Mint Your Own Money: Bucking the System

A small town in Kansas makes money the old-fashioned way: They print it.

The citizens of Lawrence, Kansas (pop. 80,000), recently looked down the interstate and saw big chain stores coming—Wal-Marts, Home Depots, Gaps. In an attempt to stave off the invasion, local residents took control of their economic future: They printed their own money—money that no national franchise could accept.

So far nearly 100 Lawrence businesses accept the locally minted currency, called R.E.A.L. money (for Realizing Economic Alternatives in Lawrence). Shoppers can exchange real dollars for R.E.A.L. dollars one-to-one at the local credit union and then use them at the small businesses that have joined the crusade. "If you're walking around with 10 R.E.A.L. dollars in your pocket, there are only certain places you can shop, and Wal-Mart's not one of them," says Boog Highberger, a representative of the Lawrence Trade Organization and a R.E.A.L. proponent. "We want people to realize where their money goes—which places are local and which are global."

It's all very Robin Hood, but is it legal? "They're like Disney Dollars," says Betsy Holahan, a spokesperson for the Treasury Department. "There is no requirement that businesses must accept U.S. currency." Even Highberger concedes that the effort may be more quixotic than Keynesian. Of the $70,000 printed, only about 8 grand is in circulation. "We're not going to drive Wal-Mart out of business," he says. How about out of Lawrence? "Anything's possible."

This article originally appeared in the December 2001/January 2002 issue of MBA Jungle.