Revival of local currencies during the past 25 years proves that
communities can issue money to create green jobs, fund local nonprofits
and farms, make interest-free loans, and connect residents as fellow
The Ithaca HOURS money that I started in 1991, for example, has traded
millions of dollars value among thousands of residents and 500
businesses. Each colorful HOUR, depicting local children, trolleys,
waterfalls and bugs, is valued at one hour of common labor or $10.00,
which doubled the 1991 minimum wage.
Responding to explosive media interest, by 1995 I wrote the book Hometown Money: How to Enrich Your Community with Local Currency.
Thousands more such currencies have since emerged worldwide, both paper
and electronic credits. HOURS, Time Dollars, Berkshares, LETS, BitCoin
and dozens more formats have begun to establish alternatives to the
national monies controlled by elites.
Control of money decides where jobs are available and for how long.
Control of money decides who owns land and what gets built. Control of
money decides what is legal and what's a crime. Control of money decides
who lives well and who struggles. And ultimately, control of money
decides who lives longer and who dies sooner.
At the same time, all national currencies are in debt to nature, serving
human economies that extract from nature faster than we restore. When
tney collapse, HOURS will trade independently. Labor will become the new gold standard.
Several key lessons about successful local currency have been learned
during the past decades. These are featured in the new second edition of
Hometown Money. Currency systems that have survived and grown embrace these lessons, while others that launched enthusiastically faded away.
Chief among these is that starting a local currency is like starting a
credit union or a food co-op. It is a community enterprise. It cannot be
merely administered by a nonprofit board of directors, It must be
managed by a full-time Networker, or two or three, depending on the size
of your community. Just as national currencies have armies of brokers
helping money move, local currencies need at least one paid Networker.
They promote and facilitate circulation. Your volunteer core group–your
Municipal Reserve Board–may soon realize that they've created a
labor-intensive institution. Playing Monopoly is easier than building
anti-Monopoly. You can reduce your need to pay the Networker with
dollars, by finding someone to donate housing. Then find others to
donate harvest, health care, entertainment. Regardless whether national
and global economies boom or bust, were rich when we know local people
with whom we can trade, to meet our needs.
Ultimately, wealth is not dollars but human networks. Whenever we have
networks we can get what we need without depending entirely on dollars.
And every community has varied networks–business, neighborhood,
professional, municipal, civic, religious, hobby, athletic, social,
artistic, political, academic, financial, and family.
Such groups can combine to provide the trust that backs money. Local credit systems put networks to work, and to play.
By contrast with global markets, our hometown marketplaces are real
places where we become friends, lovers, and political allies. So local
cash is real money, backed by real people and tools. National money is
funny money, backed by speculation and trillions of debt.
Times were tough back when Ithaca HOURS began. We called those years the Great
Recession. But times are even tougher now. Were facing not merely a
Greater Recession but the Deep Squeeze: permanent decline as fossil
fuels and industrial minerals deplete.
So we need a new generation of local currencies, led by new generations
who are dedicated to ecology and social justice. With these well employ
everyone, to build beautiful and creative cities balanced with nature.
is founder of 18 grassrooots organizations and campaigns, a former
professor of urban studies at Temple University, and author of six books.
In 1978 he walked entirely on foot from Boston to San Diego and in 2003
was asked by the Green Party to stand as a presidential primary
Image provided by the author.