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Spain: Creative Alternatives to an Economy in Crisis

This post is part of our special coverage Europe in Crisis.

[All links lead to Spanish-language websites unless otherwise noted]

Since the start of the economic crisis, the Spanish government has not taken the necessary measures to foment growth or create jobs. On the contrary, they have made multiple cuts to the budget that put at risk entire social groups and endanger the rights of the citizenry. This has aggravated the situation of countries that are already on the brink of bankruptcy.

Faced with these conditions, people feel that it is up to them to take control of their future, and in Spain, where encouraging trends continue to arise, Spaniards have done just that. Many have opted to create viable alternatives to their economy in crisis, such as networks for sharing goods and services or new systems and currencies that promote responsible consumption.

Sharing to save

One of the consequences of the crisis has been the spread of poverty into the middle class and the worsening of conditions for the most vulnerable members of society, so much so that a recent United Nations report on Spain denounced the trend. As a result, the sharing and exchanging of goods has become the most supportive and economic option for a number of Spaniards. Before the start of the crisis, some of these systems already existed, but only now have they taken on more importance.

So that traveling doesn't become a luxury, a usual practice is to ride share in order to save money during trips. In this way, people who don't know each other but who are going in the same direction all travel in one vehicle and share the cost of gasoline. Similarly, there is a collective taxi service in which the cost of a trip is divided among the greatest number of people possible. Also, when traveling abroad some use couch-surfing in order to enjoy more economical accommodation.

The rise in value-added tax from 18 to 21 percent in Spain, which was not included in President Mariano Rajoy's campaign platform, has made life even more expensive and dealt a hard blow to people's wallets. The hike went into effect in September, the month in which students go back to school and families go shopping for school materials.

Various groups have mobilized in force to coordinate donations of school supplies, among them neighborhood assemblies and the 15M movement. When it comes to books, web pages such as Libroscompartidos.com (Shared Books) allow users from different corners of the country to exchange books not for profit and even manages delivery service and collection of the material.

Textbook exchange in Móstoles (Madrid) on September 16, 2012. Photo by Fotogracción.

Textbook exchange in Móstoles (Madrid) on September 16, 2012. Photo by Fotogracción.

Promoting responsible consumption

New technologies, especially the Internet, allow for the creation of constructive ideas as well as online alternative communities. Etruekko, in the midst of the discontent and protest in Spain, has done just that by attempting to broadcast a positive message and construct a different model of society.

It is a social network of virtual communities, still under development, which promotes social responsibility and offers a social currency called truekko which is earned through the exchange of goods and services. In this way, a person can become empowered, consume responsibly, and help disseminate ethical values on the web, even if they aren't very skilled at using new technologies.

The blog Konsumo responsable (Responsible Consumption) published the following definition of a “social market”:

El Mercado Social implementa un circuito de moneda complementaria que basa una parte de su funcionamiento en  bonificaciones aplicadas a los consumidores con cada compra, y que para el proveedor supone un descuento en la venta. Es algo parecido a los programas de puntos que tienen algunas empresas grandes para fidelizar clientes y aumentar ventas, pero con el objetivo de ampliar la incidencia de la economía solidaria y desarrollar redes amplias que puedan funcionar con una “moneda” basada en criterios económicos no capitalistas.

The Social Market implements a complementary currency that works in part thanks to bonuses awarded to the consumers with each purchase, and for the seller, that means a discount on the sale. Its something similar to the points programs that some large companies use to cultivate the loyalty of clients and increase sales, but with the objective of increasing the impact of a supportive economy and developing wide networks that can serve as “currency” based on non capitalistic economic criteria.

Occupied and self-managed community centers have a role in this dynamic. In Madrid, the Tabacalera, the Patio Maravillas and the Casablanca centers stand out. The centers, which began with the peaceful occupation of an unused building, are organized spaces open to the public which offer a variety of cultural and leisure activities.

They require constant organization from the groups and associations that frequent the centers, and they have successfully carved out a place for themselves in the community. The centers also usually offer activities and talks about various topics: dance and music workshops, concerts, expositions, free clothing, and meeting areas.

In a city, those who participate in urban gardens and gardening collectives [en], growing various foods on unused pieces of land and lots, greatly promote critical discussion among people about the economic model to which they belong and possible ethical solutions to the current market. Consumer groups and collectives advocate for the purchase of sustainable food products while at the same time refusing to participate in the abuse committed against small farmers by large supply chains.

Urban garden planted in the Puerta del Sol by members of the Spanish indignado movement in May 2011. Photo by Lecamaleon (cc).

Urban garden planted in the Puerta del Sol by members of the Spanish indignado movement in May 2011. Photo by Lecamaleon (cc).

Eviction of the occupied community center, Casablanca, September 19, 2012, in Madrid. Neighbors went out and protested after the police intervention. Published on 15Mpedia

Eviction of the occupied community center, Casablanca, September 19, 2012, in Madrid. Neighbors went out and protested after the police intervention. Published on 15Mpedia

Despite the obstacles in creating another system capable of competing with the current market, there are more and more people who are adhering to economic philosophies that are ethical, promote social responsibility, and are self-managed, while questioning the existing capitalistic model through reflection and gestures of solidarity. This sends a clear message to society and those in power: another world is possible.

This post is part of our special coverage Europe in Crisis.

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