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Create Your Own Currency
Sarah Kuck, 4 Dec 08

currency.jpg"Money," wrote Jamais Cascio, "is the tangible manifestation of an agreement between you and other people that the oddly-colored piece of paper in your hands has value."

But what's truly valuable is not those units of currency, so much as the units of time they represent to those who earn and spend them. Two women from Ashland, Ore., who follow this philosophy have created a way to turn units of time into currency that can be directly traded and tracked through their online system OurNexChange. This "community currency" allows local residents to buy goods and services without exchanging any money.

Sharon Miranda and Libby VanWyhe recently told the Ashland Daily Tidings about the system:

"The whole idea is to harness the resources of our businesses, organizations and government into a system that provides sustainability," Miranda said.
This would be done through a Web-based system that would track the exchange of currency units through users' accounts. There would be no tangible money.
"The idea is it's an online complementary currency exchange program," VanWyhe said.

To get started, all you need to do is apply. After that, you are awarded "Trade Dollars," which you earn by volunteering, working for a neighbor or bartering. If you watched your neighbor's children for an hour, for example, he could pay you in Trade Dollars online or could trade you for an hour of weeding in your garden. Using the OurNexChange system, you can easily record and keep track of this time and work. Businesses and organizations will also be allowed to participate, and will be awarded a line of credit to begin with to get things moving.

A community cooperative will help run the transaction fee funded system, but what will ultimately sustain the community currency will be a willingness from the community to participate.

The system, which took about six years to create, mostly relies on trust and transparency. Each transaction takes place online, and is recorded within the system. Users can then rate and provide feedback for each other, search the directory or use the systems networking tools.

The two said that they didn't design the system to operate in place of the current economic system, but to enhance it. Although, the better it works, the less people will need to rely on the dollar.

Miranda told the Ashland Daily Tidings that this system is more stable in the long run because the value of someone's time does not fluctuate as currency does. And in hard economic times, being able to spend and earn time instead of money helps the local market for services stay afloat.

"We're developing a conscious community of choice," Miranda said. "It requires everyone to stand up into their roles."

For another great example of DIY-currency, check out L.A.'s Echo Park Time Bank or learn more about the idea of TimeBanks here.

What's worldchanging about creating your own currency (if you can get it flowing) is how stable and therefore sustainable it is. With your value of time being equal, the system is less subject to fluctuation. With value placed on your time, you work for what you need, reducing waste and excess. And in working with your neighbors, you increase trust, which might be one of the biggest stabilizers of all.

Image credit: Flickr/mins3rdkid

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Comments

As Bruce put so well in his last Viridian note, even the (regular) economy’s “champions are terrified by it now.”

Clearly the fractures which have become deep cracks in the economy have stimulated alternative thinking. Ok, bartering is no new thing, and gift economies are already established at festivals like Burning Man.

However, surely people will be more open to the idea of DIY currency now than they were when Tobias Wong was selling flakes that made you shit gold; that particular ready-made's statement, incidentally, was certainly lost on certain gluttonised Wall St types.

Adult swapping (no, not that kind) does seem natural enough. After all, I did it on a daily when I was a kid. Whether it was swapping my mum’s cheese and ham sandwiches for buns filled with bbq beef-flavoured Hula Hoops crisps (it worked, trust me) or accepting a few forged get-out-of-sports letters to my teachers in exchange for nights rental of my pirate copies of Robocop and Predator.

Using the web to facilitate these exchanges, however, could really help organise this type of 'economy' and give it the scale it needs.

The growth of micro-investing and crowdsourcing ventures show there's an appetite for doing away with greenbacks.

As a concept, definitely one to watch. Not sure if we've got any similar schemes running in the UK but I'd defintely be keen to particpate. If anyone knows of one, please get in touch.


Posted by: scot on 5 Dec 08

In our town we have a similar system. Although it has no official name I guess you could call it the "can I lend you a hand with that, neighbor?" system. Somehow, if we help someone, it always seems to come back to you - even without an online system to keep track.


Posted by: carig on 5 Dec 08

I was actually just trying to setup some web-based alt. currency software, but I'm running into all sorts of problems. I've tried cclite (http://www.hughbarnard.org/?q=node/3) and Local Exchange (http://sourceforge.net/projects/local-exchange/) but can't get either one working - the former is designed specifically for Red Hat based servers and the latter needs a bunch of Pear modules installed.

http://project.cyclos.org/ appears to be the most mature project, but it requires Java.

Does anyone know of any other alt. currency software that could be run "off the shelf" on a typical LAMP web host?


Posted by: Klintron on 5 Dec 08

I'd like to expound in the fact that our system is combined with a full commercial system wherein participants provide services at their regular market rate. In that realm, they have a business account. When they offer their services at the same rate as others, hour for hour, they use their individual account. This supports our movement back to the center of community.

Let me add that I have tested many systems, and the one I am stepping into is the only one that is robust enough to serve a whole community. It's not opensource, however. But worth it for the sake of success and longeity.

Sharon Miranda


Posted by: Sharon Miranda on 6 Dec 08

Remember that the idea of community currency is not new. We collectively have decades of experience of community based systems worldwide and many lessons from past experiments need to be learned and applied.

Specifically:
* avoid 'one size fits all' solutions but take an 'ecological' approach to local currency design
* design around local problems, needs and goals and match local assets to them
* pay attention to local operating conditions
* choose currency design features to match above
* create an effective organisation with robust management and governance to run the currency or integrate it into an existing organisation
* play with the factors of time and space to create different currencies for different needs in different localities or to create short term currencies to achieve certain goals that are then retired
* don't get sucked into maintaining a local currency for its own sake or for ideological reasons - if it has served its purpose to rebuild community or kickstart a moribund economy then let it go.

The current financial crisis, combined with the challenges of climate change and peak oil, provide the best opportunity in at least a generation to apply wiser design principles that really put community currencies to the test and show whether they can be a robust enough tool to help communities and individuals survive.

We will soon be publishing a design manual to guide designers through the above principles.


Posted by: John Rogers on 8 Dec 08

Who in Seattle is working on an alternative exchange system? When I click on "Time Bank here" and "Echo park Time banks" above, nothing opens up

John Coelho


Posted by: John Coelho on 10 Jan 09

John, when I looked on Time Bank's directory page (http://www.timebanks.org/directory.htm), they didn't have any listings in Washington. Are you thinking of starting something here?


Posted by: Sarah on 10 Jan 09

These so-called "local currencies" are okay, I guess, but only as a teaching tool. They're useful only to the extent that they help people understanding money, understand that they can (and do) influence the money system (because it is at its base a public system) and understand they can use that system to advantage positive change. Creating local *credit* on the basis of social agreement is a wonderful thing. But in and of themselves these local "currencies" are silly.

They are silly because it is fundamental to the concept of *currency* that it be accepted as widely as possible. In fact, a currency is useful in direct proportion to the number of people who accept that currency as payment.

Credit - which creates money - is a different matter. Creating credit locally is an extremely good idea and that - in fact - is what these so-called "local currencies" are doing: creating local credit. But to the extent that people are actually encouraged to create local pseudo-currencies, it's a distraction.

In fact many of the world's difficulties (such as in Zimbabwe) are - in my opinion - created by too-small currencies which can be distorted and abused by crooked local leaders.


Posted by: Dlaw on 22 Jan 09

I have not found a word "tax" on the entire web page. To what extent is barter legal in US?


Posted by: Oleksandr on 23 Mar 09

Jct: Best of all, when the local currency is pegged to the Time Standard of Money (how many dollars/hour child labor) Hours earned locally can be intertraded with other timebanks globally!
In 1999, I paid for 39/40 nights in Europe with an IOU for a night back in Canada worth 5 Hours.
U.N. Millennium Declaration UNILETS Resolution C6 to governments is for a time-based currency to restructure the global financial architecture.
See my banking systems engineering analysis at http://youtube.com/kingofthepaupers with an index of articles at http://johnturmel.com/kotp.htm


Posted by: KingofthePaupers on 20 Apr 09

Going to school in Ithaca NY and, more recently in burlington vt, I have been exposed to local currencies. While they certainly make one think more carefully about the monetary system, they never seem to penetrate deeply into the community. One related idea being explored by students and facilty here at the University of Vermont's Institute for Global Sustainabilty (learn.uvm.edu/igs) is the idea of a regional stock exchanges- which could help reshape the way we invest.


Posted by: Noah pollock on 13 May 09

You can create your own currency on your own outside of a network. There is a free article on http://www.mainstreetbarter.com about it, that can help you get started, and if you want to really get into it, they have a comprehensive guide available as well.


Posted by: Jason Schade on 30 Sep 09

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