In economically devastated Greece, internet-enabled barter economy rises

An interesting piece in the Guardian this week about cashless commerce in Greece, where the currency crisis has prompted citizens to take unusual measures to obtain essential goods. One exchange website in particular is cited, and a unit of barter known as "tems." The network has been online for about a year and a half. Snip from a portion of Jon Henley's report about the open-air markets where tems are exchanged for daily neccessities:

“They’re quite joyous occasions,” she said. “It’s very liberating, not using money.” At one market, she said, she approached a woman who had come along with three large trays of homemade cakes and was selling them for a unit a cake. “I asked her: ‘Do you think that’s enough? After all, you had the cost of the ingredients, the electricity to cook …’

“She replied: ‘Wait until the market is over’, and at the end she had three different kinds of fruit, two one-litre bottles of olive oil, soaps, beans, a dozen eggs and a whole lot of yoghurt. ‘If I had bought all this at the supermarket,’ she said, ‘it would have cost me a great deal more than what it cost to make these cakes.’”

What rules the system has are designed to ensure the tems continue “to circulate, and work hard as a currency”, said Christos Pappionannou, a mechanical engineer who runs the network’s website using open-source software. No one may hold more than 1,200 tems in the account “so people don’t start hoarding; once you reach the top limit you have to start using them.” And no one may owe more than 300, so people “can’t get into debt, and have to start offering something.

Read the rest here. (via Clayton Cubitt, photo: Lambros Kazan/Shutterstock)


  1. I remember people saying something similar about Iceland when their economy collapsed. “Isn’t it wonderful! They’re selling woolen hats and other traditional crafts!”

    Well, yes, I suppose it’s better than not selling traditional crafts and starving in the street…

    1. I wish people would stop comparing Iceland and Greece.  Their situations were and are totally different. Iceland would have been only be as deeply in debt as Greece if they had socialised private debts.

  2. Extremely interesting.  Reminds me of the local alternative currency used in upstate New York, Ithaca Hours.

  3. The quote about tems not being money is ironic, as tems are clearly an alternate currency. It’s just that this medium of exchange is not controlled by government monopoly.
    It’s great to see voluntary and local currencies such as this one. This leads to innovation and competition. Bad systems fail, customers can choose, bankers have pressure to behave and serve.

  4. It’s interesting that the Greek government is encouraging this, but how long will it be before the Troika will demand a tem tax?

  5. I think this is really cool and all, but one of the (admittedly, many) reasons Greece is in the cluster f*%& it’s currently in is because Greeks make an *Art* out of tax evasion.  Now people should always do whatever it takes to get the essentials, tax collectors be damned, but the fact that the EU has been teetering on the brink of collapse is partially related to Greeks not paying their dues.  

    Yes I know, evil Goldman-Sax, terrible politicians, I get it and agree, but governments don’t fund themselves on charity.

    1.  Well, i sympathize your concern, but i’ll just add my 2 cents of information here. If you could actually follow the donwards spiraling of the Greek economy, you would find out that not only the gov. sector is involved in this mess but also the private sector that took advantage of the potholes this economy had. for example i can cite the outings of pension benefits people were illegally taking while falselly claiming disabilities such as permanent blindness while at the same time, there was no will from gov. agencies to crack down such cases, up untill now that we’re on the ledge.

      I can also mention the fact that too many corrupted people  in high places also took advantage of this non-existant monitoring of expenses and funded themselves and families. One example of this is a recent outing of social security employees that got rich while charging IKA (the social security organisation) vast amounts of euros while the average employee/employer shells up to 1500 Euro per month as insurance coverage.

      Last, but not least, is the ridiculous tax spree the government has resorted to, just to keep the economy going, while at the same time salaries have been cut and the cost of living has been risen to an unbearable point, which in its turn has led millions of citizens to tax evasion just to make do for living. This is the reason that they (we) have turned to product and services exchange rather than using money to make our living.

      I, for the record, am a young entrepreneur in the field of I.T. services, armed with a good education and will to work hard, and struggling to keep my business alive in a time when the government demands me to give up nearly 80% of my income to fill their gaping holes (ok, that doesn’t sound well) in taxes (regular tax and indirect 23% VAT) , social security and whatnot.

      Why shouldn’t i resort to services exchange, when all i see is my money going down the drain???

      1. Adding just a bit more of info, if you have never heard of the “potato movement” that has recently sprung out here in Greece, it’s another means of getting by in hard times.

        Farmers and potato producers sell their products directly to the consumer in the lowest possible rates while cutting the middlemen (3 to 5 exchanges between the farm and the consumer). I can assure you that this not only has caught on the market, it mobilized retailers to lower their prices too, while the government all this time had done nothing against price fixing and cartels.

        The same happens to other aspects of the market.

        In other news, today was announced an ammendment that allows the Church to be funded for making photovoltaic arrays at their property in Aghio Oros, in expense to European and state funds. And they call this “development”. Last year they were funded with nearly 1m Eu to develop a pilot Wi-Max network.
        Yeah you read right, Wi-Max, where monks live. And there is nothing else there besides Monasteries and churches. Not even another living soul (especially female which is forbidden to enter holy ground).

        In a state where the Church’s property is exluded from taxes. And priests are social workers (civil servants).

        Well, F*ck me sideways, people are starving here, and all they can think is to feed the church some more just before the upcoming elections.

      2. So it sounds from your experience and from what I’ve read about the currently state of affairs in Greece that there is a pervasive culture of corruption present.   Assuming that any system can withstand some rent seeking or corruption but only until a point, it would seem that point has been passed.  I sympathize with your troubles, but I worry that the problem has become endemic; if everyone sees the system as unfair and corrupt, everyone will ignore the rules and avoid as many taxes as they can.   I’ll bet that the beginnings of this problem can almost entirely be laid at the feet of the Greek elites; as Panagiotis mentions below, the Church has been almost entirely sheltered from the negative effects of taxation, and you point out there are severe problems in the civil service sector.  I always consider one of the strongest powers the elites of any given society have is to set the standards and culture that create the status quo; but when ordinary people see enough bad apples with power, we become disillusioned of the value of sacrificing for the common good. 

        If this is accurate, the easiest way out of this situation is for the elites and elite institutions to work to change the status quo for the good.  Hopefully if the rich and powerful and willing to sacrifice and *show* this sacrifice, the rest of the country will as well.  You’d think the rich would be kosher with this strategy, but from the sound of it, many have already taken their money out of Greece and often moved as well.

        When Greeks look back in a few decades or generations at the mass of their friends and children who left the country for greener pastures, or the crumbling state of Greece they left behind, I hope the blame is fairly placed; at those who profited by pushing the country to the brink of collapse.   (On that note: is Goldman-Sachs *trying* to become a world-class super-villain?  But I digress). 
        In the mean time, I don’t see very good options.  Europe has reacted by working to outright replace the elites in control of Greece by simply shipping them in from Brussels and Paris.  I think this isn’t the worst idea, but it risks doing incredible damage to the unity of the EU, as no one likes being told what to do by German bureaucrats.  I cannot fathom how disillusioned and pessimistic Greeks must be feeling right now, but the more sacrifice now, (by those who can still afford to sacrifice and pay their electricity bills) the sooner this whole mess will be over.  Grecian Church; I’m looking at you.

        1.  Well, as i mentioned before, the problem lies deep within the Greek society. You have all these rotten apples that help this endless loop of disastrous policies, and on the other hand, you have all of these citizens that have benefited from this defective system for decades, and now that the juice has ended, they all cry wolf just to keep themselves from persecution.

          And in the middle you have good, honest, hard working people who want to help their country get on its feet again, but in vain, because as i said whatever we do, no matter how much we pay in taxes, they all end up down the drain.

          We already are in the 4th year of austerity, and to be honest with you, i’m really surpised by the patience we all have shown during these years.
          With slashed salaries (my gf who is a high school teacher with two post grad degrees received 452 Euro this month), living costs in the high skies, and blind taxation, there is no way we’re getting out of this mess anytime soon.

          You see, i am writting all these just to express the agony most of us Greeks have nowadays. Especially us who have not been a part of this downfall. We invested in good education, business ventures and whatnot,  and all we see is  a very strict crackdown to all things relevant to the “development” a country needs, while at the same time nothing gets done to rationalize the way of our living.
          Cliques and cartels are left untouched, military budgets are inflated (because we “need” to buy stuff from those who lend us money), banks have closed their doors to us while they get pampered with taxpayer’s money, Church immunity is unbelievably unfair, and i can go on forever with this….

          It’s not the Europeans fault that we have a corrupted society. Their fault is that they are taking advantage of this mess to profit on our backs, on taxpayer’s money. Because loan interests are paid from us, with the taxes and slashed salaries. And the haircut they all have  agreed to, is just the carrot in front of the stick.  Their fault also lies where they did not monitor the EU funds we (as a country) have been spending all over the place for decades when we were supposed to invest in infrastructure, not for elite’s layaway….

  6. Very creative…. like the island of thr blind, or the fact that some islands landmass is suddenly reduced by 30% when tax is calculated based on the size of your property and even hotels are suddenly just 60sqm, or thousands of dead pension recipients …

    As mentioned by another poster above, while I realy like the idea and mechanic,  I somehow have a bad feeling about promoting the withdrawal of monetray transfer for the countries economy.

    1. I’m sure Goldman Sachs et al will be sharing your bad feeling about the masses opting out of their corrupt system.

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