May 25, 2002 - The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore has joined other towns where citizens swap services as if exchanging currency.
Copyright (c) 2002,  By Kate Shatzkin

Comments By John C. 'The Engineer' Turmel are in blue.

A part-time farm worker named Brad Johnson is mailing stacks of money to 200 people around Baltimore, many of them strangers. But this isn't cash as most of us know it. These are slivers of time. Printed to look like dollars -- but with historic scenes of Baltimore washed in pastels instead
of George Washington's mug -- a new currency called "Baltimore Hours" made its debut this week, joining a small but growing worldwide movement back to the age-old tradition of bartering.

Fans say such programs hark back to simpler times -- when people did for others in their neighbourhoods, stores didn't send their profits out of state, and folks spent most of their money where they lived. At a time when real "dollars" are backed by neither silver nor gold, the fixed value of an hour gives confidence to some.

JCT: Boy was that ever said right. The fixed value of an hour never changes, quite a confidence builder of no change.

Participants in Baltimore Hours sign up to offer their talents, from acupressure to yard work, in exchange for the new currency. To start with, each will get four hours' worth of the money, along with a directory of participants and the services each will perform. Paul Dibos, a 39-year-old architect who plans to offer tutoring, just wants to do a little bit to keep "money" in town. When he forks over cash
at a chain store, he says, "it goes zoom, straight out of Baltimore."

JCT: I wish they'd let them start with a credit line of more. $40US is such a small float. I think everyone should have a least a 40Hour Week of work credit line.

About 21 cities and towns in the United States and Canada have local currency programs, according to the E.F. Schumacher Society of Great Barrington, Mass., which tracks them. About 150 other programs that run on "time credits" without currency operate around the world, estimates the
Time Dollar Institute in Washington.

JCT: And if you count all the other LETS that base their standard unit on the hour of labour, my international LETS site lists 121 in the US alone and 38 in Canada. And without counting the latest new 4,500 time-creditos branches Argentina, I had
listed 2600 sites and now list 7100! Not 150.

"Everybody's talking about the problems of globalization," said Lewis D. Solomon, a professor at George Washington University Law School and author of a book promoting local currencies. "This is one concrete thing to help strengthen local communities and neighbourhoods economically."

JCT: And it's handy that the Grandfather of the Globalization protestors (see my home page) has been
pushing "This is one concrete thing to help strengthen local communities and neighbourhoods economically" from the start and can point out that the Washington D.C. organization that is coordinating the globalisation resistance has suppressed every mention of the UNILETS system that "is one concrete thing to help strengthen local communities and neighborhoods economically." They're under the impression it's kids assaulting fences in their gas masks and combat boots.

Ithaca Model

In Chicago, a program called Time Dollar Tutoring claims to have placed 4,075 computers in low-income homes by using elementary pupils to tutor their peers. Credits from Ithaca HOURS, an 11-year-old program in Ithaca, N.Y., on which Baltimore Hours is largely based, are accepted at 400 local
businesses, including fine restaurants. The currency bears the words: "In Ithaca We Trust."

JCT: And it took a paper Hour to gain the high-velocity efficiency that all the computer-based exchanges never rival. I've always said the Timedollar network would explode when they got out of forcing everyone to charge the same 1 hour for hour, a doctor's hour for a baby-sitter's makes
sure you have few doctors and lots of baby-sitters. Paper notes let's everyone charge what they are used to.

In the Baltimore area, more than 200 residents of Pleasant View Gardens, the low-income housing complex built to replace the Lafayette Courts project in East Baltimore, take part in a "time bank" that allows them to trade services such as baby-sitting. They also use hours to buy donated items such as shoes and computers. A Severna Park organization has run a time-credit bank for the past 10 years, focusing on help for elderly and disabled people who want to stay in their homes. There's nothing illegal about such systems of exchange; they're even taxable in most cases. But mainstream economists scoff that they won't ever amount to much more than curiosities.

JCT: Mainstream economists are still scoffing at the 2.5 million Argentines who prefer using little paper bits of IOU money rather than have no money at all. The economists feel it better they should do their starvation now rather than let things get worse later. Visit the Argentia Cyberclassroom:

'Doomed to fail'

"These things are doomed to fail because they are a very high-cost way of exchanging things," said Steve H. Hanke, a professor of applied economics at Johns Hopkins University and an expert on currency systems. "Who in the world would agree to do this when you could get paid $10 an hour and
spend it anywhere you want? If it was so good, we'd be going back to barter exchanges and monthly fairs."

JCT: If he's an expert in currency systems, why did they invite me to address the UN and not him. Of course, while the economist predicts they are doomed to fail, the Engineer, and the Argentinian example, prove that they are fated to soar.

Still, the concept has drawn the attention and the dollars of several local and national foundations. The Baltimore Community Foundation recently contributed $2,140 to help Baltimore Hours print its money. "I think what we really liked about this particular project was less that it was an economic development tool and more that it was really about people in a neighbourhood meeting each other when they might not have met before," said Ann Daniels, a program officer for the foundation.

JCT: Whatever reasons they may have had, the results that have occurred elsewhere in the world will recur here and they will, like all who have built their own community lifeboats, will be proud of what they have achieved.

The father of the modern-day "time bank" movement is Edgar S. Cahn, a law professor and founder of the national Legal Services Corporation, who hit upon the concept while recovering from a heart attack in 1980.

JCT: God. A lawyer who did something right. I guess we'll have to amend Shakespeare to say "kill "most" lawyers" instead of "kill all lawyers."

He wanted to find a way that the ill, incapacitated or under-employed could accept help without feeling useless -- and where hard-to-quantify services such as companionship, care-taking and favor-doing could have economic value.

JCT: And looks like he found the same solution as I did on his own too.

Cahn wrote a book about the idea, called No More Throw-Away People.

JCT: He wrote his first seminal book "Timedollars" too. That's the one with my favourite story about the nuns in El Paso Texas who set up a timecredit system that allowed new young mothers to pay old mothers to show them how to care of their babies and child mortality went down!

He also established a Web site promoting the cause, called He counts a "youth court" in Washington -- where troubled teens earn credit hours as jurors of peers -- and the Chicago tutoring program as evidence that time-dollar programs can yield results.

JCT: Isn't that a great idea. I would have spent more time on that concept but most of my posts to the timedollar yahoogroup never get through their moderator.

The largest time-dollar program, in St. Louis, has 8,000 members and serves 19 neighborhoods.

JCT: I never knew there was anything big like that in the States. Good news and it reinforces the concept.

But attempts to take the time-dollar concept nationwide have failed. A Robert Wood Johnson pilot program to use service credits to keep managed-care costs down sputtered -- in part, a review found, because of the trouble it took to keep track of hours and match services with recipients.

JCT: It's only failed because they want to control how much people charge to keep the 1:1 doctor:babysitter ratio constant. But once they're using paper like all the flying systems around the world, then the planned economy types can't have any impact on what goes when paper tokens frees
each to charge their own capitalistic worth.

A little extra help

But Mark R. Meiners, a University of Maryland associate professor who directed the program, remains hopeful about the concept's larger possibilities. Baby boomers will age and need care in great numbers, he said, and not everyone will volunteer for the job. "What about the people who
aren't the true believer or the buddy of the true believer?" he said. "You need a little something more."

Partners in Care, the Severna Park time-credit organization, has 1,200 active members such as Lee Archibald, a 68-year-old retired hospital clerk who takes people she has never met to doctors' appointments and supermarkets. On a recent day, she waited in the lobby of a Glen Burnie medical tower while member Dot Carter saw a doctor upstairs. Archibald started earning hours nine years ago as a payback for help that friends gave her after she broke an arm and a leg. Over the years, she estimates she has earned 500 to 600 hours.

Archibald has also "spent" hours that she earned. Several years ago, for example, she noticed that her basement tile had begun to peel. She called Partners in Care, cashed in some hours, and within days three handymen arrived at her door. Working after their regular jobs with materials she had purchased, they re-tiled the basement in about a week and replaced an old storm door. "A lot of people don't want
to ask for help, whereas this, as an exchange, works well," Archibald said. "You do feel a lot of self- pride."

JCT: Just like Germany's Signe Seiler mentioned to Pauline and I on our 1999 European tour. When you have money, you don't need to know how to ask for help. You just call the repairman and have it fixed and han over a check.  But when you have no money, how do you learn to call people for help?
Most do not know how. But when you belong to a LETS, the matching those who need with those who have is automatic.

Sparking connections

Even Dot Carter, 62, who says her ailments make it hard for her to get out of bed, has earned a few hours by helping with the organization's telephone exchange, in which members call to check in on one another's welfare. After a few calls to one woman in her 80s, Carter stopped counting the hours as volunteer work -- and started calling them friendship.

Brad Johnson, a 30-year-old Hamilton resident who has been organizing Baltimore Hours, says he hopes to spark similar connections. "Quality is more important than quantity, to have people that are really going to be active traders," he said.

JCT: Sure quality is more important than quantity but quantity via a local paper token is also better than no quantity because you don't have any federal paper tokens.

Johnson enlisted most of the charter members during the past year at places such as the Waverly Farmers' Market. Christina Gimbel, a free-lance graphic designer, was one of those who signed up. "I had a little extra time on my hands, and I had this thought of: 'What a lovely world it would be
if other craftspeople and I could exchange for services,'" Gimbel, 33, said in an interview. Now, though, Gimbel is busier -- and is making more real dollars. She admits she might not have as much time as she thought for Baltimore Hours.

JCT: Busier and making more real dollars by taking part in Green! As expected and reported by other users.

Only one business -- the Book Rendezvous, a used-book store with branches downtown and in Federal Hill -- has signed up. Johnson says she hopes that will change as the program gets going. Services in the directory Johnson has printed run the gamut from practical to fanciful. One man claims to trade home improvement, welding of security bars, even help with parade floats. Another member simply offers "love." The group has printed 1,600 hours of currency, with half to be held in reserve as new members join. It has used special paper, metallic ink and serial numbers to prevent counterfeiting. Printed at the bottom of the money is this assurance: "Baltimore Hours are backed by real capital: Our
skills, time and labor."

JCT: Yeah. Printed currency. High-velocity, lo-administration tokens to win the day. Hope the other
Timedollar systems get on paper tokens soon and I hope they organize to have them accepted by each others' systems too.

Dollar almighty

But there aren't many other assurances. Members won't be screened for competence or reliability in the services they offer. It's up to individuals to arrange their transactions and assume responsibility for them, though the group wants to hear about fraudulent activity,Johnson said. The organizers, who say they hope to form a nonprofit organization, will hold periodic potluck dinners to promote
the program and try to work out any kinks. They already sense that however successful they are, they'll never replace the almighty dollar. "I don't think you'd want to survive on local currency," Johnson said.

JCT: How can they already sense it will never the almighty dollar when they're just starting? Wait till they hit a couple of million people with no other cash in town and they might get the feeling that the almighty inflatable dollars really don't stand a chance compared the mighty uninflatable Hours owed by the world for our contributions.

So the US Timedollars systems are slowly gravitating to the paper currency for efficiency. Should see some good growth out of them now and when they get their national directory put together so paper chits earned in Seattle can be spent in Miami, growth should be as spectacular as in Argentina. After all, we've got computers too.

John C. "The Banking Systems Engineer" Turmel, Author of the UNILETS
interest-free time-based currency United Nations C6 recommendation to
Governments in the / 613.632.2334

LETS for the Whole World