Kauai Currency

SUBHEAD: Local currencies are a tool of sustainable economic development.

By Andrea Brower on 17 May 2009 in The Garden Island  

Image above: Ithaca Hour denominations from two hour note down to one-tenth ($1) 

 This past Friday, the Malama Kaua‘i radio show on KKCR hosted Paul Glover, founder of Ithaca HOURS, one of the most successful local currencies in the country. It was an inspiring and interesting discussion about the economic, social, cultural, and environmental benefits of creating local exchange and investment systems, and what we could do on Kauai.

 Local currencies are a tool of sustainable economic development — they are designed to build a local economy by maximizing circulation of trade within a defined region. Popular in the 1930s during the Great Depression, they are now seeing a revival in North America.

They help to keep money local, build community connection, and incentivize business development in places where there are dollar “leakages.” Paul Glover states, “We printed our own money because we watched federal dollars come to town, shake a few hands, then leave to buy rainforest lumber and fight wars.

Ithaca’s HOURS, by contrast, stay in our region to help us hire each other. While dollars make us increasingly dependent on transnational corporations and bankers, HOURS reinforce community trading and expand commerce which is more accountable to our concerns for ecology and social justice.”

There are over 900 participating businesses in Ithaca, including grocery stores, movie theaters, farmers and medical clinics, and thousands of people receive HOURS (one HOUR = $10) as part of their paycheck.

Through the system, business loans are offered at no interest, hundreds of non-profits have received grants, and a very affordable cooperative health insurance system is thriving! HOURS have even become a popular souvenir and “special attraction” for the visitor industry.

In a similar system in Massachusetts, six banks offer exchange for the local currency (BerkShares), and over one million BerkShares were circulated in the first nine months of the project. Susan Witt, co-founder of BerkShares, published the following analysis in Orion Magazine: Use of BerkShares, a paper currency, requires face to face economic exchange. The citizen/buyer must meet the merchant/owner and enter into conversation about the item purchased.

In the course of these multiple transactions an understanding begins to grow of the nature of the business, how it fits in the streetscape of the town, the working conditions of its employees, availability of locally made goods, the impact of new regulations, the necessity to respond to the changing tastes of consumers, the hurdles to prosperity, the many roles the merchant plays in the community as volunteer ambulance squad member, school board official, community theater player.

Most of today’s national currencies are no longer commodity-based. They are at best pegged to each other, or tied in a vague way to the general productivity of the country of origin. At the end of the twentieth century money has become altogether abstracted from our daily experience. We talk of earning 6 percent interest, but have no picture of “what our money is doing tonight” — whether it is working to build wheelbarrows in Brazil, grow corn on chemically fertilized land in Iowa, or make shoes in a crowded factory in Thailand.

By intentionally narrowing our choices of consumer goods to those locally made, local currencies allow us to know more fully the story of items purchased; stories that include the human beings that made them and the minerals, rivers, plants and animals that gave of their substance to form them.

Such stories, formed from real life experience, work in the imagination to foster responsible consumer choices and re-establish a commitment to the community. In this sense, local currencies become a tool not only for economic development but for cultural renewal. Inspired by Malama Kaua‘i ’s Friday radio show, a group will be meeting on June 20 to discuss the possibilities for local currency and investment systems on Kauai.

For details, visit MalamaKauaiNews.Org • Andrea Brower is the projects supervisor for Malama Kaua‘i and can be reached at andrea@malamakauai.org

See also:
Island Breath: TGI#22 Time better than money 1/27/07
The Gobbler: The Ithaca money system 11/21/93

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