creating a system of community money, ithica HOURS
Here in Ithaca, New York, we’ve begun to gain control of the social and environmental effects of commerce by issuing over $50,000 of our own local paper money, to over 950 participants, since 1991. Thousands of purchases and many new friendships have been made with this cash, and about $500,000 of local trade has been added to the Grassroots National Product.
We printed our own money because we watched Federal dollars come to town, shake a few hands, then leave to buy rainforest lumber and to fight wars. Ithaca HOURS, by contrast, stay in our region to help us hire each other. While dollars make us increasingly dependent on multinational corporations and bankers, HOURS reinforce community trade and expand commerce that is more responsive to our concern for ecology and social justice.
Here’s how it works. The Ithaca HOUR is Ithaca’s $10 bill, because $10 per hour is the average of wages/salaries in Tompkins County. These HOUR notes, in four denominations, buy plumbing, carpentry, electrical work, roofing, nursing, chiropractic care, child care, car and bike repair, food, eyeglasses, firewood, gifts, and thousands of other goods and services. Our credit union accepts them for mortgage and loan fees. People pay rent with HOURS. The best restaurants in town take them, as do movie theaters, bowling alleys, health clubs, two large locally-owned grocery stores, and 30 farmers’ market vendors. Anyone may use HOURS, and hundreds have done so.
Ithaca’s new HOURly minimum wage, enforced by general consent, lifts the lowest pay up without knocking down higher wages. For example, several of Ithaca’s organic farmers are paying the highest farm labor wages in the Western Hemisphere: $10 of spending power per hour. These farmers benefit by the HOUR’s loyalty to local agriculture. On the other hand, dentists, massage therapists and lawyers charging more than the $10 average per hour are permitted to collect several HOURS hourly, although we hear increasingly of professional services provided for our equitable wage.
Everyone who agrees to accept HOURS is paid two HOURS (worth $20) for being listed in our newsletter Ithaca Money. Every eight months they may apply to be paid an additional two HOURS, as reward for continuing participation. This is how we gradually and carefully increase the per capita supply of our money.
Ithaca’s printed currency honors local features we respect, like native flowers, powerful waterfalls, crafts, farms, and our children. The multi-colored HOURS – some printed on locally-made watermarked cattail (marsh reed) paper, all with serial numbers – are harder to counterfeit than US dollars.
We regard Ithaca HOURS as real money, backed by real people, real time, real skills and tools. Dollars, by contrast, are funny money, backed no longer by gold or silver but by less than nothing: $4.8 trillion of national debt.
Ithaca Money’s 1,200 listings, rivaling the Yellow Pages, are a portrait of our community’s capability, bringing into the marketplace time and skills not employed by the conventional market. Residents are proud of income earned by doing work they enjoy.
At the same time Ithaca’s locally-owned stores, which help keep wealth local, make sales and get spending power they otherwise would not have. And over $4,000 of local currency has been donated to 22 community organizations so far by our wide-open governing body.
As we discover new ways to provide for each other, we replace dependence on imports. Yet our greater self-reliance, rather than isolating Ithaca, gives us more potential to reach outward with ecological export industry. We can provide the capital for new businesses with loans of our own cash. HOUR loans are made without interest charges.