The stories in our culture reinforce the power structure of society. And western culture has become so globally dominant that it’s big enough to contain any story of rebellion against authority (emphasis on contain) without itself being threatened. Anyone want to buy an Occupy T-shirt? Even protest can be commercialized. True story: I met someone starting college with a desire to work in forensics and asked why and they said their favorite TV show had been CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. And that became their path to the professional class. That investment of time, money, and work will reinforce a certain kind of power structure. And so what? What modern culture has a different class structure? They might be speaking a different language, but do they support a different use of power? Continue reading
Reading Jón Gnarr, How I Became the Mayor of a Large City in Iceland and Changed the World, I found that a platform for citizens to inform each other and vote on issues had been implemented in Reykjavík beginning in October 2011. He has a chapter called “The World is Getting Better and Better” where he talks about the online platform Betri Reykjavík for citizens to find all the information about plans and projects for city districts and “read the ideas, opinions, and suggestions of others, discuss the proposed concept, present your own ideas, and then vote for or against.” In the chapter “And Now?” he writes: “Democracy is the key to a progressive society. I believe in direct democracy. More precisely: in direct digital democracy.” Continue reading
From the audience, listening to Sanders, it sounded like harangue. This is completely different, the opposite of the inspirational tone delivered by Obama, and it was different in another way. Sanders, in an early televised debate, lauded Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. This is the real difference between the candidates: Sanders didn’t present an amorphous hope, an idealized change, he pointed directly at social policy that works, that’s currently in place in other countries, social programs where the citizens have placed a significant portion of their income to public rather than private consumption. In the Nordic countries when they pay taxes, they’re paying for benefits: paid parental leave, day care, universal public K-PhD education, health care, home health care for the elderly. It’s not individuals making sacrifices for other people, when someone pays taxes in the Nordic countries they are buying services for their own benefit. And through their collective effort, they created a place where one would want to live. Sanders directed our nation’s attention at smart social policy that works. Rather than repeat the self-referencing common to America, he directed attention to other countries, people who have made choices to create social benefits.
I wanted to share this idea with my friends. Continue reading
In The Anatomy of Inequality, author Per Molander describes one of the ways conservatives defend the status quo, a tactic called knowledge skepticism. By saying we can’t know a thing for certain, over the years conservatism has attempted to undermine egalitarian theories from advancing an alternative to the status quo. In human history, the status quo has been conditions of great inequality—an exception being the period after World War II to the 70s and on to present day in the Nordic countries. But in the United States, beginning in the early 70s with the Powell Memo, a concerted campaign by the right has been advanced to dismantle the social welfare state and, asserting the small government rhetoric now familiar to us, has succeeded in cementing rule by wealthy and corporate interests effectively crafting policy for their benefit without regard to the public.
A recent application of knowledge skepticism has been to create doubt in commonly understood science—probably the most extreme case is denying the Holocaust. Obviously knowledge skepticism is applied selectively in conservative rhetoric. When it is convenient to defend one’s interests with absolute certainty in the knowledge that one is right, conservatives can be unequivocal. Moral relativism is another way to defend the status quo, and Molander mentions its use as a bulwark against Enlightenment thinkers asserting the natural rights of all human beings.
The inability of humanity to take a valid course of right action could suggest there is an awareness of right action that people have no access to—due to self-interest or eternal ignorance—or that no right action exists for the world because humanity embodies natural forces that we have no ability to direct. Biological drives, instincts, and desires take their expression through humanity. And seen this way, we are expressions of a force of nature that is beyond our control. There is no right or wrong way about it: we are a force of nature. But Western Civilization is nothing if not an attempt to subdue nature, to have dominion over nature, and so long as civilization exists it will attempt to control human nature. Continue reading
My senior year at the University of Oregon a visiting professor looked at my painting and asked what I wanted to do. I said, “History painting.” The art department in the 90s was like experiential art history, learning to do what artists centuries ago had accomplished. I lived Impressionism. It was like acting the part of an artist, packing my easel and going out to the field. Then I got into Cubism. And the Romantics, their grand canvases. But I had come to school wanting to be a comic book artist, and that strand wove itself into the picture.
The earth’s crust is in pieces. Huge continental-size plates. The heat from inside the earth flows closest to the surface where these plates come together. Along the seams, the crust thins and fractures. Mountain ranges form. Volcanoes erupt.
A ring of 452 volcanoes defines the geography from the southern tip of the Americas, up and across the Bering Strait, all the way down to New Zealand. Mount St. Helens is just one volcano in this Ring of Fire along the periphery of the plates beneath the Pacific Ocean. Plate movements atop the earth’s mantle create tremendous energy. Oregon’s place on the Pacific Rim assures a resource of geothermal energy that can find its way to human use. Groundwater that flows into cracks and fissures of hot rock can carry the heat to the surface. A geothermal resource has three distinct applications: direct use of hot water, ground-source heat pumps for heating and cooling of buildings, and electric power generation. Continue reading
Citizens Invested in Their Community
The dollar needs no introduction, but complementary currencies have different forms and uses. Though diverse, they all exist to facilitate exchange within a community. In times of high unemployment when spending money is scarce, a complementary currency can match the unmet needs with the unused resources of a local government. Empty seats on the bus are an unused resource. Invasive ivy growing in the city park presents a need for maintenance. If a group of citizens work with the supervision of one paid park staff (or trained volunteer), the invasive ivy could be removed. What if the local government could support underfunded programs by paying people in a complementary currency that could be used to purchase a monthly bus pass, or perhaps to pay fees at the library for late books?
The local government, by issuing a complementary currency, could promote use of government services, programs, or activities. The example of removing ivy in exchange for a bus pass is just to illustrate how a complementary currency could be used. The best use would be identified by the local government and its citizens. City, county and regional governments each have unique areas of responsibility and programs to meet local needs. Given the complexity of inter-agency coordination, it makes sense to start simple. Once a need is identified that might be assisted through use of a complementary currency, the system could be designed to succeed in fulfilling those unmet needs with unused resources.
By creating a successful local currency on a modest scale, the program could be expanded later to address other needs, and potentially to collaborate with other agencies. Maybe it would be possible to coordinate with place-based nonprofits, so citizens could earn credits in the local currency by working with nonprofits, or even local businesses. Since the currency functions as an agreement, the local government and participating organizations could decide the terms of service.
In Oregon, local government could find support from people involved with Portland Time Bank and RiverHOURS. Another model to learn from is BerkShares, an alternative currency created to promote local business in the Berkshire region of western Massachusetts. BerkShares enter circulation in the local economy when citizens exchange their federal dollars for the complementary currency at a participating bank. To illustrate, using BerkShares as an example, with $95 dollars a person can receive $100 in BerkShares. The currency can be spent at participating shops listed in a directory and advertised by a “BerkShares Accepted Here” sign on shop windows. The federal dollars remain on deposit at the participating exchange bank to redeem the BerkShares at a five percent discount. $100 in BerkShares would be exchanged for $95 federal dollars. This incentivizes citizens to both use BerkShares and to keep them in circulation. The intention is to strengthen the local economy by encouraging citizens to use services and shops run and owned by people living in the area.
Since BerkShares are backed by federal money, some monetary designers feel they aren’t a true complementary currency. Regardless of the designation, the model has enjoyed success and supporters. In the U.K. there’s a similar currency called The Bristol Pound. The press coverage garnered to successful efforts brings public awareness to the potential for a more diverse monetary ecosystem. Time banks are another form of complementary currency. The unit of exchange is one hour of a person’s time. A website lists members, their requests and offers of services, and the time dollars exchanged by members. As a membership-based organization, the time bank can cover some operating costs with an annual fee. Time banks can also be tailored to specific needs where demand is greatest, such as services for senior citizens through CareBanks.
Research into complementary currencies could generate unique ideas for solving local economic problems. A recent movie, Money & Life: A Story About Money That Will Change Your Life, provides inspiration to learn more about monetary design. The movie is available online, and a community screening could be an opportunity to begin a discussion and find people most interested in complementary currencies (http://moneyandlifemovie.com/host-a-screening). The potential for complementary currency to ease the pain of unemployment, support local enterprise, and subsidize underfunded programs is a creative and practical use of the real wealth of cities: good citizens.
Complementary Currency: Challenge and Opportunity for Local Government
By employing a complementary currency, local government can increase regional economic stability. Our single currency system creates high-yield efficiencies but the trade-off is an increased vulnerability to economic shocks, reduced lending to small business, scarcity of money for new hires and greater insecurity among the population. A diversity of economic exchanges can enhance regional resilience. Through professional and well-managed implementation of a complementary currency, the regional government can provide opportunities for its citizens and avoid circumstances that lead to turmoil.
Complementary currencies tend to arise in times of economic depression, such as the Wörgl in Austria and the Wära in Germany during the Great Depression. These successful responses by local governments were suppressed by central banks. The continued economic hardship led to further instability and the rise of authoritarian systems of political and economic control.
History illuminates the need to ensure key players are stakeholders in the process of developing sustainable currency systems. By involving local banking and financial service leaders in early talks, the banking community is made welcome and potentially available to help. A 2002 effort in Rotterdam to encourage sustainable consumption and production through an incentive card had the support of the European Union as well as one of the largest banks of the Netherlands. Though the NU card is considered a success, the Rotterdam pilot project was not self-supporting and it proved difficult to secure continued funding.
A currency needs to be funded to cover infrastructure and administration costs. For a complementary currency system to succeed over time it also requires democratic governance, transparency, and accountability. The currency needs to be professionally managed to support a public good and be a win-win for all participants. To guarantee democratic implementation, the government would maintain transparency of the currency’s accounts and mechanisms for all participants.
With all the extra effort required to introduce a complementary currency into the local economy, many people may begin to wonder, why bother? During difficult times, the economic needs of some members of the community can only be answered with forms of relief. By designing economic resilience into the local economy, a local government will be better able to meet the needs of citizens in challenging economic circumstances. It’s possible to feel that a single currency can meet every need, but even during the best of times, abundance is not often experienced by disadvantaged populations. A complementary currency can be a useful tool to provide relief. The currency could be designed and implemented to serve the the underserved, and available to be expanded during an economic crisis to serve wider needs.
Complementary Currencies: How to Begin
Local currency design has a long history and each effort responds to the needs of its time and place. At the very least, the potential for a local currency could be shared with the community in a kind of “what if” proposal. If by way of introducing the challenges of creating a complementary currency, people become more aware of the benefits and opportunities, they may choose to support a pilot project. The pilot could be funded through an online form where supporters can donate money toward the project. Complete funding for research, design, infrastructure, and administration of a complementary currency could be reached through a municipal bond, financial transaction tax, foundation grant, and donations.
Money functions as a store of value, a unit of account, and a medium of exchange. But even more basically, money is an agreement. If people don’t agree the currency has value, they won’t accept it. A complementary currency is an agreement amongst a community to use something as a medium of exchange. U.S. federal law prevents using the word “dollar” when referring to a complementary currency. Local government in creating a complementary currency could decide upon a memorable and meaningful name like CityShares, BridgeShare, Community Credits (CC), or civics.
Complementary currency is often issued on paper. To prevent counterfeiting, the currency could be digital. A website could list all the needs to be met, the resources to be earned, and the transactions made by members. Mobile banking software (http://www.cyclos.org/) exists to facilitate SMS payments. And a digital currency in Portland, Oregon could benefit from the experience of Simple. This opportunity allows the local government to both celebrate a Portland-based financial services company and to benefit from their expertise. If a phone-based currency would limit availability to people who need it most, a paper option could be issued to people without phones and signed by the issuer like a check to prevent counterfeiting.
By allowing citizens who earn credits to sell or trade them with a willing buyer, the city could create an opportunity for people who need to earn money but cannot find a job in the current market. What if citizens could earn credits by working with one paid staff or trained volunteer to guide the work: removing graffiti from buildings, cleaning trash from high-use areas along the river, registering voters, or removing invasive plants? A complementary currency could be a lifeline for homeless people who have limited access to dollars for their daily needs.
Creating a resilient local economy is an investment in people. Imagine if underfunded school programs could afford additional teachers through payment in a complementary currency: the benefits would begin to multiply. The Saber, a currency proposed to encourage learning in Brazil, was designed to be distributed by the state so children could purchase mentorship from older students. The currency moves from lower grades to higher grades and finally to universities where it can be redeemed in exchange for higher education. The currency is there collected and returned to the issuer. The Saber would replace traditional grants and reward active participation in education. A complementary currency matches unmet needs with unused resources. Our wisdom and creativity as a community are a fantastic resource. Through generating awareness about complementary currency, communities can discover creative ways to meet the needs of local government and its citizens.
For more information:
Rethinking Money: How New Currencies Turn Scarcity Into Prosperity by Bernard Lietaer and Jacqui Dunne http://www.lietaer.com/writings/books/rethinking-money-by-bernard-lietaer-and-jacqui-dunne/
International Journal of Community Currency Research http://ijccr.net/
“Local Currencies Grow During Economic Recession” | Worldwatch Institute http://www.worldwatch.org/node/5978
Montpelier, Vermont Time Bank Program Design (PDF) http://www.montpelier-vt.org/upload/news/323/files/reach_program_handbook.pdf
Montpelier Vermont Time Bank http://www.orexchange.org/
Onion River Exchange Time Bank Video https://vimeo.com/63034955
Prof. Dr. Margrit Kennedy http://www.margritkennedy.de/
European Commission: “Demonstration Project PlusPunten Rotterdam (NU card)” http://ec.europa.eu/environment/life/project/Projects/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.createPage&s_ref=LIFE00%20ENV/NL/000809
“NU Card System: Rewarding Sustainability” http://www.youthxchange.net/main/c375nucardsystem.asp
A Proposal for a Brazilian Education Complementary Currency, Bernard Lietaer (PDF) https://ijccr.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/ijccr-vol-10-2006-3-lietaer.pdf
New Money for a New World, by Bernard Lietaer and Stephen Belgin | Available free online http://www.scribd.com/doc/93313960/Bernard-Lietaer-New-Money-For-A-NewWorld-full-pdf-ebook
Complementary Currency Software http://p2pfoundation.net/Complementary_Currency_Software
Complementary Currency Resource Center http://www.complementarycurrency.org/