Twenty years ago I started printing money. Soon after, residents of Ithaca, N.Y., began exchanging colorful cash featuring children, waterfalls, trolleys and bugs. Since then, millions of dollars worth of Ithaca Hours have been traded by thousands of individuals and more than 500 businesses. They’ve purchased everything that dollars can: groceries, fuel, housing, land, healthcare and all the fun stuff.
At first, since it was a new idea, many folks were skeptical. They laughed. But still, hundreds of folks eagerly joined the trading list. They understood the advantages to themselves and to the community.
Ithaca Hours proved to be more than extra cash; they provided a powerful tool for strengthening local businesses, creating jobs and increasing sales tax revenue. Hours weren’t intended to replace dollars, but to replace the lack of dollars. Each Hour is valued at $10 per hour, or one hour of basic labor. Professionals may request multiple “Hours” per hour of work, or trade them equitably. The community money honors skills neglected by the formal economy, stimulating new enterprise and creating new jobs. And the benefits go beyond individual transactions. To date, more than 100 community groups have received Hours grants, and up to $30,000 in interest-free loans have been offered. Yet the Hours’ greatest benefit has been to introduce residents to one another, helping us become friends, lovers and political allies.
How do you convert paper into money? Community currencies, like national banknotes, require constant networking and brokering to build trust and balance circulation. So every local currency needs at least one professional networker. My main work as the Hour organizer was to invite new skills and businesses into the system, then publish the bimonthly Hour Town directory, while helping people spend the Hours they earned.
Why Hours? Why not gold coins? Hours are as steady as the clock, and minutes do not expand or contract. Gold, still the most admired store of value, is not capable of transacting the needs of seven billion humans. And, unlike gold, everybody has time.
However, in today’s world, Internet-based trading of local credits is popular. “Time Dollars” are being earned and spent in Phoenixville, Media and Mount Airy as well as hundreds of other American towns. Hour systems like BitCoin, TimeRepublik and E-Flux trade globally. All these supplemental currencies can work together.
For me, though, paper money with local emblems shouts local pride. What’s a nation without a flag, a company without a logo, or local trading without tangible symbols? Whether community money is paper, electrons or metal, successful issuance also requires relentless promotion. Ithaca Hours became a household word, thanks to hundreds of national news stories and thousands of local conversations. Hour Town published 300 local “success stories” of satisfied traders. Nearly everyone understood Hours and was willing to accept them. Children assumed that all cities printed money.
Here in Philadelphia we already have Equal Dollars spreading citywide. But there’s room for neighborhood cash as well: Westies in West Philadelphia, Southies in South Philadelphia, Liberties in Northern Liberties, Strawberries in Strawberry Mansion, KensingCash, RoxBux, CedarChips, OlneyMoney.
To boost Philadelphia’s creative economy we could issue ArtCash. MediCash would boost our clinics, and NegaWatts fund energy-efficiency projects.
Philadelphia’s green economy also deserves its own money, dedicated to ecology and social justice. Such credits can stimulate the less instantly profitable green markets that the biggest investors have too long avoided: energy efficiency and retrofit work, urban agriculture, co-op health care, sustainable housing and transit.
Putting special money to work, and ourselves as well, invites us to repair civilization. When we take control of money, We the People become the treasury, and the treasure.
Paul Glover is founder of a dozen organizations and author of six books, including Hometown Money: How to Enrich Your Community with Local Currency. Learn more at paulglover.org
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