How did you launch the currency and inspire people to start using
Without having any background in issuing
money, or having any familiarity with any antecedents in private money issue, I
began by designing the money, making Xerox samples of it, and waving it at
people saying, "This is going to be money, let's trade it with each other! Sign
up here!" I just handed them my clipboard. I found a bunch of pioneers willing
to try it out, and then launched the money with a local currency newspaper that
came out every other month. It ran for eight years, featuring success stories
and describing the benefits--immediate, local, long-term, and global.
It was essential to constantly reinforce this
message. Otherwise we were just trading pieces of paper with pictures of
children, waterfalls, and trolley cars. And that we were doing something more
important: we were weaving a regional economy that helped us meet our needs
according to our values.
Can you summarize how the Ithaca local currency works in layman's
terms? For example, can you only print a certain amount to match the demand? Is
one HOUR equivalent to one U.S. dollar? What sorts of things can people buy
Your question reflects my belief that the
average person understands economics better than we assume they do. We are
trained to be intimidated by the idea, but it's just basic common sense. Those
were the kinds of questions I myself asked. It started with asking "How do we
do this?" and then taking it from there. It was all just good guessing.
The amount that you print is irrelevant; you
can fill a garage or a briefcase with your own paper money. Its credibility is
determined by the rate and manner of issuance. The pioneer enrollees each
received four Ithaca HOURS. One Ithaca HOUR equals an hour of basic labor, or
10 dollars. So each person got 40 dollars worth of local currency, just for
agreeing to try it out. The first edition of the newspaper had a coupon in the
back inviting everyone to join the fun.
What was the initial response, and when did it start becoming
In nearly no time at all, we had 400 people.
From there it just grew and grew and grew until thousands of people were
willing to trade this money with each other. At one point we had over 500
businesses, including the medical center, the public library, banks, movie
theatres, bowling alleys, bars, pubs, restaurants, dozens of local farmers, all
kinds of healers, and landlords. You could even buy land with Ithaca HOURS. The
transit system is now accepting HOURS for part of the monthly pass.
It got to the point where the only thing you
couldn't buy with HOURS was health insurance. So in 1997 I started an insurance
a co-op. I did not believe--and I think my belief has been born out in recent
events--that the insurance companies would ever allow a national single-payer
plan in this country like in most of Europe. That meant that those of us who
were uninsured would be left out forever. I said well, if everyone would put in
100 dollars each per year we could build assets, and then gradually open the
throttle allowing us to cover more and more needs--even build our own
member-owned health infrastructure.