Ithaca Hours: An Interview with Paul Glover




If there ever was a Father of Local Currency it would be Paul Glover. In 1991 He started a local currency in Ithaca N.Y. called Ithaca HOURS. One HOUR equals one hour of basic labor or $10.00, and it is the largest and longest running complementary currency in the country. Paul writes on the website he created, Ithaca HOURS.com and still maintains:

HOURS were created by our community's need and pioneer spirit. During the 1991 recession I designed prototype HOURS and began asking people to sign up to accept them. The first 30 people agreed. Had these folks said "that's a dumb idea" or "you could get in trouble," or had they just laughed, then maybe there'd be no HOUR money.

Had there been no Farmer's Market here, with lively vendors who saw HOURS as yet another way to barter, HOURS would have had a small food base. Catherine Martinez took the first leap of faith there, becoming the first person to accept an HOUR, for her samosa.

By January of 1993 I was sending an occasional "Hometown Money Starter Kit" to people elsewhere who had heard about HOURS and wanted to try it in their community. The Kit changed constantly, since the system was still being invented. Only by August 1995 had basic systems stabilized enough for the Kit to be published as a book.

National publicity, which had begun in 1993, peaked in 1996, with stories in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Good Morning America, and many others. There have been over 650 stories written and broadcast about HOURS.

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From the Fact Sheet

Since 1991, over $110,000 of Ithaca HOURS (11,000 HOURS at $10.00 per HOUR) have been issued, in six denominations: 2 HRS, 1 HR, 1/2 HR, 1/4 HR, 1/8 HR, 1/10 HR. There is also a commemorative HOUR, the first paper money in the U.S. to honor an African American.

Thousands of people, including 500 businesses, have earned and spent HOURS.

HOURS are real money -- local tender rather than legal tender, backed by real people, real labor, skills and tools.

Most HOURS have been issued as payments to those who agree to be published backers of HOURS, listed in our bimonthly directory HOUR Town. Every year they may send the coupon again to receive a bonus payment -- which gradually and carefully increases the HOUR supply.

11% of HOURS are issued as grants to community organizations. Over 100 nonprofits have received grants totalling over 1,500 HOURS ($15,000) since we began.

5% of HOURS may be issued to the system itself, primarily for paying for printing HOURS.

Loans of HOURS are made with NO INTEREST CHARGED. These range in value from $50 - $30,000.

HOURS are legal. Professor Lewis Solomon of George Washington University has written a book titled Rethinking Our Centralized Monetary System: the Case for a System of Local Currencies (Praeger, 1996) which is an extensive case law study of the legality of local currency. IRS and FED officials have been contacted by media, and repeatedly have said there is no prohibition of local currency, as long as it does not look like dollars, as long as denominations are at least $1.00 value, and if it is regarded as taxable income. 

HOURS are protected against counterfeit. They are multicolored, with serial numbers. The 1995 Quarter HOUR and 1997 Eighth HOUR use thermal ink, invented in Ithaca, which disappears briefly when touched or photocopied. The 1993 Two HOUR note is printed on locally-made watermarked 100% cattail paper, with matching serial numbers front and back. The 1996 Half HOUR is 100% handmade hemp paper. Ithaca's District Attorney declared HOURS a financial instrument, protected by law from counterfeit.

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Paul worked tirelessly on the project to make it what it became until 1999, when he shifted his attention to his next creation, the Ithaca Health Alliance. In 2005 he moved to Philadelphia. Ithaca Hours is now a non-profit organization managed by a Board of Directors. The official website for Ithaca HOURS is here

Paul Glover has been a community organizer since 1970, a  radical visionary with practical solutions to the ecological, social and economic crises we face today. If he is not a luminary on the lecture circuit it is because he is a man of action, busy initiating projects where he lives, and inspiring others to join in. His success can be measured best by what he has accomplished, rather than by what he has said or written. 

 

Nilsa: Ithaca Hours was the first successful and longest running local currency established in a US city, now almost twenty years ago. Are they still being used and if so, has the momentum kept going? Who designed the notes?  Are the community bonds that were created by a local currency still there?

Paul: Ithaca HOURS are a cultural statement and challenge to monopoly capital, while being a local trading system. HOURS continue to be earned and spent.  I designed all the denominations except Tenth HOUR. Millions of dollars worth have been transacted, stimulating additional millions of local trading. At their height, thousands of residents and 500 businesses accepted HOURS. More than 100 community organizations have received HOUR grants. HOUR loans, the largest $30,000, have been made.

The reason that HOURS grew huge is because during their first eight years they had a full-time Networker promoting, troubleshooting, and facilitating circulation. Energetic networkers are essential for the sustainability of any money system, national or local. The HOURS  Board of Directors has been dedicated and energetic but not yet able to find another Networker. Therefore the system today is much smaller -- perhaps a few hundred individuals and 200 businesses. HOURS can be fully revived by diligent networking.

 

Were you the full time Networker? Was the Networker paid in Ithaca Hours? 

Yes, I was the Networker. Some suggested that I be paid in HOURS but I declined, because that would have inflated the supply, decreasing respect for the money. We set a quota of 5% total HOURS issued, for the system itself. So HOURS were used to pay the printer and some office supplies. I suggest that a local currency Networker be paid primarily in-kind, relying on goods and services donated through the trading directory (apartment, farmer's market, health care, recreation, etc).


As the founder and leading spirit of the enterprise, at some point you had to detach and let it continue without you. Most grass-roots projects become identified with the few people who run them, and those few people can burn out or want to move on if they're vital and creative. Can you describe your experience with this?

Glaring media focus on me, as the "odd guy who rides his bicycle and prints his own money," caused me to quit doing media interviews by 1999. It became evident that the credibility of the system needed to rely on many shoulders, not mine alone. So I asked others on the board and in the community to do most media interviews.

As a community organizer, my intent is to start groups that fill gaps, on behalf of community, ecology and social justice. I find the people who will make them happen, then move on. Sometimes I linger until the board makes it clear they own the organization -- I become happy to be outvoted -- reassuring that the group will continue without me. Being a leader means knowing when to lead and when to follow. I've followed others and been inspired by them at least as much as they have looked to me.


You also founded The Ithaca Health Alliance which is a non-profit community health organization whose mission is to facilitate access to health care for all. Did this come about as an offshoot of Ithaca Hours? What was your role? Could you describe how the Health Alliance works?

Many of us were complaining about health insurance. And I never believed that legislatures and polite lobbying would gain universal health coverage -- the insurance makes too much money, and bribes legislators. So I applied the mutual aid process to this problem, devised the plan, talked with thousands of individuals to get a few hundred to pioneer it.

The Alliance operates as a membership program whose members pay $100/year for emergency medical coverage. For this annual membership fee, members are eligible for grants (can't legally use the word 'coverage' because that implies a contract) for 12 categories of everyday emergencies, like broken bones, ambulance rides, emergency stitches, to specified maximum amounts, anywhere in the world. Members also own their own free clinic, which provides both standard and holistic care.

The success of HOURS contributed to the willingness of people to pay to try it out. Very talented people joined the board and have kept the Alliance going ever since. I moved on, to Philly, after 8 years, just as our member-owned free clinic was being organized.


Since the financial crisis of 2008 many local currencies have sprung up across the country. What advice can you offer to the organizers to help them succeed? Is your DIY book Hometown Money still available? What would you differently if you were starting this project today?

Yes, the Hometown Money book ($25), and the video ($15), are available at the website.  

I've recently written the article Recipe for Successful Local Currency [see the bottom of this column] which emphasizes that, before beginning a local currency, organizers should create a network capable of hiring a Networker: paying a combination of dollars plus goods and services donated through the community of traders (housing, health care, groceries, entertainment, transit, etc). Otherwise, because maintaining a community currency is labor-intensive, the well-intentioned organizers may likely burn out.

 

This is a common issue with grass roots organizations, and one I'm personally familiar with. Unless  there are other paid staff members,  too much relies on one paid individual, who can also burn out. The organization also becomes too identified with one personality. I see the team approach, a group of equals with divided responsibilities becoming more effective in the future.

Any local currency will need at least one full-time Networker. Dozens of community currencies have started and faded because the volunteers burned out. Networkers develops  mental catalog of where the money is, and where it needs help to move.

When Ithaca's HOURS became too identified with me personally, I realized their sustainability depended on being identified with a broader base instead. So I asked the board to take over. They did a fine job except to keep someone on the street as a go-to troubleshooter.  As important as avoiding a cult of personality is, avoiding, on the other hand, a paid bureaucracy which becomes more dedicated to paying itself than to serving the community is essential to keep overhead low.

Before transferring the HOUR system in Ithaca to the board of directors I should have made sure this was understood. No matter how dedicated and talented the board is, currency systems need someone on the street.

As well, I'd have insisted on a contract with Ithaca's food co-op, requiring consultation about their HOUR acceptance rate. They expanded their acceptance rate beyond their capability to spend, thus risking sustainability and credibility of the entire system. Grocers are a special case: they need to restrain their per-purchase acceptance so that they don't inhale all the local money.

 

In 1978 you walked across the United States from Boston to San Diego through forests, fields, over mountains and desert. Did that trip change your view of the way humans live on the planet?

By age 30, having written many articles and read many books, and having confronted powerful institutions, I decided to do some primary research by measuring this continent with my body. I met excellent generous people all along, who offered food and housing. Across rural America I found crowds escaping city crowds, by crowding remote places. This reinforced my commitment to the rebuilding of cities so that people would prefer to live efficiently within them, instead of destroying wild places. The hike gave me time to think, and the result, when I reached Los Angeles, was Citizen Planners, and my book Los Angeles: A History of the Future. This was the first attempt systematically to describe how an American metropolis could rebuild toward balance with nature. Most utopian visions describe beautiful places floating beyond reach.  This book described a process taking decades, requiring trillions of dollars investment (as an alternative to investing in war), and employing millions.

You are a one-man non-profit organization as your website address indicates: paulglover.org-anizer and you have been a community organizer most of your life. Could you describe a few of the other projects you've initiated?

During my early years as an organizer I was busy starting groups to oppose bad things: highways, shopping malls, incinerators, suburban sprawl, such as a campaign to prevent construction of a 4-lane highway carving into Ithaca's heart. The Rt 96 campaign continued 13 years.

When polite requests that Cornell University not build a 177-ft incinerator for burning tortured lab animals and plastic medical wastes (generating dioxin) failed to dissuade CU administrators (who had received $2 million NYS money), I was asked to help. I started Cornell-Ithaca Safety Committee (CISCO), created a series of bold headlines (Poison Your Children: Send Them to Cornell; Cornell, the Ash Tray of the Ivy League; etc) accompanied by info on birth defects and cancers caused by dioxin, and sent them to CU President with a letter giving him ten days to cancel the plan, or I'd send these to all CU parents and students, post them during Parents' Weekend, and send them to all US high school career counselors. Within a few days Cornell asked to meet. Immediately after the meeting they canceled the plan. Anyway, there's are lots of such campaigns long and short, based on concerns expressed in the community.

For three years I was working essentially full-time against the Vietnam War. The American Greed Machine could think up more destructive things to do faster than we could stamp them out. So it occurred to me that it would be more effective, and more fun, to establish alternatives that would keep Them busy reacting to Us. Local actions seemed appealing, since we could take power locally without waiting for state and federal action. And through drama and novelty we'd magnify our impact, by setting good examples for other regions.

When George W. Bush was about to attack Iraq, and stirring up hatred of France (who refused to endorse his plan), I organized the Ithaca FrenchFest. We held a BIG antiwar party featuring giant 8-foot French Fries, French cheese and wine, a Bad French contest judged by native speakers, French music and art, and a French-kissing contest. The mayor delivered a proclamation of "Franco-Ithacan Friendship Day."


You have taught a course at Temple University since 2007 called Metropolitan Ecology, which studies the human and natural infrastructures that keep us all alive, and how to make cities prosper during global warming, peak oil, peak soil, population growth and water shortage. In your course objective you write:

It offers a way of thinking about the future. First, that there will be a future. Second, that it will be good. Third, that every person plays an essential part.

 

Can you tell us more?

After giving a speech at Temple University I was invited to design a course. So I proposed Metropolitan Ecology, to introduce precepts of healthy cities. I encouraged students to consider and to suggest wild ecological notions for future cities, since conventional technologies and settlement have become destructive of civilization. I emphasized that everything normal today was once a wild idea. That to progress, humans have always been wildly inventive. So explored with students how we could totally rebuild American cities so that they'd be balanced with nature and beautiful -- thriving with a fraction of fossil fuel use.

The course was popular, so was asked to start another. I offered "Green Jobs" for one semester.

After nearly three years I ceased teaching to focus on two new programs. Patch Adams agreed to allow me to start the first Patch Adams Free Clinic and am about to launch the League of Uninsured Voters (LUV).

 

You have lived in Philadelphia since 2005.  What brought you to Philadelphia and could you describe some of the projects you have started in that city?

I moved to Philadelphia because I felt I had done what I could in Ithaca, and wanted to apply myself to a city far bigger, with far greater problems. Philly has 25% poverty rate, 350,000 unemployed, at least as many uninsured, 40,000 vacant lots and many hungry people (including 60,000 chronically hungry children, 35,000 Philadelphians returning from jail or prison every year, rising prices for food and heating, brutal summer heat on treeless streets, one or more murders daily. It's hog heaven for an urban ecologist.

The particular challenge here has been to introduce new ideas in a city where bureaucracies resist them. The challenge is part of the fun. So far while here I've taught urban studies for a few years at Temple University, have written three books (including Green Jobs Philly), and started Philadelphia Orchard Project (POP) -- 22 orchards so far.

The Patch Adams Free Clinic (See also here) will provide member-owned health services, like the Ithaca Health Alliance.

Starting soon is the Neighborhood Enterprise School Teachers (NESTS) to reward and credential lowest-income neighbors for teaching and for learning 

I intend several more programs: Philadelphia Regional and Independent Stock Exchange (PRAISE), to gather capital of all kinds for ecodevelopment, Proud Of Organic Philadelphia (POOP) to promote compost toilets, the Philadelphia Insulation Factory (PIF) to convert recycled newspapers into cellulose insulation manufactured and installed by low-income neighbors, and Philadelphia Fund for Ecological Living (PhilaFEL) to gather donations for the manufacture and installation within low-income neighborhoods of green technologies (rather than wait for big factories making solar/wind for high-income homes).

All these programs entail transferring authority to neighborhoods. Their creativity will reduce the costs of living and expand the fun of living.

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A Recipe for Successful Community Currency

by Paul Glover

Printing local money sets the table for a feast provided by your city or town.  Here are my suggested ingredients for spicing local trade with local cash.

 

1. HIRE A NETWORKER.  

During the past 15 years, nearly 100 American community currencies have come and gone.  Ithaca’s HOURS became huge because, during their first eight years, they could rely on a full-time Networker to constantly promote, facilitate and troubleshoot circulation.  Lots of talking and listening.

Just as national currencies have armies of brokers helping money move, local currencies need at least one paid Networker.  Your volunteer core group -- your Municipal Reserve Board -- may soon realize that they’ve created a labor-intensive local institution, like a food co-op or credit union.  Playing Monopoly is easier than building anti-Monopoly.

Reduce your need to pay the Networker with dollars, by finding someone to donate housing.  Then find others to donate harvest, health care, entertainment.

 

2. DESIGN CREDIBLE MONEY.  

Make it look both majestic and cheerful, to reflect your community’s best spirit.  Feature the most widely respected monuments of nature, buildings, and people.  One Ithaca note celebrates children; another displays its bioregional bug.  Use as many colors as you can afford, then add an anti-counterfeit device.  Ithaca has used local handmade paper made of local weed fiber but recently settled on 50/50 hemp/cotton.  Design professionally -- cash is an emblem of community pride.

 

3.  BE EVERYWHERE. 

Prepare for everyone in the region to understand and embrace this money, such that it can purchase everything, whether listed in the directory or not.  This means broadcasting an email newsletter, publishing a newspaper (at least quarterly), sending press releases, blogging, cartooning, gathering testimonials, writing songs, hosting events and contests, managing a booth at festivals, perhaps a cable or radio show.  Do what you enjoy; do what you can.

By 1999, Ithaca HOURS became negotiable with thousands of individuals and over 500 businesses, including a bank, the medical center, the public library, plenty food, clothes, housing, healing, movies, restaurants, bowling.  The directory contained more categories than the Yellow Pages.  We even created our own local nonprofit health insurance.

Imagine millions of dollars worth circulating, to stimulate new enterprise, as dollars fade.

 

4. BE EASY TO USE.  

Local money should be at least as easy to use as national money, not harder.  No punitive “demurrage” stamps-- inflation is demurrage enough.  No expiration dates-- inspire spending instead by emphasizing the benefits to each and all of keeping it moving.  Hungry people want food, not paper, so hard times can speed circulation.

Get ready to issue interest-free loans.  The interest you earn is community interest-- your greater capability to hire and help one another.  Start with small loans to reliable businesses and individuals.  Make grants to groups.

 

5. BE HONEST AND OPEN.  

All records of currency disbursement are displayed upon request.  Limit the quantity issued for administration (office, staff, etc) to 5% of total, to restrain inflation

 

6. BE PROUDLY POLITICAL.  

Local folks from all political backgrounds find common ground using local cash.  But local money is a great way to introduce new people to the practicality of green economics and solidarity.  I enjoyed arguing with local conservatives, then shaking hands on the power we both gain trading our money.  Hey, we’re creating jobs without clearcutting, prisons, taxes and war!

You can make it likelier that your money is spent for grassroots eco-development by publishing articles that reinforce these values.  By contrast with global markets, our marketplaces are real places where we become friends, lovers, and political allies.

 

Glover consults for community economic development. paulglover.org