Bling Bling

Money Matters

Time to dip into the wampum?

By Sam Holder April 7, 2009

Instead of reaching for your greenbacks (or plasticback) for your morning coffee, perhaps it’s time to start reaching for PortBucks. Or Orecash. Or Stumpdollaz.

Last week, USA Today reported that an increasing number of US towns have turned to local currency to bolster a weakening economic position. The idea is fairly simple (and legal): towns print their cash, businesses sign on to be a part of the new system, and a bank or currency cooperative partners with the community to assign a value to the money (as compared with the dollar). Residents spend new bills for community wares, local currency stays local. Businesses thrive.

Some economists don’t agree. Tim Harford of the Financial Times claims that "gains from more trade with locals are more than offset by the losses from less trade with strangers." True, perhaps, but advocates for local economies argue that by simply putting a new currency in place—in combination with the larger economy—smaller communities mitigate the risk of hemorrhaging all of their dollars to the wider financial embrace.

While this is not a new idea (BerkShares, the local currency for the Berkshire Region in Massachusetts, has been in print since 2006 and has an estimated circulation of 2 million), the concept is getting a second look in some beleaguered towns. A few Detroit businesses have partnered to create some money—ironically deemed, what with their devastating 22 percent unemployment rate, Detroit Cheers. Others, like Pittsboro, NC, are reviving a local currency that was abandonded during the economic heyday.

Oregon is no stranger to locally–driven economies. In Hood River, RiverHours and the Gorge Local Currency Cooperative has been distributing local bucks to Oregonians since 2004. Each RiverHour is equivalent to ten US dollars, and is taxed in the exact same manner as federal money. Nearly 50 businesses are currently participating in the complementary currency program.

And Portland? Well, there is one way to get some local dollars, and it isn’t too unfamiliar: labor. The Cascadia Hour Exchange, a local currency distribution organization, offers scrips, or bills, in exchange for work at a participating member business. Dollars for work? Who woulda thunk?

So, if you head on over to John Poling’s house, an organizer with Cascadia Hour Exchange, and mow his lawn for a couple hours, he’ll gladly hand over a two–hour spot. And you’ll probably get a great story, too.

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