Wednesday, June 16, 2010

3 Cheers for Detroit's Local Currency

3 Cheers for Detroit's Local Currency
Kelli B. Kavanaugh Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Corktown, The Villages, Downtown Detroit, New Center, Midtown, Eastern Market
Detroit, some say, is a weird but cool blend of big city and small town. Detroit Cheers is making it weirder, smaller and cooler.

Detroit Cheers is a new local currency -- the city version of exchanging grain for flour or darned socks for a loaf of bread. Only it's more like beer for pizza, or housewares for a bike tune up.

With the goal of supporting a local small economy, a trio of Detroit business owners -- John Linardos from Motor City Brewing Works, Tim Tharp from Foran's Grand Trunk Pub and Jerry Belanger from Park Bar -- have put up their own cash to back a new local currency, or scrip, called Detroit Cheers.

The scrip concept was fairly common during the Great Depression (the city itself issued scrip in the 1930s) and is making a resurgence across the country these days. The basic premise is that participating businesses (listed below) accept Cheers and will make change from it -- in regular old fashioned dollars, scrip, or some combo of the two.

Consumers who use the scrip are making a defacto pledge to buy local, since only businesses within the city accept it.

And that's the point, says Greg Gedda, the owner of Union Street in Midtown, one of the businesses that will accept Cheers. "Because it's the city, it's for everyone, and this is our town to promote," he says. "This is the Detroit economic stimulus package."

Cheers 101

Put plainly, Cheers are locally issued currency accepted at select local businesses. Belanger, Tharp and Linardos each put up $1,500 to back the $4,500 worth of Cheers in circulation. The backing money is held in reserve at a bank. As backers are added, they'll release more Cheers. So one Cheers equals one dollar. "It's as good as the U.S. dollar … ironically, it's no better," Belanger says.

Dave Mancini of Supino Pizza in Eastern Market signed on to the Detroit scrip concept as soon as he heard about it, partly for his own benefit. "It's free promotion -- that sounds really selfish," he says. But as he surveys the scene at the Park Bar, he says, "I spend money here all the time, so I might as well take it."

That interconnected community of Detroit small business owners seems to be growing stronger, thanks to concepts like Detroit Open City and now, Cheers. "It means something to us ... that we're connected," says Belanger. "Spending Cheers is almost like giving a secret handshake."

So is this about warm and fuzzy, or is there real economic merit to a local currency? The possibility is certainly there. Berkshares, which are accepted at more than 350 businesses in southern Massachusetts, were launched in the fall 2006. There have been more than 2 million circulating to date, with five different banks and a total of twelve branch offices now serving as exchange stations.

Local backers have hopes for a similar strength. "This is not a novelty thing," says Linardos. "It will grow as we move forward."

Cheers were released into circulation earlier this month at the Park Bar. The party came off like a family reunion, with small business owners chatting about Final Four profits, clean and safe issues, and small successes while sipping on pints of Ghetto Blaster.

At one point, Belanger barked Cheers-accepting business names into a microphone, doling out free Cheers to guests in exchange for a promise that they will spend them at a business they hadn't yet patronized.

As Mancini watched a dozen people picking up Supino-bound Cheers, he shook his head, saying, "He's a saint."

But you know what they say about saints: They sometimes have clay feet. Belanger admits that the Cheers roll-out, while enthusiastic, hasn't been flawless. "We've been overwhelmed with the response, with people who want to use Cheers -- almost too much," says Belanger. "It's been bad in a good way or good in a bad way."

One issue has been with the paper that Cheers was printed on. The trio of backers chose a cotton rag paper for durability, and bought a ream of it -- no cheap purchase. Then they had to print the stuff.

"In keeping with spirit of the whole idea, we could have gone to a printer from out-of-state that has already done this for other municipalities, where we wouldn’t have had the learning curve," says Belanger. "But that would have been kind of contrary to our sustainability, local thing -- so we're going through a learning curve."

The worst-case scenario that Belanger fears is having to completely reissue the scrip. "To have that expense all over again ... it's not always just roses!"

Not to end on a sour note, Detroit Scrip seems to have some legs -- not yet with the mainstream, but with a community of people who tend to already spend their money in the city. And the reserve bank looks like it will be growing: Union Street is preparing to join as a backer. "I'm bowled over by everyone wanting to be involved," says Belanger.

Detroit Scrip FAQ

Q. Is it legal?
A. Yes. Scrip dates way back -- it was issued as wages in early mining towns and was even accepted as payment for Federal land in 1835, thanks to President Andrew Jackson. The concept is experiencing a comeback in recent years. Traverse City, The Berkshires in southern Massachusetts and Ithaca, New York are just three of the many places around the country with some form of local currency. The E.F. Shumaker Society has lots more info on local currency.

Scrip may not attempt to look like Federal money, and anyone holding some must be able to exchange it for equivalent Federal legal tender at any time -- i.e., it must be "backed." To do that with Detroit Scrip, visit Foran's Grand Trunk Pub, Park Bar or Motor City Brewing Works and turn it in for the green stuff.

The businesses only ask that if you are planning on exchanging a lot -- say, a few hundred -- of Cheers at one time, you give them a heads up so they can make sure they have enough cash on hand.

Q. How do I spend it?
A. Simply use it as you would any ol' three dollar bill! Cheers is printed in denominations of 3. If your pizza tab comes to $8, you can pay it with a U.S. fiver and a Cheers. Or three Cheers and get a dollar back. Or, you can pay for a $2 beer with a Cheers. and you'll get a buck back in change. Or you can use a U.S. $5 bill, and then ask for one Cheers back.

Q. Where do I spend it?
A. These businesses accept Cheers. Check the web site for updates.

Restaurants and Bars

* Union Street: 4145 Woodward, Midtown, 313-831-3965 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 313-831-3965 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
* The Bronx Bar: 4476 2nd Ave., Midtown, 313-832-8464 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 313-832-8464 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
* Motor City Brewing Works: 470 W. Canfield, Midtown, 3131-832-2700
* Woodbridge Pub: 5169 Trumbull, Woodbridge, 313-833-2701 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 313-833-2701 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
* Supino Pizza: 2457 Russell St., Eastern Market, 313-567-7879 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 313-567-7879 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
* Park Bar: 2040 Park Ave., Downtown, 313-962-2933 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 313-962-2933 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
* Cliff Bell's: 2030 Park Ave., Downtown, 313-961-2543 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 313-961-2543 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
* Eph's Deli: 608 Woodward, Downtown, 313-964-4511 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 313-964-4511 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
* Foran's Grand Trunk Pub: 612 Woodward, Downtown, 313-961-3043 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 313-961-3043 end_of_the_skype_highlighting


* Bureau of Urban Living: 460 W. Canfield, Midtown, 313-833-9336 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 313-833-9336 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
* Canine to Five Detroit Dog Day Care: 3443 Cass Ave., Midtown, 313-831-3647 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 313-831-3647 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
* Wheelhouse Detroit: 1340 E. Atwater, Downtown, 313-656-2453 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 313-656-2453 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
* Dormouse Design: 6447 Mack, The Villages
* Recy-Clean: 1331 Holden, New Center, 313-871-4000 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 313-871-4000 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
* Steve Adams Design
* Treetop Craftsman, Inc.
* Electrician Pat Deegan

Q. How do I get it?
A. Go to the bank! Which, in this case, is Foran's Grand Trunk Pub, The Park Bar or Motor City Brewing Works. You want $40 bucks worth? Hand over two twenties and you will receive 13 Cheers and a US dollar. Also, when you are at any of the aforementioned businesses that accept Detroit Scrip, you can ask to receive all or part of your change in Cheers.

Q. Why should I participate?
A. As Liz Blondy, owner of Canine to Five Detroit Dog Daycare puts it simply: "Karma."

Monday, June 14, 2010

SF Community Congress Economic Development Summit

Letter from the SF Community Congress Organizers

Hello progressive friends,

You’ve survived the mid-year elections and the annual budget crisis! Many of you have spent long hours developing revenue measures. Some of you have just returned inspired from the US Social Forum, ready to imagine that another San Francisco is possible! On Thursday July 8, 2010, we are inviting you to join community and worker organizations in building a progressive agenda to protect and expand economic opportunities for all San Franciscans.

This will be an important day building up to San Francisco's second citywide Community Congress in August – which will produce a progressive social, economic, and environmental roadmap. The "New Deal for the City" Community Congress is an exciting follow-up to the 1975 Congress that led to district elections and many other progressive gains. Since last Fall, members of the Council of Community Housing Organizations, the Human Services Network, Jobs with Justice, and numerous tenants rights, workers center, and environmental and economic justice organizations, have been meeting regularly to develop draft documents for the Congress. The principal goal is to develop a locally-actionable legislative and policy platform that we’ll encourage candidates for Supervisor (in 2010) and Mayor (in 2011) to support. This year's full Congress – including caucuses on economic development, housing, transportation, and health and human services – will take place at the USF campus on August 14-15.

You are all, in one way or another, important participants in community-based economic development (some of you have likely been playing a role already in this and other Congress working groups), and your participation in July 8's pre-Congress gathering is critical in order to discuss ideas, debate, and draft our economic development platform to bring to the August Congress. We need a strong turnout to create a strong progressive force for meaningful and lasting change in how – and for whom – the city works. We are inviting workers centers, small and back streets businesses, worker cooperatives, arts and cultural workers, urban agriculture, and students and low-wage workers: people and organizations that are key to a vibrant San Francisco future.

The attached framing document is a work-in-progress, emphasizing the critical role of the public sector as a major economic driver, with the responsibility to lead the city's economy, and on the importance of small businesses and cultural work that underpin other economic sectors. We believe the city should approach development in terms of economic opportunities for people who live and work in the city and who are most in need of dignified livelihood. We will discuss proposals for revenue and city budget reform that prioritize front-line workers, a municipal bank and city enterprises, labor standards, community jobs programs, green workforce development, arts and cultural economies, and light-industrial back streets businesses.

The July 8 Community Economic Development summit will be from 3:30 pm. to 8:30 p.m., at the SF Lighthouse Church (1337 Sutter Street @ Van Ness, San Francisco), appropriately located in the shadow of planned mega-development projects, where we will chart a different course for the future of San Francisco. A first working session will take place from 3:30 to 5:15, with a half hour break for light refreshments, and a second working session from 6:45 to 8:00. Please let us know by July 2 if you are planning to attend, or if you have any childcare needs (RSVP Also, if you cannot make it, but someone else from your organization or from allied progressive organizations can, feel free to pass on the information to them. For updates, and to review and comment online on the full draft recommendations of the working group, please visit

Thanks for your support and involvement,

Fernando Martí
Community Planning Program Director / Project Architect

Sunday, June 13, 2010


By Micki Krimmel

After a long discussion with my ex-boyfriend about his 8 year old son Evan and the perils of a childhood staring at glowing screens, I decided to do my part to encourage Evan to break away from the television to read more. "He loves the Harry Potter movies so surely he would love the books!" I thought. The first Harry Potter book is so popular, I knew for sure that one of my friends would have a copy Evan could read. I searched NeighborGoods and no one near me had it listed so I added the book to my wishlist.

Later that day, Jory logged into NeighborGoods and saw that someone in his neighborhood wanted to borrow Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Happy to help out a neighbor, he promptly added his copy to his NeighborGoods inventory. I received an alert email and I logged in to request the book from Jory. We set a time to meet and a couple days later, Jory was ringing my door bell. He delivered the book and a sweet bonus - Jory brought me a bag full of fruit from his avocado tree! Jory and I spent 20 minutes or so chatting in my living room about his family, NeighborGoods, and our Los Angeles neighborhood, Atwater Village.

Since that first meeting, Jory and I are now friends on all sorts of social networks. We share stuff on NeighborGoods all the time, we share local news and deals at our favorite taco place with each other on Twitter, and we compete for mayorships on Foursquare. Jory and I are now neighbors in the true sense of the word. Through Jory, I've met several other Atwater Village residents and we all stay in touch online.

I returned the book to Jory a few weeks later. I don't think Evan read it. But thanks to the technology on our glowing screens, our neighborhood got a little better. I now feel much more connected to Atwater Village. I feel like I'm a part of the community. I feel connected to the people around me and the ground under my feet.

And that's why I created NeighborGoods.

--- is the online community where you can save and earn money by sharing stuff with your friends. Need a ladder? Borrow it from your neighbor. Have a bike collecting dust in your closet? Rent it out for some extra cash! NeighborGoods helps you live better and more sustainably by saving resources and strengthening local communities.

NeighborGoods is currently in limited beta in Southern California.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Slow Money: A New Community Movement Is Picking Up Steam

June 11, 2010
The Fiscal Times

Two years of global economic shocks, a whipsawing stock market, a credit crisis, and revelations of mismanagement and corruption at the heart of the nation’s financial system have catalyzed a fledgling nationwide movement to “slow money down” and put it to work close to home.

Making it easy for people to invest in their local economies is the holy grail for Woody Tasch, a Santa Fe-based venture capitalist and author of /Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered/. Two years ago, he founded the nonprofit Slow Money Alliance , in response to the economic meltdown and what he calls “the nuclear explosion in complexity and volatility of financial products” that precipitated it.

Using the tenets of the slow food movement (buy local produce, take time to prepare and savor meals at home), the Alliance’s small network of investors, entrepreneurs and ordinary citizens are devising ways to get investment capital flowing to local, small food enterprises. The modest goal: to get a million Americans investing 1 percent of their assets in local food systems within a decade.

Call it nurture capital.

Why food enterprises? Tasch believes they will yield stronger local economies, a healthier environment, and improved supplies of affordable, healthful food.

“Right now, money goes zooming around the planet, invested in distant, large-scale, complicated things,” he says. “You can add four layers of noncorrelating razzmatazz to securities, they’re still just money circulating between different classes of investors.” Slow Money, he asserts, is a kind of antidote; investing in things close to home that you can understand.

At the first Slow Money conference last year in Santa Fe, four companies received a total of $265,000 from a group of individual investors. Among the recipients: the Carrot Project, which makes loans to small organic farmers in New England; and Gather, an organic restaurant of locally sourced foods, where the banquettes are covered with recycled leather belts.

If all goes well, Tasch believes such investments would deliver returns in the low single digits over a number of years. But these investments would offer the added dividend of what Tasch calls “true diversity” — diversity that comes from promoting small local farms and related businesses, as an alternative to industrial agriculture's millions of acres of single-variety corn and soybeans, for example.

The expected low single-digit returns, however, may not cut it for most investors who expect their money to work harder than a certificate of deposit. Slow Money is still a few years away from directly funding anything (currently membership is about 1,100, with 180 founding members who have contributed $1,000 each), so time will tell if investors accept social good as sufficient dividend.

What’s more, investing in small companies can be risky. “The risk with a small local company is disproportionate to any potential return,” says Matt McGrath, a financial planner with Evensky & Katz in Coral Gables, Fla. “There’s a greater chance the company could go under.”

*Raising Nurture Capital
*Michael Shuman, director for research and economic development at the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies , points to growing evidence that every dollar spent at a locally owned business generates two to four more times economic benefit—measured in local income, jobs and tax revenue—than a dollar spent at a globally owned business.

Eventually, Slow Money advocates hope to create regional slow money funds that would connect local people to local food enterprises needing investment. Other pilot projects include offering slow money tax-exempt municipal bonds to fund a diversified portfolio of local food ventures; and a slow money short-term bond, developed with the Calvert Foundation, which is partly funded by Calvert Group, a mutual fund company specializing in socially responsible investments.

*Beyond the Dollar
*Local currencies, which briefly flourished in this country when federal dollars were in short supply during the Depression, are one way of getting money re-circulating within communities. Some of these local currency systems, meant mainly for transactions among individuals, involve forms of barter, where you receive local currency in exchange for a service or good you provide. Other systems involve notes that can be exchanged for federal dollars, and can be spent at any local business that accepts them.

One of the more sophisticated networks, and the largest of its kind in the country, is BerkShares , begun four years ago in the Berkshires region of Western Massachusetts. BerkShares founder, Susan Witt, says the program was initiated in 2006, before the global meltdown, as a way to build wealth locally in a region that “sees more tax dollars flow out than come back into it.”

The notes — printed in 1, 5, 10, 20, and 50 denominations—feature local heroes including W.E. DuBois and Norman Rockwell. BerkShares can only be spent at the almost 400 area businesses that formally accept them, and in another 200 home-based businesses that also take them.

And yes, the IRS gets its share. When someone pays for goods or services with local money, the income to the business is taxable, says Ed Collom, a University of Maine sociologist who has studied local currencies. For accounting purposes, the discount is shown as a business expense, like a credit card fee, and the total is taken from profit at the end of the year in determining a business's federal and state income taxes.

“We’ve had nonstop requests from other communities asking how to do this,” says Witt, who says that since its start in 2006, $2.6 million worth of BerkShares have gone out and she estimates about $130,000 is currently in circulation in a region of about 19,000 year-round people. “The current economic situation is demanding a response, and citizens are stepping up,” she says.

*“Comfort Dollars” Save a Business
*John Halko, chef and owner of Comfort Lounge, an organic restaurant in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, had no choice but to step up. Two years ago, when he was halfway through the renovation of an expanded space for his original 14-table café, his home equity line of credit ran out. (Small businesses are often, funded with credit cards and home equity lines; in the past two years, more than $1.5 trillion in credit card lines have been cut.) Unable to get a loan, he raised the money himself by printing his own currency, in the form of a swipable card, called “Comfort Dollars,” and sold them to his customers. They were an instant hit. For every dollar spent on a card, the customer received $1.20 worth of credit at either restaurant—a 20 percent rate of return.

“I’ve been told I’m the best thing that ever happened to Hastings, and I knew at one point I’d want to give back,” says Halko, who raised nearly $40,000. “The Comfort Dollars were sort of giving back, and the customers were giving to me.” No longer in need of financial support, he’s no longer offering the cards. In spite of offers to expand to other locations, he’s staying small and local for now.

The Central Bank of Ecuador Supports Complementary Currency Development

The Complementary Currency Program

Fundación Pachamama and the Central Bank of Ecuador jointly organized a workshop on complementary currency systems that was held on June 3 and 4 in the headquarters of the Central Bank in Quito. Ultimately the goal is to develop new economic models for rural development including new exchange networks and alternative, complementary currency systems, which will help people in Ecuador get access to credit and promote local production, consumption and trade.

The workshop, called “Systems of Alternative Pay and Means of Complementary Pay,” was held to strengthen the conceptual understanding of the diverse methods of complementary currency systems and the key elements for implementing a system on a national level. In addition, the workshop aimed to explain the workings of a successful model developed in Uruguay (called C3U), and the advantages of creating and applying this system. Finally, the workshop aspired to establish work links between administrative organizations and Uruguay project architects with the Central Bank of Ecuador and Fundación Pachamama.

The first day was a planning meeting with personnel of the Central Bank; Javier Félix, advisor from Fundación Pachamama, and the invited participants from Uruguay; Fernando Cetrulo from Foundation STRO Uruguay and Enrique Baraibar, from the Direction of Development Projects of the Uruguayan Presidency. The workshop began with various presentations from the different projects of the Central Bank, discussing alternatives to economic policies with complementary payment means and compensation systems, and the C3U model. Conceptual input was given to widen the vision of those charged with the diverse projects of the Central Bank, based on the experience of peers from Uruguay.

On the second day, the workshop was opened to the public, including members from the Ecuadorian State, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, directors of Savings and Credit Cooperatives, and other organizations related to the Solidarity Economy, and university students studying economics in Quito.

The workshop achieved the planned objectives and culminated with the signature of a cooperation agreement between the Central Bank of Ecuador, Fundación Pachamama, the STRO Foundation, and the Direction of Development Projects of the Uruguayan Presidency, recognizing the importance of the development of alternative currency methods for the participating institutions. This agreement lays the groundwork for cooperation between all the participants for implementing alternative currency methods that benefit an improved distribution of wealth, employment generation, economic stability, and social development for Latin American countries.

Friday, June 11, 2010

New Economics Institute Founding Meeting

On June 5th the New Economics Institute held its founding meeting. Guests
helped imagine the future of the Institute -- its vision, its programs, the
urgency of its realization. Members of the board of directors outlined
future projects:

1. Launching a new economic model of an economy that works and thrives
despite dwindling resources (Gus Speth).
2. Developing the Happy Planet Index as a better measure of success (Stewart
3. Developing new economic teaching materials that break the stranglehold of
the old economics (Neva Goodwin).
4. Using Vermont as a model for rebuilding our economies, one neighborhood
at a time (Will Raap).
5. Modeling new ownership options that change the meaning of work and the
role of the worker (Gar Alperovitz).
6. Bringing the case for a new economics into mainstream thinking and
action. (David Boyle).

Shifting mainstream economics is a huge task. It will take significant
resources to accomplish. We need your support financially
( and we need your help telling
the story of a new economics, raising awareness, and activating a movement
of change.

Opening remarks from the founding meeting are excerpted below.

Yours truly,
Susan Witt, Stefan Apse, and Kate Poole
Staff of New Economics Institute
formerly the E. F. Schumacher Society
140 Jug End Road
Great Barrington, MA USA

Board of Directors: Gar Alperovitz, Jessica Brackman, Eric Harris-Braun,
John Fullerton, Neva Goodwin, Hildegarde Hannum, Dan Levinson, Richard
Norgaard, David Orr, Constance Packard, Will Raap, Gus Speth, Peter Victor,
and Stewart Wallis.
Advisory Board: Peter Barnes, Merrian Fuller, Bill McKibben, Otto Scharmer,
Doug Tompkins, and Robert Wade.

* * * * * * * * *
New Economics Institute
Founding Meeting

In his theory of art the painter Wassily Kandinsky stated that every great
work of art must have three elements: something that arises out of the
artist¹s personal circumstances and his or her character; something
representative of the spirit of the time and place, reflecting the struggles
of a people in an era; and something universal that will speak to what lies
common in all humankind throughout the ages.

I'd say that every great organization must have the same three
elements--something that evolves out of its particular circumstances and the
people involved in it; a mission that addresses the most critical problems
of the times; yet all the while staying true to the universal values that
inspire and direct us all.

We are gathered today as the E. F. Schumacher Society transitions to a new
form as the New Economics Institute. It is an appropriate evolution for the
Society that for thirty years has stewarded in a small way a large mission
and intellectual heritage. Our websites last year totaled seven million
hits. Our local economic programs have gained wide media attention. The
broadly circulated Schumacher lectures collectively tell a story of a new
approach to economics. Yet we are too small to take advantage of the
opportunity this attention offers. Thus, the board of directors has entered
an agreement to partner with the New Economics Foundation
(, one of Europe¹s most effective economic think tanks,
to bring the power and depth of its programs to the United States. The
evolution of the organization is possible only because of the mature stage
of its development and because of the experience and vision of its
remarkable board of directors.

This transition comes at a most critical time in our economic history, a
time of disillusionment and failure of existing systems. It has always
seemed to me that the destiny of America is in the economic sphere as its
designer and driver. As a people we are comfortable in this sphere of
producing and trading and buying. It is our element. And it is our destiny
to shape our economics either for greatness or for limited ends. History
will judge us on how we do it. The New Economics Institute emerges at this
particular time in our history to help shape and lead the implementation of
a new economics so urgently needed.

Though the medium of this new Institute is economics, its work is informed
more broadly. It was Martin Buber, the great Hasidic writer, who described
the task of human beings on earth as nothing less than striving to raise the
sleeping spirit from stone to plant, from plant to animal, from animal to
speaking being. He would have our every action permeated by this intent.

What is economics at its core but a system for organizing human labor to
transform the earth into products for one another? The outcome of that
transformation can either degrade or enhance all involved; the nature of our
economic institutions determines which it will be. If we accept Martin
Buber's admonition, then it is our responsibility‹our spiritual task, if you
will‹to create an economic system that embodies our highest ideals as human
beings, one that builds community, advances ecological health, creates
beauty, provides sustainability, and encourages mutuality.

This is the task that the New Economics Institute is setting itself. This is
the work we are asking you to join us in undertaking.

Susan Witt
Interim Executive Director
New Economics Institute

2 Day Timebank Training at the US Social Forum

Register here

TimeBanks USA has teamed up with the Michigan Alliance of TimeBanks to present a regional TimeBanking Training for 2 full days on June 26th and 27th.

Why you should come:

These are tough times. Find the Wealth of your community and discover what it takes to rear healthy children, preserve families, care for the frail, redress justice, build community, sustain democracy, create inclusion and generate well-being.

What you can expect:

Expect to be informed, excited, and inspired. Expect to take part in TimeBank simulations, exercises and games. Expect to hear powerful stories of people who have made TimeBanking work for their communities and organizations. Expect to envision possibilities with people who are passionate - like you! Expect to be ready to take action, and for others to take it with you, step by learning step.

NEW!! A limited number of SCHOLARSHIPS are now available. Please click here to apply by JUNE 15.

Training Schedule: Detroit

Saturday, June 26

Session I: A Wealth of Possibilities, 9:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.

Participate in a Group Simulation. Apply the core principles of TimeBanking, and experience how individuals, groups and organizations earn and spend Time Dollars to match unused talents and resources with unmet needs.

Session II: Get Organized, 1:30 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Learn critical “must-knows” about TimeBanking, including developing membership and the key elements for visioning and planning a TimeBank.

Sunday, June 27

Session III: A Wealth of Experience, 9:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.

Meet members of the TimeBanks USA Ambassador Corps and other TimeBank practitioners from across the United States through a series of small group discussions. Hear their stories up close, and find out the many ways in which TimeBanking has been applied to meet different goals in different communities.

Session IV: Get Connected, 1:30 - 5:00 p.m.

Connect with others who share your interests or who live in your geographic area, and discuss ways to expand and strengthen your work.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Unplugged

Editor's note: I wish many more entrepreneurs would take heed from this lesson. On a tangential note, I was speaking with someone yesterday about why alternative currencies have been able to take root more easily in poorer countries. I don't think it is just that they are desperate and don't have a good source of currency, it is also that even in poor countries more people own their own houses, land, and other assets, either individually and communally. It is incredibly challenging to get alternative currencies to circulate through entities (especially corporate banks and governments) that have control over our assets, when they will only accept dollars. They won't accept anything else lest they lose their control to some extent. So if we move to a way of live where we have fewer assets, but outright own all of them, we will have more control over our currencies, our energy flows, our lives, our resources, and lot more. To the extent that our lives do not depend on the dominant system is the extent to which real change - political, economic, ecological, social, spiritual - is possible.

By Vinay Gupta

The author of this fiction, Vinay Gupta, is the creator of the Hexayurt, a real-life, inexpensive disaster relief shelter that embodies and anticipates many of the ideas in this piece.

A Video News Report from 2030....

Anchor: Touting their movement as a combination of the economic theories of Mahatma Gandhi and the political science of Buckminster Fuller, the Unplugged have now reduced the environmental impact of the United States of America by 8 percent over their 15-year program.

Opponents of the movement call Unplugging an unscientific and cult-like political movement, but proponents say that "Unplugging" was the best decision they ever made. Let's hear from Jack Houston, a former investment banker...

Cuts to video

[Screen opens to Jack Huston, a muscular early-40s New Yorker.]

Presenter: Jack, could you explain what Unplugging did for you?

Jack: Well, first we've got to cover briefly how Unplugging works. The core of the theory is that we can all live off the interest generated by our savings, or the profits from our investments, if we possess enough capital - and generations of Capitalists have dreamed of "getting off at the top" - making enough money to cash out of the workplace and live as they like for the rest of their lives.

Presenter: But what does that have to do with living in a housing pod in the middle of Oregon?

Jack: Well, it comes down to the nature of capital. Wealth stored as dollars was essentially a share in America's national economy - a credit note backed by the US Government. But Buckminster Fuller showed us that wealth-as-money was a specialized subset of Wealth - the ability to sustain life.

To "get off at the top" requires millions and millions of dollars of stored wealth. Exactly how much depends on your lifestyle and rate of return, but it's a lot of money, and it's volatile depending on economic conditions. A crash can wipe out your capital base and leave you helpless, because all you had was shares in a machine.

So we Unpluggers found a new way to unplug: an independent life-support infrastructure and financial architecture - a society within society - which allowed anybody who wanted to "buy out" to "buy out at the bottom" rather than "buying out at the top."

If you are willing to live as an Unplugger does, your cost to buy out is only around three months of wages for a factory worker, the price of a used car. You never need to "work" again--that is, for money which you spend to meet your basic needs. However, there are plenty of life support activities to keep you busy, and a lot of basic research and science to do. Unplugging is not an off-the-shelf solution, it's a research career!

Presenter: So tell us about your house over here? It looks pretty weird!

Jack: Unpluggers don't have our own manufacturing facilities for these yet, so we shop them out to fabs in Turkey. The shell is aluminum and aerogel, 50 percent collector panels, 12 volt appliance wiring, super-insulated windows with liquid crystal shades for internal temperature control. Heat comes from either a wood stove or a peltier solid state heat pump running off ground heat, depending on how much power we need. Cooling, similarly. We cook in the solar oven on the side sometimes, but mainly on woodgas or in the microwave.

The houses - or "Pods" as you call them - have a reputation as being "one size fits all poorly" but, in fact we found that 90 percent of people got on very well with one of three basic designs. The economies of scale made mass manufacture of those models more cost effective but people still do custom work for about one unit in ten.

We're working towards local fabs for a lot of this stuff now, but that's hard to organize without winding up with internal industries which run on grid power and commercial supply chains, both of which are no-nos for our way of life: you can't be an alternative if you still rely on the industrial infrastructure for your basic daily lifestyle needs. So we build the housing pods in Turkey as part of the "Final Purchase" process - where a person becoming an unplugger buys their home, tools and land, to support them and their family for the rest of their life, and then disconnects from the national economy.

It's not perfect. We're still using the resources of the industrial world to disconnect from it. But until we have green fabs for the collector panels and other necessities, it's what we have to do.

Presenter: Can you explain what this has to do with Fuller and Gandhi?

Jack: Gandhi's model of "self-sufficiency" is the goal: the freedom that comes from owning your own life support system outright is immense. It allows us to disconnect from the national economy as a way of solving the problems of our planet one human at a time. But Gandhi's goals don't scale past the lifestyle of a peasant farmer and many westerners view that way of life as unsustainable for them personally: I was not going to sell my New York condo and move to Oregon to live in a hut, you know?

Presenter: Ok.... with you so far.... what about Fuller?

Jack: Gandhi's Goals, Fuller's Methods, if you like.

Fuller's "do more with less" was a method we could use to attain self-sufficiency with a much lower capital cost than "buy out at the top." An integrated, whole-systems-thinking approach to a sustainable lifestyle - the houses, the gardening tools, the monitoring systems - all of that stuff was designed using inspiration from Fuller and later thinkers inspired by efficiency. The slack - the waste - in our old ways of life were consuming 90 percent of our productive labor to maintain.

A thousand dollar a month combined fuel bill is your life energy going down the drain because the place you live sucks your life way in waste heat, which is waste money, which is waste time. Your car, your house, the portion of your taxes which the Government spends on fuel, on electricity, on waste heat... all of the time you spent to earn that money is wasted to the degree those systems are inefficient systems, behind best practices!

Presenter: Wow! So tell us about the Humane Human Footprint.

Jack: The Human Footprint is simple: it's the share of the world's resources you can use without really harming anybody simply by existing. We call it the Human Footprint as opposed to the Inhuman Footprint. You take the sustainable harvest of the earth - the bounty we can consume without reducing next year's harvest or reducing the resilience of the earth in other ways - and your share of that is one Human Footprint. The earth's Wealth - its life-giving power - is like a trust fund split between seven billion humans and a gazillion other living creatures. That which consumes more than its share is defrauding all the rest of their right to life. And this isn't religion, this is common sense: if there are winners and losers, we're in a race for survival. If there are only winners, we're all artists, scientists, lovers and scholars.

I know how I want to live.

Presenter: So how close to your Human Footprint are you, Jack?

[Jack looks uncomfortable.]

Presenter: I've heard five times over is a typical number for Unpluggers...

Jack: Well, it depends how you measure it but yes, about that. I have three children, so my family footprint is about 11.2x HF but my personal footprint is about 7.3x. I'm working on it, though. It's hard to make the adjustment, and we only have a few tens of thousands of people at 1.0x or lower.

Presenter: So let's talk politics. Unplugging is also a political movement - you yourself are mayor of a township here, and your "town" is the local Unplugger population plus a few hold outs in ghost suburbs east of here. Why play at politics if all you wanted to do was drop off the Grid?

Jack: Because political assumptions wire everything. Building codes dictate how you can build, which dictates the size of your housing cost, which is the primary factor in your Unplug Cost. Our sanitary systems are greatly more effective than those of the Grid but, because we fertilize food with human waste after extracting what energy we can from it, some say our food isn't suitable for human consumption - even though, in fact, there is no scientific evidence what-so-ever of any disease organisms in the fertilizer stream. Just the idea of fertilizing using processed human waste freaks people out, even though it is how humans always lived. And this pattern repeats for water, our medical practices, all of it. You would think that preventative medicine was a crime!

Because we are different, the existing legal infrastructure works against us at every hand and turn. To create change, we have to play politics. But we are careful to simply use our small-but-growing clout to open doors for our chosen lifestyle, not to close doors on other people's choices. We aren't ecostalinists. Gandhi's approach: voluntary enlistment in the army of truth, if you want to think about it that way, has proven to be the only effective model of political change which is consistent with all of our shared values. We embrace some parts of Gandhi's model more than others - as with Bucky - but you can't argue with the historical success of his approach: India, South Africa, America, Poland, Mexico... the list goes on.

Presenter: Even my kids have an Obey Emperor Gandhi bumper sticker. What's that about?

Jack: It's an Unplugger joke. We call Gandhi "Emperor Gandhi" because in our way of looking at things, he was the political leader of India - a network of Kingdoms - and therefore technically he was an Emperor [laughs]. In that role, he organized collective defense against the invasion of India by raising a volunteer army of people who bought nothing from the invading colonials, made salt, and got beaten while maintaining rigid discipline - just like an army. All they did not do was leave home or use violent methods to resist their invaders. The fact Gandhi himself didn't own much of anything and advised self-reliance as a keystone of freedom makes him the John Locke of our movement. But we don't take the Emperor Gandhi thing seriously, you know. It's just a bit of our cultural humor.

Presenter: The threat of "Mom, keep yelling at me and I'll get a job delivering chinese food and then Unplug when I've saved up!" has kept many a parent up at night...

Jack: Unplugging isn't really something you can sustain from youthful rebellion: kids who don't choose this way of life for themselves as adults are usually really poor Unpluggers - they don't take soil metrics seriously, they don't really understand the invest-in-your-lands model of labor, and so on. It's not really something for punks and anarchists, even though there is superficial appeal.

Presenter: There's a lot of science here!

Jack: Oh yes. We monitor everything we have proved pays, and more: soil bacteria genetics, nutrient levels in the soil, nematode populations, you name it. We have such excellent yields and pest control because we don't move around much - we get to know our land as scientists and artists and designers - we share knowledge and models.

Of course, not everybody contributes equally to this knowledge base - I have a neighbor who is a molecular biology professor by (former-) trade and, well, I use his numbers a lot [grins]. But we all do what we can, and the results are proof that our farming techniques - "high monitoring biointensive agriculture" or "Technical Permaculture" depending on where you live and which school you follow - our farming methods work, and will continue to work for at least a few hundred to a few tens of thousands of years.

And that's enough for us: leave it to our children to figure out how to get their own lives to be even more integrated morally, ethically and socially.

Presenter: Some say that Unplugging is a cult because of your "Unplugger Morals" doctrines...

Jack: Acting as if the god in all life mattered is radical politics. But we have people from every faith and tradition living as Unpluggers, as well as those with no beliefs but a deep moral conviction that this is the right thing to do. But as with Satyagraha - Gandhi's social change approach - this takes everything you have and more and you can't do it without a solid internal framework, a deeply personal commitment to this as Right Action in a Buddhist sense, as Dharma from a Hindu perspective, as The Life Divine if you are a Christian. We have radical Benedictine monks - on the edge of getting booted out of the Catholic Church - who have updated the lifestyle passed down from Benedict himself to use Unplugger Farming and who became part of the Unplugger Community as a result. But we also have anarchosyndicalist atheists.

All it takes is a belief you can act on which helps you make personal changes for global reasons. And a political faith isn't usually enough to do that, but it can be. Religion has proven over time that it can move people in ways that nothing else can, and Unplugging is the biggest change a society can make.

Living up to your values is hard. Faith helps some people do it, so we tend to see more of those kinds of people making the switch. It's just a selection bias.

Presenter: What do you mean "a change that society can make?"

Jack: Unpluggers now constitute 5 percent of the United States population. At first, we were the very ideologically motivated, and there was a lot of interface with older communitarian groups and prior generations who had attempted to make this transition.

But as we became more defined, and our thinkers elucidated our case more clearly - as our farmer-scientists began to really get the yields predicted in theory, on a per-square-foot basis... it became clear that we were talking about a partial solution to the problems that have faced the human race from the beginning of time: how do I live myself, and how does my family live.

And a society is just individuals and families, and sometimes families of families, all the way up to States and Governments and the International Agencies and so on. If you solve the problem for a single family, and it's something which can compete in the evolutionary marketplace of ideas, then eventually you can solve the entire problem.

You know why GDP has gone down 20 percent because of Unplugging? Unpluggers are entrepreneurs. We used to start businesses because we wanted to buy out at the top of the game, now we usually buy a fairly lavish Pod, and some really, really good quality land, unplug by 30, and some of us expect to spend the rest of our lives learning, teaching and exploring what it is to be alive. Farming five or six hours a day seems like a lot of work, but you do it with friends, and you're doing science and research some of the time, and you eat what you make. The basic activities of life are so much more satisfying that earn-and-spend-and-eat-carry-out when you actually respect them as basic human activities, as links we share with everything that is alive.

Presenter: Tell me about the Endowment.

Jack: The Endowment is how we help the poor to Unplug, and it is easily the most controversial part of our program. We encourage the developing world to Unplug as the ultimate form of Leapfrogging: skip hypercapitalism and anarchocapitalism and democratic socialism entirely and jump directly to Unplugging. Many Unpluggers take their excess capital, keep investing it in the system, and use the proceeds to fund private Unplugging programs. Others simply took their capital and added it to funds managed by a Grameen-bank like institution called the Unplugging Bank which lends people money to unplug, and has them pay for their Pods by selling excess farm goods and teaching agriculture for us. The leverage of these approaches has yet to be verified but - judging by the political repression of Unpluggers in China and India and some parts of Africa - judging by that resistance, I think we are going to be successful.

As the Mahatma said: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."

Software used to be an industry, you know?

Presenter: Thank you, Jack, for telling us about your life.