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A (not so) new form of currency

Time banks have been around in some form since the 1980’s, but the deteriorating economy has brought some new attention to the concept. In a recent New York Times article titled Where All Work Is Created Equal, a time bank in Manhattan is featured.

As explained in the story, the unit of currency in a time bank is not a dollar, but an hour.

When you join a time bank, you indicate what services you might be able to offer others: financial planning, computer de-bugging, handyman repairs, housecleaning, child care, clothing alterations, cooking, taking someone to a doctor’s appointment on the bus, visiting the homebound or English conversation. People teach Mandarin and yoga and sushi-making. …Time banks — more than 300 of them — exist in 23 countries.

There is something old fashioned about a time bank. Home repair, child care, visiting shut-ins and taking someone to the doctor are now often commercial transactions; a time bank is a return to an era where neighbors did these tasks for each other. But a time bank is also something radical. It throws out the logic of the market — in a time bank, all work has equal value. A 90-year-old can contribute on an equal basis with a 30 year old. Accompanying someone to the doctor is as valuable as Web design.

There are a number of reported benefits to a community time bank, especially in times of high unemployment. It can be a way for unemployed, underemployed, or retired people to “put their skills to work to get things they need.” And one of the most important gains cited in the article is the strengthening of community — neighbors helping neighbors, creating new connections, and building trust. Time bank members sometimes refer to this as “a return to simpler times when the community was there for its individuals.”

This is a story many of us can relate to. People like to cook for others, to make things for others, to teach what they know, to use their skills to do a job for someone who needs it. People need to feel valued.

There are a number of time banks in Maine, the largest of which is the Hour Exchange Portland. Watch the video below for a nice story done by PBS in November of 2010.

Other Maine time banks include those in Lewiston-Auburn and the Augusta area (Mid Maine TimeBank).

Although time banks may not automatically lead to energy efficiency, home improvements such as weatherization are typical of services that can be exchanged, as shown in the video. And anything that can improve “localization” can strengthen the local economy and make community members less dependent on outside goods and services.

Do you think that a time bank could work in York? Please leave a comment with your thoughts or send an email to info[at]yorkgoesgreen.org.

 

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