Flipping the Coin—Makeshift
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If hard cash won’t cut it, an alternative currency might fit the bill

— Flipping the Coin

06. Trade Dispatches

Perhaps your national currency is failing, or you’re worried about high fees when transferring cash. Maybe your community wants to keep exchange local. But sometimes, surrogates aren’t planned: if enough of something valuable floods in to shake the piggy bank, get ready for a financial showdown.

Beer Caps – Cameroon
In 2005, when rival breweries gave away 20 million free bottles as bottle-cap prizes, boozers began covering dollar cab fares with bottle caps, and drivers could use a cap or two to pay off cops.

Bitcoins – Global
Introduced in 2009, Bitcoin is a peer-to-peer cryptocurrency: a secure protocol determines its value and circulation. Accepted in stores worldwide, one bitcoin is currently worth USD 110.

Coals – Germany
Last year, a theater group in Oberhausen began printing kohle (coal), a local currency accepted by over 50 neighborhood businesses. They hope to boost exchange in a broke city, USD 2.4 billion in the red.

Gold – China
In massively multiplayer online games, gold farmers build up virtual currency to exchange for real money. 80 percent of gold farmers are estimated to be in China, where the industry is worth USD 300 million.

Mackerel – United States
Since federal prisons banned cigarettes in 2004, “macks”—cans of mackerel—have become the de facto currency. This has spiked sales for suppliers, who now sell the snacks in non-weaponizable pouches.

Peanuts – Zimbabwe
With the Zimbabwean dollar inflating at 500 billion percent, more than a third of households have turned to barter. That’s why the Chidamoyo Christian Hospital offers healthcare for peanuts; one bucket is worth USD 4.

Pigs – Papua New Guinea
Outlawed in many countries, the bride price remains an accepted custom in Papua New Guinea, where a groom’s family might offer up to a dozen pigs to the bride’s clan. Modern bride price also includes electronics and cars.

Sente – Uganda
Though formal mobile money systems are available, many Ugandans still trade in airtime. Prepaid minutes—or sente—are bartered for goods and services, sent as remittances, and exchanged for cash.



The Nakivale refugee camp breeds bustling exchange among ethnic groups

— Refuge Routes

06. Trade Dispatches