Philly's do-it-yourself cash

Posted: March 03, 2010

PHILADELPHIA is rich enough to create thousands of jobs, revive our schools, fill the swimming pools, staff our libraries, build more free clinics, clean our rivers, fix the pipes, feed the hungry and reduce crime.

There's no budget problem. There's an imagination problem.

Many of us imagine that nothing can happen without money. But the squeeze is on: Every day there are fewer dollars for greater needs. As a result, Philadelphians ready to work are sitting idle, waiting for the dollars to employ them.

Look at our wasted talent: thousands of eager youths and experienced neighbors. With money enough, we could be busy insulating homes, manufacturing useful goods, growing food, healing, cleaning, playing. And look at our idle wealth: vacant factories and land, empty stores and offices.

Imagine sufficient money here to build decent lives for everyone. Wall Street and Washington won't create paychecks for all of us, yet Philadelphia can create exactly the money we need, for everyone willing to work, through reliable community currencies. When a large city depends on one kind of money, it's like depending on one kind of vehicle - cars only or one bridge. Community currencies aren't Monopoly money - they're anti-monopoly money.

Printing our own cash is all-American. During the Great Depression, 400 U.S. cities and towns issued scrip. More recently, in Ithaca, N.Y., thousands of residents and 500 businesses have traded millions of dollars of colorful local paper money featuring children, waterfalls and animals. Among Ithaca's traders are their medical center, the transit system, public library, landlords, grocers, bakers, plumbers, babysitters, farmers, movie theaters.

Interest-free loans are offered. Over in Great Barrington, Mass., millions of "Berkshares" are likewise traded to strengthen local businesses and connect residents to one another.

And they're legal if they don't look like Federal Reserve Notes. Here's how it works: The money is issued by a community group and distributed to members of the community, as a bonus for shopping in a local store, maybe $1 for every $10 spent. Consumers can then use the cash in other local business, or to help pay for work they want done. Businesses pay for work with the currency and sell services in them, and the money stays right there - meaning there's more "cash" in the community to be spent on things that are needed.

Our city of neighborhoods might prosper with KensingCash in Kensington, Southies in South Philly, Liberties in Northern Liberties.

And then when we connect with each other to trade regional cash that's properly managed, we'll more easily help each other. Consider Philadelphia's enthusiastic social networking: we connect face to face and online through professions, businesses, sports, schools, religions, hobbies. Such networks provide backing for community credits.

Although a million dollars' worth of community credits is a drop in the bucket for the regional economy, they're big drops in neighborhood buckets.

And they'll boost specific tasks. MediCash could connect us to medical services and fund free clinics. KidKash could fund youth and recreational services. Money issued through the School District would teach valuable lessons.

And citywide currencies can be donated to City Hall, if government agrees to accept them for part of our taxes.

These currencies are real money - backed by real people, real goods and real services. By contrast, dollars are funny money - no longer backed by gold, silver or commodities but by less than nothing - abandoned industry and $12 trillion in national debt.

Such credits foster neither heartless capitalism nor bleeding-heart socialism, but mutual enterprise. They celebrate enterprise that serves community and nature.

So how does this start?

We build regional money networks by employing energetic networkers. Just as dollars have armies promoting and troubleshooting their circulation, local credits need staff to catalog what the community is capable of, then promote balanced spending.

Crisis compels Philadelphia to declare independence, again. Philadelphians can unite to become the money and become the bank. We are the treasure - and we can be the treasury.

Paul Glover is the author of "Hometown Money" and teaches urban studies at Temple University. E-mail him at paulglover.org.

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