- SAN FRANCISCO - If globalism has got you down, take heart. A flourishing movement
that seeks to supplement the almighty dollar with an all-local currency
is providing refuge around the country, and world, for those who feel
that mega-economic forces are stripping individuals and communities of
control over their own affairs.
- "There is tremendous interest and
energy" in the movement to establish local or community-based currencies,
says Susan Witt, director of the <http://www.schumachersociety.org/
E.F. Schumacher Society of Great Barrington, Mass.
- The Schumacher Society is a firm supporter
of the concept, and Witt says there is "revival" under way
- The concept is simple: Establishing a
local currency within a town or region lets residents exchange goods or
services in a way that guarantees the currency will stay local and not
seep out into the great sea of global commerce.
- In communities with local currencies,
the U.S. dollar continues to circulate and remains the backbone of the
local economy. But as seen by advocates, local money provides a powerful
tool for community cohesiveness and rejuvenation.
- .The north coast hamlet of Mendocino,
Calif., plans to launch a local currency called Seed in the next few days.
Further down the coast, a Time Dollar system that allows community service
organizations to trade services is about to begin in Santa Cruz. And
last year, local currencies became available in places as diverse as Toronto
and Berea, Ky.
- All this activity follows already well-established
programs like the Ithaca Hours in New York and the Local Economic Trading
System (LETS) pioneered in Canada and now operating in Great Britain,
Australia, New Zealand, and in several European countries.
- There are about 2,000 local currency
systems in operation around the world, according to Bernard Lietaer, a
former Belgium central banker who is now setting up a clearinghouse for
community currencies from his base as a research fellow at the University
of California at Berkeley.
- Local currencies flourished in the United
States following the Great Depression, when jobs and money were scarce.
Over the years, stressed communities have often created local currencies
or scrip as a means to allow people to trade skills and goods, even when
they're unemployed and have no traditional dollars to spend.
- But today, the motivation behind local
currencies stems more from a view that communities are losing their sense
of interconnectedness among residents, who don't know each other and who
buy goods that are imported with dollars that are often earned from a
- "It's a counterpoint to globalization,"
says Lewis Solomon, a law professor at George Washington Law School and
author of "Rethinking Our Centralized Monetary System: The Case for
a System of Local Currencies." Local currencies have proven themselves
viable, says Solomon, but their prevalence depends, ultimately, on "how
much antipathy builds to the global economy."
- The movement itself is diverse, blending
primarily environmentalists and community activists, but with a sprinkling
of Libertarians, millennium bug alarmists, and even survivalists who fear
a major financial meltdown is inevitable.
- But at its core is a yearning for more
control, less seeming vulnerability, and greater interaction among people
of the same geography. "Community is becoming a vacant term. We're
not really even trading with each other any more," says Michael Linton,
one of the founders of LETS in Canada.
- While local currencies may appeal to
some as a return to simpler times, it's quite modern in terms of taking
advantage of technology.
- Linton has been working on a smart card
that would allow people to make purchases with local and even regional
currencies, automatically. And software needed to begin a LETS system
can already be downloaded from the Internet.
- Local currency systems are usually set
up and run by volunteers.
- The BREAD program, begun in Berkeley
in 1997, is typical. Members apply to join, must be able to provide a
good or service to the community, and must agree to honor the local currency.
- Once admitted, members are listed in
a local directory, which now includes about 350 listings, including gardeners,
restaurateurs, artists and auto mechanics.
- Each member is initially issued paper
currency worth four Bread hours, valued at $12 per hour. There is about
$15,000 worth of Bread currency in circulation right now.
- "We have quite a cross-section of
members," says Miyoko Sakashita, Bread co-founder. "Most are
middle to low-income, and from all age groups."
- As one sign of the movement's current
vigor, advocates from all over the country and world began meeting this
week in the Santa Cruz mountains at a church-owned retreat site.
- Called simply "The Gathering,"
the aim is to "connect the local currency movement, and create the
infrastructure for a new, more just economy," says organizer Carol
- While some critics question the logic
of a system that encourages buying local goods, even when better or cheaper
goods may be available elsewhere, advocates say that kind of math is simplistic.
- "Things may be cheaper over the
hill," says Margaret Howe, one of the organizers of the new Seed
program in Mendocino, Calif., "but there is a cost to the community
in buying over there, instead of here."