Jim Fleming: Our producer Charles Monroe Kane is also a member of the Medicine Eastside Babysitting Co-Op. It got him wandering about other alternative currencies out there. Charles immediately thought of Ithaca Hours, a local currency from New York, that is the oldest and the largest alternative currency in the US. Founded 991 by peter Glovers Ithaca Hours has an estimated circulation of several million Dollars”” and has spawned about eight imitators around the country. Charles sat down with Paul Glover and found out how Ithaca Hours started.
Paul Glover: Well I went home and designed a few prototype sample designs and began waiving them at people saying, “this is going to be money”-. We’ll trade it with each other. Sign up here””and I gave them a clipboard and I found within the next few months about the people that said “OK let’s find that out.”-
They didn't say”- Well, that's a dumb idea” or “You’ll get us all in trouble” they said, “Let’s find that out”- and so with that initial list I published a directory and invited the whole town in the fun.
Charles Monroe: That's amazing. It”¦ obviously it’s been working for more than 20 years. How deep does it work? Like, can I go to an ice-cream shop or to a gas station somewhere in downtown of Ithaca, and use it?
Paul Glover: At its peak, in fact, you could buy virtually anything at all; thousands of people and hundred businesses, including a bank, movie theaters, bowling alleys, restaurants, the Hospital, the Public Library, the transit system, grocery stores, at the Farmers Market about 75 vendors, and so on.
In fact the only thing that you couldn't buy was health insurance, and so I started the Health Co-Op, for the un-insured, which accepts the local currency as a modality of payment.
Charles Monroe: Wait a minute; you said, in that list, you said a bank and the transit system. But how? Let’s just talk about the bank.
How does the bank work? You can deposit it?
Charles Monroe: Local credit union agreed to accept the money initially for part of its member fees and bank fees; and then I turned around and found they were accepting this money, the Ithaca Hours for the fall payment for all bank fees, and then gradually it began to accept it for lowery payment.
So we denominated our money as Hours, rather than Dollars, the Hour equivalence has $10 and the average wage in salaries in our area 20 years ago professionals are entitled to charge multiple Hours, Ithaca Hours, per hour; but it puts at the center of the transaction the idea that we are all fellow workers, fellow citizens, fellow residents of our community. And so we found a lot of people reducing their professional rates in the spirit of this [the] system. But it allows it to move, the ethic of this, kind of transaction, moves voluntarily to the community and so at its peak, Ithaca Hours transacted millions of Dollars and in fact was beneficial to the local standard [?] in the community economy insofar as there was more discretionary income flowing around the town, and as a result more sales tax revenue went to the government.
Charles Monroe: And I can image some folks who are active in the room agreeing to do this, and like in any other matters I can see a lot of people doing this. But I’m wondering about the regular Joe: I was at the bar and I was telling people about this interview and I think they responded, right, to “that just seems like a hassle. Why do it? Such a hassle. Is it really better to do this?”
Paul Glover: You know, it depends on the bar that you go to and depends on the regular Joes you talk with because there are a lot of regular Joes out there who don’t have enough money, who need more money and who would be happy to have””in fact we had a…
Businesses for example would say””one guy particularly said””I don't care if it’s Marks, Yens, Euros, if it’s money, I want it. And I’ll make it work, and so he took Hours enthusiastically and spent it around town quite imaginatively.
Charles Monroe: If I have “¦I kind of understand from what you say I work with somebody and I’m going to cut somebody’s grass and they pay me in Ithaca Hours, like if I [xx] “” or shovel snow. But if I’m actually the cashier at a grocery store and I call my boss and I say, “Hey, I want to be paid half in Ithaca Hours, or all in Ithaca Hours,”- is that an option as well?
Paul Glover: Yeah. There were some, there were quite a number of businesses at its peak where the employees were enthusiastically accepting Ithaca Hours. In fact some businesses said that I’ll pay you $6-12 per hour, which at the time was better than minimum, or I’ll pay you 1 IH per hour, that's a 10 Dollar bill.
Charles Monroe: That's interesting.
Paul Glover: And so those employees who lived close to Ithaca opted for the local currency and rather happily, accepting the significant raise in the income that it represented, like I said you could buy pretty much anything in town with this money.
Charles Monroe: And I can imagine that there is another side of the story, right? I can imagine that people who started probably not big fans of the star bucks and Wal-Mart places, and those places don't probably take Ithaca Hours so when they have an increase in income they are not getting that increase in income, only the local store is.
Paul Glover: We never prohibited chains…
Charles Monroe: Sure.
Paul Glover: “¦ from participating. But they tended not to because they had chains of command beyond Ithaca Ben&Jerry’s did, accepted Ithaca Hours for all ice-cream a very popular place to spend it and they turned around and all their employees were happy to accept it and they spent it other ways all around town.
Charles Monroe: Is this illegal at all? I mean did the feds come and investigate this? I mean this is pretty big.
Paul Glover: The Federal Reserve Board sent a researcher, he sat on our porch. We had a lovely conversation for an afternoon. They went away and wrote a very affirmative article on our behalf.
The Media had contact, and also the IRS, the FBI, the Secret Service, The Treasury Department, and none of them could find a law specifically against printing Hours as money.
Charles Monroe: You could not have imagined, when you started this how successful this would be. This would be [xx] started this. Do you I think that you fulfilled those reasons I’m very satisfied that I’ve proven that on a local scale [xx] can trust each other enough that [xx] representation of this trust, multiplier capabilities, that's proven on the scale of Ithaca, in fact during the great depression, for hundreds of the US communities printed “emergency money”- to any extent to where Dollars don't fill the bill we have to fill in paying the bill with local currencies.
Paul Glover: So as I said, we are making a community, while making a living. Our intent is not to replace Dollars, but to replace the lack of Dollars.
In any community where they are perceived or any sector or sectors of a community not enough Dollars then local currency fills that in.
Jim Fleming: Paul Glover is the founder of the Ithaca Hours currency. Are you interested in funding your own currency? Paul Glover has written a guide. It’s called “ Hometown Money ”How to Enrich Your Community With a Local Currency”