Ithaca Blog

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Brother, Can You Spare $118,000? America's Chronic Debt, and a Community Solution

According to the Federal Reserve, the average household with a mortgage in the United States has debt of $117,952. This includes mortgage debt, credit card debt, home equity loans, car loans, and tuition loans.

The annual savings of the average household is $392.

In 1957, in contrast, 42% of American households had no debt at all.

It must be galling for organized crime, which once had loan sharking all to itself, to have lost it to these supposedly legitimate banks and credit card companies, whose terms are also predatory, but somehow legal.

Ithaca has a local currency, Ithaca Hours, which addresses the scarcity of money in a productive rather than predatory way.

Over $100,000 worth of local currency circulates in Ithaca, creating an entirely new revenue stream which anyone can use.

Members join for $10, or one Hour, and get $20 worth of Hours to spend. Members also get a listing in the Hours Directory - its "Yellow Pages" - to offer goods and services, for whatever ratio of Hours and dollars they choose.

Like banks and credit card companies, Ithaca Hours makes loans of Hours to members. Unlike banks and credit card companies, Hours charges no fees or interest.

Besides benefitting individuals and businesses, studies show that local currencies promote a "multiplier effect" for communities.

If you buy produce at a farmer's market, for instance, with local currency, the money stays in the community (for products that, and vendors who, in this example, come from the community).

If you buy produce at a Wal-Mart store, and use a credit card, a percentage of that money is leaving the community for the credit card lender, some for the far-away grower, some for the food wholesaler, and some to Wal-Mart in Bentonville, Arkansas -never to return to your community. Certainly, never to you.

Local spending (particularly with local currency) means not saying "goodbye" to your hard-earned cash, but instead, "see you around. "

You can find out more about Ithaca Hours at, or by writing or phoning Small World Music, proud Ithaca Hours member ( ; 607/256-0428).

Regarding that credit card: they're good for emergencies, right? So, a friend of ours who got into some credit trouble a while back keeps one in the house. Literally. Not in his wallet. And the place in the house is in the freezer, in a coffee can of ice. Now if he really needs it, he can get it, but he has to wait for the ice to melt.

The can is metal, so it can't be microwaved.

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

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