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.
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 the 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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