The Return of Bartering

Bartering has made a comeback. No longer relegated to the status of primitive economics, bartering now represents 30 to 40 per cent of international trade. Computerized barter exchanges serve businesses and individuals nationwide. In the midst of these developments some new approaches to bartering have arrived and are changing the way that people think about time, money and community."We have a blind woman who makes telephone reassurance calls to the shut-in elderly," says Tony Pfeiffer, Director of the Time Share Exchange in Cleveland, Ohio. "We have a woman in a wheel-chair who bakes cookies for the monthly community meeting. Young people are mowing lawns and doing odd jobs for older folks." These people are working within a local economy that is motivated largely by care and the added incentive of earning Time Dollars.Each hour of work earns the participant one Time Dollar, which are credited to the individual's account on computer. Earned Time Dollars entitles an individual to receive help for the same amount of time. A pool of services are available based on the talents and abilities of the participating Time Dollar worker/volunteers. "Everybody gets to keep their dignity and self-esteem," says Pfeiffer. "They're not always just on the receiving end." The Time Share Exchange of Cleveland is one of a growing number of Time Dollar programs across the country, so far located in 38 states.Started by Pfeiffer two years ago, Time Share Exchange serves 400 participants in two neighborhoods and will expand to four more neighborhoods this fall. Foundation grants and private donations provide the current annual budget of $50,000. Much of the guidance has come from Dr. Edgar Cahn and Cahn's book,Time Dollars, published in 1992. Cahn, a professor at the District of Columbia School of Law, first had the idea for a service credit system in 1981. His book describes several Time Dollar programs, including the Grace Hill Neighborhood of St. Louis, one of the locations to transact Time Dollars."People get converted from strangers to neighbors and extended family, and that's the magic of the system," Cahn has said. People working with the Grace Hill program can support that statement. "People are actually going back to the days when everybody knew their neighbors," says Gloria Drake, speaking of changes brought by the Time Dollars program. She is a manager with the Member Organized Research Exchange (MORE), which has Time Dollars as a vital part of its service mix. "People aren't as afraid of each other as they usually be around here in these neighborhoods," she adds. "They're looking out for each other. People are beginning to care more about their neighborhoods and each other."Anne Smith, also a manager with MORE, describes a situation in which an 84-year-old woman looks after an older neighbor, preparing breakfast lunch and supper seven days a week. "'Friendly visiting', that's a popular resource that we have," says Smith. "It's just a matter of going and sitting with an individual. It could be two hours, three, four, five hours with a lonely person. A lot of seniors don't have any living relatives."When the Time Dollar program was first introduced to the Grace Hills neighborhoods it was for senior citizens only, and there were only eight basic services offered, which included friendly visits, escort service (as in a trip to the hospital), and prescription pick-up. Now the age limit has changed to 10 and up, and any skill that neighbors are willing to share are accepted. "We have auto mechanics and professionals of all kinds who participate," said Drake. "We have so many services going on. The good thing about it is, one might be brighter than another, but one person's skills are just as important as another's. We're all equal. There's only one Time Dollar every hour."More than 20,000 people participate in Time Dollars programs across the country. The spirit of volunteerism pervades Time Dollars, but with an important difference. The drop out rate with Time Dollars is only 3%, compared with the 40% drop out rate associated with straight volunteerism.Miami has a very active program, Friend to Friend, where more than 1600 participants log some 12,000 hours of service a month at 64 locations. It appears that Time Dollars may be poised for a vast reception across the nation, as well as in other parts of the world. Meanwhile, in upper New York state in Ithaca, home to Cornell University and Ithaca College, a town where the grassroots grow deep, there is a new currency afloat, and on it's face is the phrase, IN ITHACA WE TRUST.This new currency is the brain child of Paul Glover, an Ithaca resident who had the idea to create Ithaca Hours back in 1991. An Ithaca Hour represents one hour of service and is currently valued at $10. "We invite people to participate on the basis of an hour for an hour," says Glover. "Of course, we recognize that certain people, like dentists, have to charge more than the average wage per hour, and so we as a community allow flexibility. Someone, say, a massage therapist, can charge four Ithaca Hours for a one-hour session. The Hours are a point of reference that always reminds people that there is a disparity in how people are paid and invites the community to evolve toward equity." The money comes in five denominations, ranging from $1.25 to $20. The flexibility works in the other direction as well, Glover explains, the lower denominations would enable a parent to pay something less than $10 to a youngster for an hour of baby-sitting.To date, $52,000 dollars worth of Ithaca Hours have been issued. Glover estimates that each of those Hours has turned over 10 times, putting the total value of transactions so far made at about half a million dollars."I designed the money and what it would say on it, and made up some xeroxed proto-types," offers Glover, speaking of how he launched the currency. "I went around with a clipboard and signed people up. I said, 'this is going to be money and we'll trade it with each other,' and they said, 'OK.'" He got 90 people to sign up to accept the money. Then he published a newspaper, Ithaca Money, and distributed 5,000 copies to the community, inviting all to be involved with the new currency. Currently 990 people are signed up as official backers of the money and over 200 businesses accept Ithaca Hours in trade. Plumbing, carpentry, electrical work, roofing, nursing, chiropractic, child care, car and bike repair, food, eyeglasses, firewood, and gifts are just a few of the things available for purchase with Ithaca Hours, according to Glover. "Our credit union accepts them for mortgage and loan fees," Glover declares. "People pay rent with Hours. The best restaurants in town take them, as do movie theaters, bowling alleys, grocery stores, forty farmer's market vendors, and the list goes on." At Alternatives Credit Union In Ithaca, all banking fees can be paid with Ithaca Hours, and one Ithaca Hour is accepted with each loan payment. Bill Myers, the manager, explains that in addition to creating opportunities for the underemployed, Ithaca Hours also enables businesses to reach a market that it ordinarily wouldn't. What distinguishes Ithaca Hours from dollars, says Glover, is that the Hours continue recycling through the community among an ever increasing number of people. "Dollars shake hands with a few people and then leave town," he said. "With Ithaca Hours we here in Ithaca are beginning to gain more control over the social and environmental effects of our commerce."The threat of counterfeiting doesn't worry Glover. "We have currency production more advanced than the U.S. dollar," he said. The money has been printed on water marked cat tail paper that was made in Ithaca. Glover says they are now using a new technology recently developed in Ithaca: thermal ink. The ink disappears briefly when heated by touch or the shining of a xerox machine's light upon its surface. Serial numbers are listed on all bills."We regard Ithaca Hours as real money, backed by real people, real time and real skills and tools," Glover says. He attributes the money with bringing a stronger sense of community to Ithaca. "As we discover new ways to provide for each other, we replace dependence on imports," he explains. "Yet our greater self-reliance, rather than isolating Ithaca, gives us more potential to reach outward with ecological export industry. We can capitalize new businesses with loans of our own cash. Hour loans are made without interest charges." Glover hopes to see a day when Ithaca Hours are accepted by everyone in Ithaca. He says that 20 other communities in the U.S. have started their own currencies. He sells starter kits for about $25. One of the certainties in life is taxation, and Ithaca Hours are no exception. The IRS will not accept tax payment in Ithaca Hours, however, they will accept tax payment on Ithaca Hours. In the early eighties the IRS ruled that full disclosure of barter transactions are required on tax forms.As for Time Dollars, the IRS in 1985 exempted its transactions from taxation, concluding that the credits "have no monetary value," and that service recipients aren't subject to "contractual liability" -- which goes to show that certain things aren't always certain.(For more information, write to Time Dollar Network, P.O. Box 42160, Washington, D.C. 20015 or Ithaca Money, Box 6578, Ithaca, NY 14851)

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