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The Uni Currency Project: Democratic Finance for Public Higher Education After COVID-19


This chapter describes a novel policy mechanism for revitalizing U.S. public higher education in the age of COVID-19. In place of the current tuition-as-revenue model, we propose the “Uni” model, whereby public colleges and universities tap their latent fiscal authority to issue and circulate complementary currencies. Like their U.S. dollar counterparts, Uni currencies will obtain value because they will be accepted by colleges and universities in payment for tuition, fees, meal plans, and rents. To outline the full potential of the Uni, a thought experiments situates it between local municipalities and receivability in property taxes and as an instrument guaranteed by the Federal Reserve. When implemented, the Uni system will enable colleges to keep workers paid and students safe throughout and beyond the current crisis.

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  1. 1.

    Included in this view is the assumption that higher education budget cuts—resulting in campus layoffs and furloughs—would be a natural and even uncontestable outcome of the COVID-19 crisis. This misguided position is evident in an online petition signed by over 3,000 academics, many of them very prominent in their respective fields (“COVID-19” 2020).

  2. 2.

    There is good reason to conclude that the lackluster and haphazard fiscal policy responses by Congress and the White House have extended the duration of the coronavirus pandemic (Dayen 2020a, July 6).

  3. 3.

    Only the state of Illinois has so far formally participated in the MLF program, according to the Fed’s July 10 transaction report.

  4. 4.

    Nathan Tankus (2020) has called these promises “University Payments Anticipation Notes,” or UPANs.

  5. 5.

    On anchor institutions and their role in monetary architecture, see Benjamin C. Wilson (2019).

  6. 6.

    For more on the myth of taxpayer money, see Raúl Carrillo (2020). On the place and function of balanced budgets in US political discourse, see William O. Saas (2018).

  7. 7.

    In this way, the Unis project builds on previous work on classroom and campus currencies, like the Denison Volunteer Dollar (DVD) and the “Buckaroo” program at University of Missouri, Kansas City (Kaboub 2012).

  8. 8.

    For an example of a contemporary MMT-driven policy that would make meaningful long-term economic impacts, see Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib’s BOOST Act proposal (2020), which was co-authored by Modern Money Network president Rohan Grey. For a more speculative proposal for policy intervention in US media, see Maxximilian Seijo et al. (2020).

  9. 9.

    For one such humbling account, see Money on the Left (2018).

  10. 10.

    As thoroughly documented by organizations like Fed Up: The National Campaign for a Strong Economy.


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Correspondence to William O. Saas .

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Saas, W.O., Wilson, B.C., Ferguson, S., Seijo, M. (2022). The Uni Currency Project: Democratic Finance for Public Higher Education After COVID-19. In: Wilson, B.C. (eds) Care, Climate, and Debt. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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  • Print ISBN: 978-3-030-96354-5

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