In these tough economic times, people wary of the dollar are turning to printing their own money. This is hardly a new phenomenon. Some historians claim local currencies have circulated in civilizations dating back to ancient Greece. Circulating a unit of exchange within a small community helps promote purchasing local goods and safeguards against inflation of the national currency.
Local money, known as a complementary currency when not backed by a government institution, flourishes when people lose trust in the national unit of exchange, usually during economic downturns. During the British war against Napoleon in 1816, when nearly 80 percent of all tax revenue was spent on debt payments, England's Channel Islands of Guernsey and Jersey issued their own currency that partially replaced the pound. During the Great Depression, an era of extreme volatility for the dollar, there were over 400 local currencies in circulation.
Today, complementary currencies appear to be on the rise due to the deepening recession. On Monday, we asked people to send in stories and photographs of their local currencies.
"We have definitely experienced an increase in interest in community currency," writes Megan Antieau from Humboldt County, California.
However, what we have seen more than ever is a greater understanding of the desirability of the idea. Before, many people had a hard time seeing why we would need a complementary currency, even when they thought the idea was interesting. With the current financial instability, many more folks intuitively grasp the reasons for which we might want a more locally based currency. Personally, the currency has helped me rethink from whom I can get those goods and services which I need. I tried to shop locally before, but do so even more now. But most of all, I now consider the possibility that I don't have to shop at a business to get something I need.
We have a printed and online directory, the Humboldt Exchange Directory, where individuals and businesses both advertise services for which they'll take community currency. And participating in that has led me to consider more often how I might get something I need from someone I know, or someone in the community.
From Arcata, California, Fhyre Phoenix writes about starting a Community Currency network five years ago in Humboldt Country, California. "I hired four premier artists to design the currency," she writes. "Each was given one bill to create e.g. the $5, $10, $20 or $50 bill, and a theme for each one e.g. community, our bio-region, honoring women and diversity, respectively."
Bruce Bolm wrote in about RiverHOURS, a local service-based currency circulated in the Columbia River Gorge of Oregon and Washington. "We publish a trade directory every three months," Bolm writes (you can read about the directory here.
We have more than 80 members and about $19 thousand of local currency in circulation. Our Mission Statement: The Gorge Local Currency Cooperative seeks to create and sustain a local currency system in order to build community, promote regional economic independence, support local business and trade, encourage entrepreneurship, honor diversity, and enhance the local minimum wage in the Mid-Columbia region.
HuffPost blogger Mike Sandler says he is "glad to see local currencies on the resurgence." Sandler co-founded a local currency called Sonoma Country Community Cash, which went out of circulation in 2000.
Jerry Mulcahy informed us that Canada also has a rich history of complementary currencies, which they often refer to as "Local Exchange Trading Systems," or LETS.
From British Columbia, Canada, Lancifer Wildwood writes about the local currency on Saltspring Island. Although he doesn't live on the island, he tries to use their currency when he visits. "I also own one of their silver coins," Wildwood writes. "Too pricey by my standards, but beautifully done by a local mint (as local as islands can be)."