Monday, December 13, 2010

Designing Local Currency

I heard an interesting story on National Public Radio the other morning driving to work about Anthropologists studying an "Island of Stone Money." The tiny Pacific island of Yap provides an interesting look at what 'money' can really look like.

Yap islanders today use dollar currency, but hundreds of years ago the islanders made huge limestone discs their local currency. Like many other developing civilizations, sometime in history, the Yap islanders had to agree on a common unit of 'wealth' and 'money' for trading and buying of things. Due to not having any of the common shiny and alluring rich metals around like silver and gold (the springboard of most currencies)- Limestone was the next best 'pretty' thing. So the islanders began harvesting their new currency on another island and shipped it to Yap by bamboo boats.

Now this is when it gets interesting. Envision that instead of the dollar in your pocket- it is a huge limestone disc set-up in town square.

"One key thing about this money: It was really heavy. A big piece could weigh more than a car. A piece of stone money was really valuable; you wouldn't use it for some everyday purchase. You'd use it for something big — a daughter's dowry, say." excerpt from NPR's story.

So the next inventive idea was finding a way to give, trade and use this currency without having to move it, because it's like having to move a car that doesn't run. This is when Yap islanders began thinking abstract... trading and buying on abstract agreement. Much like how we write checks and use credit cards- there's no real exchange of money, just an abstract and invisible agreement.

Driving and listening to this story, I really started to think about the great range of possibility surrounding what a local currency can really look like. I started to reflect on a visit to Transition Town Totnes, England where the first initial Transition Town originated and where I felt such a strange energetic and uplifting buzz in the air there. There is something similar happening in Totnes as was happening on the island of Yap- a different local currency has been invented and is being used successfully, the Totnes Pound.

This same thing seems to be happening in Durango with the Local Food Dollars campaign and the "Be Local Coupon Book" from the non-profit Local First. These initiatives are building up a strong local economic foundation and creating a system where we are all participating in a recycling of our local currency.

How to take part and help support our local economy:

  • Buy a Be Local Coupon Book
  • Shop locally, especially for the holiday season
  • Eat locally grown and produced foods
  • Support local artists, businesses and entrepreneurs
  • Get involved in local initiatives, projects and programs, like the Quest, which is part of Sustainability Alliance of SW Colorado