06 April 2009

Alternative Currencies on the Rise

This citizen-driven movement has been around for decades, but the adoption and promotion of local currencies to boost local economies is seeing a rising wave of popularity lately. We can thank the global economic "crisis" for that.*
About a dozen communities have local currencies, says Susan Witt, founder of BerkShares in the Berkshires region of western Massachusetts. She expects more to do it.

Under the BerkShares system, a buyer goes to one of 12 banks and pays $95 for $100 worth of BerkShares, which can be spent in 370 local businesses. Since its start in 2006, the system, the largest of its kind in the country, has circulated $2.3 million worth of BerkShares. In Detroit, three business owners are printing $4,500 worth of Detroit Cheers, which they are handing out to customers to spend in one of 12 shops.

During the Depression, local governments, businesses and individuals issued currency, known as scrip, to keep commerce flowing when bank closings led to a cash shortage....

Pittsboro, N.C., is reviving the Plenty, a defunct local currency created in 2002. It is being printed in denominations of $1, $5, $20 and $50. A local bank will exchange $9 for $10 worth of Plenty.

"We're a wiped-out small town in America," says Lyle Estill, president of Piedmont Biofuels, which accepts the Plenty. "This will strengthen the local economy.... The nice thing about the Plenty is that it can't leave here."

If you're an anti-capitalist, then local currencies don't provide a solution. They're still currencies and still place a monetary value on goods and services - which I and the other WISE storytellers object to. But given that capitalism serves the elite (when propped up by corporate welfarism), it's not going anywhere soon.

Therefore, anything that promotes local economies is a good thing, since provincial and federal governments don't give a damn about municipal and regional pain.

People must act to rescue their communities. Creating and promoting a local currency is one step toward addressing that concern.

* Having lived through the 80s and 90s recessions, I do not consider this to be a "crisis." The 80s recession saw interest rates soaring to over 18%, high unemployment and a rapid, deep hit to the housing market. The 90s recession was shorter and not as painful as the 80s recession.

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