Ithaca Blog

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Beating the Drum for Local Currency

Lots of times, tourists to New York City don't understand why so few natives have been to the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building. Similarly, tourists to Ithaca often wonder why more natives don't use, or even know about, Ithaca Hours, Ithaca's local money.

I've heard this first-hand a lot, as a member of the Ithaca Hours Board. At least a half-dozen times a year, academics, journalists, and politicians from Japan visit Ithaca expressly to study Ithaca Hours. Japan has dozens of local currency systems and they come to Ithaca to scrutinize the oldest and largest system in the U.S. To them, Ithaca Hours is like the Yankees, so they are shocked to come here and find a dearth of fans, so to speak.

Closer to home, currency system enthusiasts in North America also look to Ithaca Hours as a model and a mentor. Two years ago, Board members traveled to meet with Pete Seeger, who is trying to start a system in his town of Beacon, New York. Today, we received an announcement on email that communities in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts are starting a new system, called BerkShares, largely based on the Hours example. Its inauguration is tomorow.

Maybe the beat of the Hours drum, like the idea of a skyscraper in Manhattan, is a little over-familiar to Ithacans. Or maybe it's the old bromide, that people have to hear about something four times before they do something about it - in this case, become an Hours member. There are over 600 Hours members, and probably as many non-member users, but that still leaves quite a large number of uninitiated.

Following is a beat of the drum for local currencies that came today from BerkShares - an excerpt of their announcement of their start. Let it be one of the four times.

"Choosing locally grown foods and consuming local goods and services strengthens our economy, and local currency is the best vehicle to facilitate this exchange ... Local currency is about building community while building the local economy. BerkShares will offer a positive example of how citizens can take responsibility for keeping their own local economies vibrant.

"You will be able to build a new house with BerkShares, paint your house, get a chiropractic session, buy groceries, buy books and music, eat at great restaurants, and support scores of local businesses that accept local money, and keep that money in our community. You can become a member and help your own business, or your own personal finances, by tapping into this new stream of wealth that our community creates and controls. "

You can find out more about Ithaca Hours at Then, if you see a group of five Japanese visitors spending Hours downtown (a group of five are in fact coming this weekend), you can identify yourself to them as a real Ithacan.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

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