DAS WUNDER VON WÖRGL
The Miracle of Wörgl is a television film screened in Austria on the ORF on 8 December 2018. It was uploaded on YouTube in April 2019 where I had the opportunity of watching it before it was withdrawn for copyright reasons.
The film dramatizes the financial experiment that the mayor of the Austrian village Wörgl, Michael Unterguggenberger, initiated to relieve the consequences of the Depression. As a mayor, he faced high unemployment in his community; at the same time, he lacked a budget to create paid work; local businesses had no resources to sustain it, either. He had read Silvio Gesell’s book The Natural Economic Order (1916) and for a few months (1932-1933) managed to successfully put into practice Gesell’s ideas on an alternative currency, called Schwundgeld (“vanishing money”). The money was “vanishing” or “melting away” because it was taxed: at the end of each week, the person who had a note on hand had to affix a stamp on the back, to preserve its value. If there was no timely stamp on it, the note was devalued at an agreed rate, corresponding with the value of the stamp. When there was no place left for stamps, the note was worthless so it could be thrown away and replaced. Naturally, no one wanted to be paying this tax on money, so everyone spent it much quicker. We can also safely assume that the tax itself (i.e. the stamp) was paid in regular money, which created a modest stream of income for the town council. In order not to appear as counterfeiters and be accused of doing anything illegal, the mayor and his council decided to vigorously deny that they were creating money. They decided to call their paper bills “Arbeitsbestätigungsscheine” (“certificates of work”), which they technically were. The mayor knew what work needed to be done. For each work project in town (canalisation, street lighting, roads, bridge, factory), he printed the necessary quantity of “AB-Scheine” (as they were called for short). At the same time, he campaigned tirelessly to local business people to accept them so that everybody could use them for their own current expenses.
The film dramatizes Unterguggenberger’s character, family, opinions, friends, and life in his community. His experiment was successful and gave his village work, income, and hope. It was also becoming known and other mayors wanted to apply it in their towns. At the same time, the local butcher, who resented this new development, was advised by bank people outside town about what to do to destroy it. He accepted a few AB-Scheine for his products and then went to the mayor asking him to redeem them for “normal” money. Unterguggenberger did that and fell innocently into the trap. By redeeming the AB-Scheine, he was implicitly admitting they were money, so he could be sued for counterfeiting. By September 1933, the experiment was deemed illegal and stopped, in spite of the obvious benefits it was bringing. In the final scene, the film shows Wörgl draped by Nazi flags and strongly suggests that the desperation caused by unemployment and lack of money was the reason why so many Austrians saw no alternative to the Nazis as a way to survive the depression.
Pound visited Wörgl in 1935, talked to the mayor’s wife and referred to the AB-Scheine at the beginning of his canto 48: “And if the money be rented/ Who shd pay rent on that money? / Some fellow who has it on rent day, / or some bloke who has not?” (XLVIII/240)
©Roxana Preda, 4 December 2019
Der Geldmacher (“The Money creator” - Documentary)
See the cast on IMDB.