is making things real in practice. This has a lot to do with overcoming anxieties and fears of loss which requires a trust into a community that only comes from reciprocal giving, but somebody always needs to start giving.

A lot of valuable community-building initiatives in this movement are done by dedicated people, as a labor of love, but would often highly benefit from actual financial support. if you were given $10,000 to $50,000 to invest in strengthening the currency movement, how would you invest these funds?

The CC movement needs to understand, that all our efforts need to be able to generate economic advantages, too. Not only the Euro or dollar backed models can cover the basic needs of individuals without ever having to rely on national currency. We activists have to learn to sustain ourselves with the value we create, through membership fees, commission, all in complementary currency of course. We can´t preach water and keep looking for wine. The amount you mention I would put towards producing understandable PR material or to unlock matching funds for example from the European union. But to start something on the next level and spark widespread implementations I guess there is a zero missing, in front and in the back of the figure.

What else have you learned from building one of the most groundbreaking systems in Europe over the past 15 years and from the german Regiogeld association?

This movement will only ever get traction, through practitioners. Those who enter with euphoria without considering the nitty gritty aspects of reality will burn out fast. Idealism is always at the heart of things, but we need more courageous actions to have anything to talk about at all. Its not enough to embody an idea, without bringing it to live I wont ever be credible. There are so many publications from people who never dirtied their hands.
Its a pity to see how much energy is put into modeling. In the end any activist will realize that his person and model are only useful to sell the general concept, the real work start after that.
And amongst those who are firmly rooted in practice, there are still too many initiatives that don´t care about sharing their results

Key concepts:

1. Create practical value not theories
2. Create practical value not theories
3. Create practical value and share your results