The Other Global Economy

Why talk about "the global economy" as if there's only one? Besides the dominant global capitalist economy, there's another emerging economic order, global in scope and universal in its appeal.

It's called "time banking." Valued exchange in "time banking" is measured in "time dollars," which are a tax-exempt form of money that anyone can access with their time, energy and special (not necessarily "specialized") skills, such as lawn mowing, baby-sitting or woodworking. The exchange rate: One hour of service provided to another time bank member, or to the community at large, earns one "time dollar." So, a "time dollar exchange" is formed whenever "time dollars" are earned and spent.

At the third International Time Banking Congress, held on the idyllic grounds of the Kingsbridge Center outside Toronto from Aug. 27-29, I got a glimpse of the scope and depth of time banking, as it works in nine countries. Edgar Cahn, who first dreamt the dream of time dollars in a Washington, D.C., hospital bed 25 years ago and who authored the time banking bible "No More Throw Away People," welcomed the 125 congress representatives after dinner. But the first peek into the international time banking movement was provided by Martin Simon, co-founder of Time Bank UK. With the aid of an overhead slide projector, Simon gave a brief overview of a half-dozen time bank projects across the UK. He outlined the workings of Time For Health, a local time-dollar economy in which health care services are provided using time dollars. In fact, Time For Health has been so successful, Simon reported, that the UK's National Health Service has commissioned a study on how it works.

There are 143 time banks in the UK (200 in the U.S.), exchanging over 200,000 hours of service involving over 5,000 time bank members. On the other side of the globe, time banking has taken root in Japan on the tiny island of Seizken. Masko Kubota spoke about her introduction to time banking when Ana Miyares of Time Bank USA visited Japan in 1991 at the invitation of the Japan Broadcasting Corp. Kubota came to the U.S. in 1994 to learn about time banking. Five years later, she set up a time bank on Seizken Island with just 12 members. Today, the Seizken Time Bank counts 72 members, exchanging everything from wake-up calls to an inter-generational project in which the community elders tutor the young in history and other school subjects.

Though time banking is practiced differently in different parts of the world, all time bank participants adhere to the four "core values" – assets, redefining work, reciprocity and social capital. In time banking, assets are defined by a simple acknowledgment that everyone has something within themselves to offer, whether it's house cleaning or the gift of making people laugh. Redefining work means that, in contrast to a market-based understanding, building community is real work. Reciprocity is perhaps the most important of the core values because in time banking those who receive help earn it by giving service in return. The fourth and final core value is social capital, which is the immeasurable wealth built by tying people into networks of social cooperation.

If this all sounds like a love-fest and something that business-oriented people wouldn't bother to give much credence, that would be mistaken, as it has drawn the financial interest of people like Richard Rockefeller – a time bank funder who has had great success in the market economy. Rockefeller said he "bought into (time banking) because of the idea of social capital" and the realization that economic growth, as it is currently conceived, destroys social capital, given that our measurement of economic health – the Gross Domestic Product – includes social ills like the cost of environmental cleanup as something that helps fuel economic growth.

"It's a faulty measure," Rockefeller said. "Yet we are making social policy based on it. Cash economies cannibalize society. I find that argument very convincing... So I feel very fortunate to hitch my wagon to the time banking movement." For the open-eyed, who also see the limits of cash economies, time banking may be for you. (For more information, go to timedollar.org).

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