Community Currencies — Questions and Answers

I receive a steady stream of requests for information and advice, which I’m not able to address as fully as I might like. For the most part, the answers that people seek have already been expressed in my various writings, presentation and interviews. Still, I understand and share the desire to save time and effort by finding shortcuts to enlightenment. So I take these inquiries as opportunities to rethink and work out better ways of explaining the ideas I’ve been trying to get across for many years.

Thinking that many of my followers might benefit from my recent responses, I’ve compiled some of them to share in this document.
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Q1: What is money and what is its purpose?

A: Money is a credit instrument that facilitates the exchange of value.
That’s a simply as I can state it.

Q2: Who can or should issue a currency?

A: Any business can issue a currency (essentially an IOU) to suppliers, who are willing to accept it. But to make it credible and acceptable to them, the issuer must be ready, willing, and able to redeem it in a timely manner. They redeem it by accepting it back as payment for the goods or services they sell. That’s all there is to it. But, it’s better if a group of sellers do this together with other others rather than singly. That can be done by organizing a mutual credit clearing circle (trade exchange) as I’ve described in numerous writings and presentations, e.g., Credit Clearing – Pure and Simple.

Q3: Why do communities adopt their own currencies?

A: There are various reasons why communities adopt their own currencies and there are various ways of issuing them.

Most of the hundreds of community currencies that have been issued over the past three decades in various places around the world have had the avowed purpose of keeping money circulating locally instead of “leaking out” to the wider world. The idea is that if money can be kept circulating within the community it will enable a greater number of local business transactions leading to greater community prosperity.

Most of these currencies have been backed by conventional money. That is all well and good, and there are various conditions and procedures that can be employed to maximize the impact, as I have described in my recent article, Monetary alchemy: how to turn bad money into good.

Another reason why communities issue their own currencies is to create “home grown liquidity,” i.e., to make up for the failure of the banking system to provide adequate amounts of exchange media to local businesses, especially the small and medium sized enterprises that for the backbone of every community economy. This type of currency is not backed by conventional money, but by the goods and services that local businesses stand ready, willing and able to sell. This type of currency may sometimes be spent into circulation by a single business then accepted back as payment for the merchandise it sell, but more typically, it will take the form of “trade credits” issued within a cooperative trading circle comprised of several hundred businesses and/or individuals. Illustrative of this are the scores of commercial trade exchanges that are operating in countries around the world, and the grassroots trade networks known as LETS, Local exchange trading system. For a comparison of the effectiveness of different models of currency and exchange systems, see my article, Local Currencies—what works; what doesn’t?

Q4: Do community currencies generally exist to solve a particular problem? In the case of Tenino, WA, I know the money is going primarily to low-income residents, but I’m curious why specifically they’re being given a local currency instead of cash aid in US dollars.

A: Yes, as described above, community currencies generally exist to enable more local transactions and/or to make up for the shortage of official exchange media (dollars).

I had not heard of the Tenino currency before, but after reading the article about it in the Seattle Times I understand that it is a dollar backed voucher currency in which theTenino2020 dollars are provided as a grant from the city government to eligible recipients. The city government may have their own reasons for giving out “a local currency instead of cash aid in US dollars,” but a couple obvious advantages of the local currency are that (1) it can circulate numerous times before being redeemed for dollars, giving a boost to the local economy, and (2) restrictions can be placed on how recipients can spend it. In the Tenino case, according to the Seattle Times, the local currency cannot be used to purchase alcohol, tobacco or marijuana. Of course some clever people will likely find ways to circumvent that restriction.

There are other restrictions that I would suggest be applied to maximize the benefits that derive from such a currency. These relate to who is allowed to redeem it for dollars (e.g., only local business operators), when they are allowed to redeem it (perhaps several months or years in the future), and on what terms (maybe at a 10% discount from face value). Each of these would encourage the local currency to change hands many more times and thus provide a greater stimulus to the local economy.

Q5: Does Tenino’s model resemble any other community currencies you’re aware of? How do these currencies differ from each other, generally?

The Tenino currency resembles a great many other local currencies around the world that are all backed by conventional money and follow the ‘convertible local currency’ (CLC) model. Examples include the Bristol Pound and Brixton Pound in the UK, Toronto Dollars and Salt Spring Island Dollars in Canada, and Berkshares in the US.

Further, Salt Spring Island Dollars and Tenino currency both have appeal as collectibles and will never be redeemed for dollars, thus providing a windfall profit for the community.

Q6: Many currencies base their value on how the public perceives its value. For example, the US dollar is the world’s most accepted currencies because people know they can spend it in most places. How do you convince individuals and businesses to use it and trust it?

A: Political currencies, like the US dollar, have the support of their governments and central banks. The US dollar has the “full faith and credit” of the US government behind it and it must be accepted “for all debts, public and private.” These are the factors that cause it to be generally acceptable as payment. As the global reserve currency, the US dollar is in high demand among the banks and governments of other countries, despite the fact of rapidly rising UD government debt and the dollar’s continual loss of purchasing power.

Community currencies do not have those same advantages so they must stand on their own feet as credible credit instruments. What makes such a currency credible, sound, and acceptable in trade is its redeemability either in conventional money, or in goods and/or services that are generally desired and needed.

Q7: If a community currency wants to survive for the long-term, what does it need to do?

To survive long-term, a community currency must be issued into circulation on a sound basis or foundation; it must be usable as payment for a wide variety of essential goods and services; it must be have the support of the local business community.

Specific design and operation details are provided in my various writings and presentations, including my article, How to Bring Liquidity Into an Economy, Free of Interest, Inflation, and Boom and Bust Cycles, and my most recent book, The End of Money and the Future of Civilization.

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After the Great Pause–toward a New Society

Recent events have made it clear that there is no going “back to normal.” It seems to me that in this time of flux there are many possibilities, but I think they boil down to two fundamental choices. The world can continue on the trajectory of increasing concentrations of power and wealth, and dominance of the many by the few, or society can begin to decentralize and move toward community empowerment and local control.

Many are calling for people to embrace “a new human story founded on the principles of connection and diversity” and argue that such a story is already emerging.

The upcoming online event called World Localization Day promises to move our collective consciousness in that direction. I’ve already registered to participate and suggest that others do likewise. It will be happening next Sunday, June 21. This global event will be streamed three times: starting at 4pm in Sydney, 4pm in New York and 4pm in London. Registration fees are on a sliding scale, or even free for those with scant means.

As the website says:
After COVID-19, we can return to stressful disconnected lives and climate catastrophe, or we can slow down, scale down and rebuild our connections to each other and to the Earth.

Check it out.

2020 May Newsletter

In this issue

  • What could be nicer than this?
  • Planet of the Humans
  • The Need to GROW
  • Trade Exchanges and Credit clearing are No Longer Experiments, They’re Mainstream Business

There is so much going on these days, and so much I want to share with you that I hardly know where to stop. Yet, I do not wish to overwhelm my readers, so I’m choosing to keep my newsletters short. Whether they also become more frequent will depend on my own state of overwhelm and how the spirit moves me in the weeks ahead. In this edition I’m starting off on a lighter note with an amusing presentation by one of my longtime favorite authors. Oh, and by the way, there’s nothing in here about Covid-19. That’s not for lack of serious concerns or important sources to share, but I think we all need to take a break from it, so I’ll leave that for next time when we’ll get into it big time.
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What could be nicer than this?

Take a few minutes to relax and be amused. Whether or not you’ve ever been a fan of Kurt Vonnegut, as I have, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this lecture he gave in 2004 on the Shape of Stories.
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Planet of the Humans

This new and controversial documentary by Jeff Gibbs and Michael Moore lays out the hard, cold facts about our energy intensive way of living and the implausibility of renewable energy sources ever being able to replace fossil fuels. The inevitable conclusions are that we humans need to reduce our energy consumption, stop the growth of our population, and start making better public policy choices regarding infrastructure and technologies.

But vested interests have refused to believe the obvious facts and are intent of continuing on the present path in order to protect their material fortunes. In Tucson, where I live, tens of millions of dollars are being wasted on road widening projects just to deliver traffic more quickly to the downtown bottlenecks, a policy that in the process has been killing off more pedestrians and bicyclists and raising noise pollution to maddening levels.

The film has been controversial because it argues that the much vaunted shift to renewable sources of energy is an illusory savior, and the mainstream environmental organizations have been largely co-opted by corporate interests.  The movie is freely available for viewing at https://planetofthehumans.com/.

Among those featured in the film is energy and climate expert, Richard Heinberg of the Postcarbon Institute. Heinberg’s review of the film provides a more nuanced picture of our energy future and I encourage everyone to read it. The bottom line for me is my long held belief that there is no techno-fix maintain that will allow us to maintain the profligate ways of our current civilization, and that is a good thing because we are presently face with a multi-dimensional mega-crisis that is forcing us to transition to a different way of living that does not promote endless economic growth. I’ve also been arguing for a long time that we need to get off this perpetual growth spiral and shift our efforts away from ever increasing consumption and toward a Butterfly Economy that is in harmony with nature. If we do not make the necessary changes in the way we live, nature will do it for us.
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The Need to GROW

Speaking of living in harmony with nature, one of the most important things that we can do is to change the way we grow our food. This award winning documentary shows that it is possible. There are viable alternatives to industrial agriculture that are not only capable of producing an abundance of more nutritious food, but of saving the planet in the process. Get it here.
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Trade Exchanges and Credit clearing are No Longer Experiments, They’re Mainstream Business

This opinion piece by Paul Brandus appeared recently on the MarketWatch website: How small businesses can stay afloat during the pandemic without government help.

While still often referred to as “barter exchanges,” the scores of commercial trade exchanges operating around the world enable their business members to transact billions of dollars worth of purchases and sales annually without using conventional money. How do they do that? As I’ve been explaining for many years, established business members are given an internal line of credit in proportion to their sales volume, thus creating a new form of liquidity within the exchange that is independent of bank borrowing and conventional money.

The proliferation of trade exchange networks is a fundamental necessity in rebuilding the economy to be more resilient, fair, and democratic, and preserving the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that are the backbone of every community economy and political democracy.
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Monday, May 25 was Memorial Day in the United States. It is a day when we remember and honor all those who have fought and died in our many wars. Let us also remember the horror and utter waste that is the essence of war, and resolve to put an end to it forever.

Thomas

My latest article in Medium

The global money system: not the kind of normal we should get back to describes the urgency, and the opportunity, of ushering in a new, more equitable and sustainable economy based on the deployment of the innovative mechanisms of exchange and finance that I have long advocated. We need to ask ourselves what it is that keeps us on the treadmill. We try to get ahead but so often we end up simply standing still or falling farther behind. We are all chasing after that thing that everyone demands from us–money. The problem is that there is never enough money in the right places to fairly distribute the vast amount of wealth that the economy produces. What if we could all stop chasing after money? Money scarcity is an artifact of the interest-based, debt-money regime. Better means of exchange are available; we simply need to organize and use them.

A Conversation About the Dysfunctions of Money, and the Need for Decentralized Exchange Alternatives

This conversation, sponsored by the Praxis Peace Institute, is Episode 8 in our podcast series. It was recorded on April 10, 2020 and covers such critical questions as:

  • What is the essence of money?
  • What are the functions of money?
  • Where does money come from?
  • How does money enter the economy?
  • Who controls the issuance and flow of money?
  • Why does total debt in the world keep growing?
  • Is the system of money, banking, and finance stable, fair, sustainable?
  • Are there better ways to “do” money?
  • Why have local currencies not been more successful?
  • Are there any success stories?
  • Is there a “magic formula” for making an alternative money system work?

It continues with a discussion of the history of local currency efforts in Sonoma County, California and a description of straight forward approaches to creating local liquidity that is independent of banks and conventional money.

Newsletter — Spring, 2020

  • My latest article, Riding the Populist Wave
  • The Economics of Peace, Justice and Sustainability
  • How can the next world war be averted?
  • System change demands economic change–building the Open Credit Network
  • Swami Beyondananda
  • Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard
  • The dangers of 5G wireless technology: Warnings from an industry insider

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My latest article,
Riding the Populist Wave

In my latest article I report that capitalists now admit that the system is “rigged” in their favor. I argue that Trump and Sanders represent two edges of the populist wave that is now dominating U.S. politics, that a Sanders win over Trump is entirely plausible, that the New Deal of FDR has been systematically dismantled and needs to be reestablished, and that in the long run people will need to work together in communities to build systems and structures that can circumvent the rigged system.

Here is an excerpt, but click here to read the entire article.

There, the capitalists are admitting it–the system is rigged.

In his latest newsletter, financial advisor, John Mauldin, Co-Founder of Mauldin Economics, acknowledges that the system is rigged in favor of the wealthy and powerful, and against everyone else, including the shrinking middle-class. Mauldin says:

The “financialization” of the American economy has led to increasing income and wealth disparity. As much as it pains me to say it, the “system” really is rigged. Whatever the good intentions of the Federal Reserve in particular and the US government in general have been, it has distorted the economic feedback loops that balance a true market-based economic system. The fact is we already have “socialism” today. It’s not the socialism we feared in 1974. We have socialized the risks of capitalism, to the benefit of a small portion of the country, while a larger portion struggles.

So, Mauldin admits what has been obvious for a long time, that the U.S. economy is characterized by socialism for the rich ruling class, and dog-eat-dog competition for everyone else. He cites this fact as the main reason why political outsider Donald Trump was elected President in 2016 and why “socialist” Bernie Sanders might conceivably be elected President in 2020. I agree.

So, what do Trump and Sanders have in common?

As I see it, both are viewed by the electorate as “populist,” which ostensibly means anti-elite, Trump representing right-wing populism and Sanders left-wing populism. But, except for paying lip service to a plan to shift U.S. foreign policy away from the imperial belligerence of the deep state, Trump’s actions as President belie any anti-elite sentiment. In fact, it’s been quite the opposite.

What people want is something other than the globalist, interventionist, imperialist policies of the past several decades that have wasted enormous amounts of resources, killed hundreds of thousands of people, destroyed communities and nations, and caused political upheaval around the world. People want relief from the economic policies that have favored capital over labor by increasing capital mobility while shifting jobs from the U.S. to low wage countries especially in Asia, and at the same time reduced constraints on banks and corporations, enabling them to more fully exploit people and the environment. … More…

The article has also been published on Medium and republished at OpEd News
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The Economics of Peace, Justice and Sustainability

This video was recently prepared by Ken Freeman based on a presentation I gave at the Economics of Peace Conference in Sonoma, California in October, 2009. My prescriptions for reclaiming the credit commons and creating a new “butterfly economy” remain completely relevant, and their implementation is becoming ever more urgent.
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How can the next world war can be averted?

If you want an answer to that, listen to this interview with Dr. Paul Craig Roberts’ on Ellen Brown’s podcast, Resolved for 2020: Come Together, starting around 21:20. The most interesting part of the interview is toward the end (at 45:50) where Dr. Roberts talks frankly about the current geopolitical situation and the response to his recent article, Putin’s Hour Is At Hand, which has gone viral around the world. If you can put aside any judgments you may have made about Putin and Russia based on the chorus of Russophobic rhetoric coming from the mainstream media you may learn something important.
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System change demands economic change, by Oliver Sylvester-Bradley

In this recent article, Oliver Sylvester-Bradley of the Open Coop, announces the alpha launch of the new web platform for the Open Credit Network (OCN), a cooperative mutual credit clearing system that enables the moneyless exchange of goods and services among its member businesses. The Open Credit Network has the potential to realize the ideals and processes that E.C. Riegel expounded and that I have been elaborating and refining for the past 40 years.
https://www.thealternative.org.uk/dailyalternative/2020/1/11/open-credit-network
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Swami  Beyondananda

Swami  Beyondananda (Steve Bhaerman) makes light of the heavy. An occasional dose of Swami’s wisdom can help to keep you sane in this insane world. https://wakeuplaughing.com/.

And check out Steve’s other website, https://wikipolitiki.com/, “Where left and right come front and center to face the music and dance together, to turn the funk into function and leave the junk at the junction”
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Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

This book by Chip and Dan Heath, rated at 4.5/5 stars on Amazon.com, is one of the most important books I’ve ever read. I read parts of it a few years ago and was quite impressed but too busy at the time to finish it. Recently, as I was scanning the shelves at my local public library I noticed the audio version of the book so I picked it up and checked it out. Over the past few weeks I’ve been listening to it in my car, a few minutes at a time as I travel about town. Whether the change one wishes to make is on a personal level, an organizational level, or the societal level, this book is a treasure trove that provides important insights and basic principles about how change happens, and numerous fascinating stories that illustrate their successful application. Whether your intention is to change yourself or to change the world, this book is essential reading (or listening). Find it at your public library or at your favorite bookseller.
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The dangers of 5G wireless technology: Warnings from an industry insider who tells it all.

In a recent message, long-time correspondent Ben Levi alerted me to a video by Frank Clegg, former President of Microsoft Canada, in which he talks about the dangers inherent in 5G/Wireless Technologies. This is something that must be taken seriously; evertyone’s health depends on it. You can view the video here. Ben also recommended an alternative to 5G that he is promoting and is described at http://www.safeg.net.
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As I write this the drama surrounding the Coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to intensify. Around the world events are being cancelled, people are limiting their movements and interpersonal contacts, and many spheres of routine activity are being disrupted. Can the spread of the virus be stopped or is it destined to become, like the flu, a universal and recurrent cause of disease? What will be its social, political, and economic implications? Is there a silver lining to this dark cloud? Time will tell.

Wishing you a healthy and happy Spring season,
Thomas

Riding the Populist Wave

This, my latest article, points out that capitalists now admit that the system is “rigged” in their favor; it argues that Trump and Sanders represent two edges of the populist wave that is now dominating U.S. politics, that a Sanders win over Trump is entirely plausible, that the New Deal of FDR has  been systematically dismantled and needs to be reestablished, and that in the long run people will need to work together in communities to build systems and structures that can circumvent the rigged system.

Here is an excerpt, but I hope you’ll read the entire article.

There, the capitalists are admitting it–the system is rigged.

In his latest newsletter, financial advisor, John Mauldin, Co-Founder of Mauldin Economics, acknowledges that the system is rigged in favor of the wealthy and powerful, and against everyone else, including the shrinking middle-class. Mauldin says:

The “financialization” of the American economy has led to increasing income and wealth disparity. As much as it pains me to say it, the “system” really is rigged. Whatever the good intentions of the Federal Reserve in particular and the US government in general have been, it has distorted the economic feedback loops that balance a true market-based economic system. The fact is we already have “socialism” today. It’s not the socialism we feared in 1974. We have socialized the risks of capitalism, to the benefit of a small portion of the country, while a larger portion struggles.

So, Mauldin admits what has been obvious for a long time, that the U.S. economy is characterized by socialism for the rich ruling class, and dog-eat-dog competition for everyone else. He cites this fact as the main reason why political outsider Donald Trump was elected President in 2016 and why “socialist” Bernie Sanders might conceivably be elected President in 2020. I agree.

So, what do Trump and Sanders have in common?

As I see it, both are viewed by the electorate as “populist,” which ostensibly means anti-elite, Trump representing right-wing populism and Sanders left-wing populism. But, except for paying lip service to a plan to shift U.S. foreign policy away from the imperial belligerence of the deep state, Trump’s actions as President belie any anti-elite sentiment. In fact, it’s been quite the opposite.

What people want is something other than the globalist, interventionist, imperialist policies of the past several decades that have wasted enormous amounts of resources, killed hundreds of thousands of people, destroyed communities and nations, and caused political upheaval around the world. People want relief from the economic policies that have favored capital over labor by increasing capital mobility while shifting jobs from the U.S. to low wage countries especially in Asia, and at the same time reduced constraints on banks and corporations, enabling them to more fully exploit people and the environment.
More…

A version of the article was also published on Medium and republished at OpEd News.

The Economics of Peace, Justice and Sustainability

This video is based on a presentation I gave at the Economics of Peace Conference in Sonoma, California in October, 2009. My prescriptions for reclaiming the credit commons and creating a new “butterfly economy” remain completely relevant, and their implementation is becoming ever more urgent.

A PDF of the slide show can be downloaded here.

Tulsi Gabbard calls for reforms of US voting system

These measures represent a step toward true democracy and a secure balloting system.

Open Primaries. Transitioning to open primaries in every state, away from our broken and egregiously expensive caucus system, and getting rid of the influence of superdelegates

Same-day Registration. Allowing same-day registration so every person gets to vote, regardless of how they choose to affiliate that election cycle

A paper ballot. Instituting a paper ballot system (or voter-verified paper backup) to keep our elections secure and free of foreign influence

Ranked-choice Voting. Introducing ranked choice voting at the national level, making sure no vote is ever wasted.

Automatic Voter Registration. Ensuring automatic voter registration for every person who turns 18 because there should be very few barriers to participating in democracy.

Make Election Day a Federal Holiday. We should reduce all barriers to performing one of our greatest civic duties.

Who else among the 2020 candidates is calling for such common sense changes? Who else is calling for an end to aggressive US foreign policy and regime-change wars? Who else has experienced first-hand the horrors of combat? Who else has sacrificed the fast-track to the top of the power pyramid in order to serve the common good?
See Tulsi’s website for more details.

The Exchange Revolution

In November of 2009, I gave a presentation at the conference on Michigan’s Future Energy, Economy & Environment, at Crystal Mountain Resort in Thompsonville, Michigan. More than 10 years later, this presentation is still timely.

Ken Freeman has recently augmented and adapted recordings of that presentation to produce this new video, titled, Exchange Revolution, which has now been posted on our Beyond Money Podcast site. It is a comprehensive description of the what and how of transcending the political fiat money regime, and building a new equitable system of value exchange.

It can also be found on YouTube at https://youtu.be/MvTMcvVzNuQ. The transcript can be found here.