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Spaniards turn to barter, alternative banks to alleviate economic pain

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These alternatives represent only a minute segment of the economy; and their impact, if there even is one, will only be felt in the long term. But the fact that Spaniards are increasingly seeking not to fix the system, but to work outside it, could catalyze the kind of political and economic reforms that the country needs. "Quantitatively it's very limited and reaches only a minority of people, especially the unemployed, but they are reviving an economy that had long been forgotten," Dr. Pastor says.

Talking through their bank deposits

Grass-roots activism is already forcing politicians into action. Last month, the government was refusing to investigate the collapse of Bankia, one of Spain's largest banks, despite being forced to nationalize it and seek a European bailout of the financial system.

The public prosecutor announced an investigation only after the 15M movement, the Spanish version of the global "Occupy" movement, raised more than €20,000 (about $25,000) via crowdfunding to launch a class action suit against Bankia and its former top executives.

But perhaps the greatest potential is in ethical banking, which forbids the kind of speculative investments that led to the crisis. It's soaring here, with twofold and threefold growth in the number of clients, deposits, loans, and profits. One of the biggest of such entities is the Spanish branch of Triodos Bank, headquartered in the Netherlands. Between 2007 and 2011, deposits increased 130 percent to €3.7 billion (about $4.7 billion); the number of account holders almost tripled, to 363,000; the amount of money loaned almost tripled, to €2.8 billion (about $3.5 billion); and the number of loans issued more than tripled, to 21,900.

"Ethical banking has a future in the context of this crisis as it consolidates as an alternative to traditional banking. It came late, but it can play an important role," Pastor says. "The growth of ethical banking could create more political pressure to support this cooperative economy."

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