PAUL GLOVER ESSAYS: community control of food, fuel, housing, health care, planning, education, finance.

The precursor to Ithaca HOURS was the LETS system.

Ithaca Money:

Better than Bucks

by Paul Glover, Ithaca Times, November 1986

We're rich!  The Ithaca Communit Self-Reliance Center has begun coordinating trade in Green Dollars.  Your business and employment income, and shopping pleasure, are about to rise if you are any of these: an Ithaca with skills you enjoy but nobody pays oyou for, short of cash, underpaid, overqualified, needing more customers, owing half your life to the bank, disliking your job, laid off, on strike, unemployed, or just wanting to meet people and have some fun.

Such problems have been solved elsewhere by Green Dollars, the currency of the Local Exchange Trading System (LETSystem).  By the end of a meeting last month with system founder Michael Linton, 30 people had agreed to pioneer LETS here.

"Conventional money goes where it makes the most profit: armament, crime, speculation, land development," says Linton, whose visit was sponsored by the Ithaca Alternatives Fund.  Green Dollars, however, are a "gift passed around the community that comes back to employ you."


Here's how you use Green Dollars.  First, call the Self-Reliance Center and tell them the skills and goods you offer, and the services and items you need.  They tell their computer; the computer prints a dfull community list of offers and requests.  This catalog is published monthly.  The Greenlist has more categories than a supermarket, the main ones being: time; labor; services; local produce and food production; local goods manufactured and repaired; shelter; land; accommodation; vehicles; buy, sell and trade; shows; sports; societies; events; and commerce.

When you see something you want, call the person offering it.  Others will call you for your help, too.  Say you offer family counseling, carpentry, homemade jams and breads, four studded tires and an antique couch.  You're looking for dental work, firewood and a weekly massage.  Among the hundreds of listings (iwth 30 initial members there are already dozens in Ithaca's first catalog) you find a masseuse who relaxes your aching back.  But you can't afford her every week, and the only thing you have that she wants is your excellent whole wheat bread.  Since an hojr of massage is worth more than a loaf of bread, you agree to pay $5 in common Federal Reserve notes, one loaf of bread, and 20 Green Dollars. 

To record the transaction, you call the Self-Reliance Center and tell the answering machine to credit 20 Green Dollars to the masseuse (her name and LETS number) and take 20 Green Dollars from your own total.

Where did you get the Green Dollars?  Not from a printing press or bank.  Green Dollars come from your willingness to make the same kind of deal with somebody who needs your carpentry, tires or couch.  And the masseuse has your Green Dollars to spend elsewhere for what she needs.  LETS traders are the bank.  You're authorized to trade Green Dollars when you join the LETSystem.  Every month the Self-Reliance Center mails you a computer print-out of your transactions and total Green Dollar balance.  So it goes: endless creative shopping, until the Ithaca glacier returns.

More Good Reasons

Linton has started LETS systems in Boston, Toronto, Ottowa, Tucson, Los Angeles, San Diego, Vancouver and a dozen other cities.  "In Vancouver we were frustrated having to find cash so we decided to have our won omey," he says. He wrote the computer program which keeps everything tidy, with the intention of creating "money which was free-- could not be monopolized, was stable, on-inflationary, safe, cheap, convenient, dignified and fun"

His theme at the Self-Reliance Center meetings was this: Whereas federal currency chains Ithaca's wellbeing to federal banking and investment policies, Green Dollars insulate us from recession by boosting local interindependence.  Federal dollars are papers backed by insufficient gold. 
Green Dollars are directly backed by real goods and services.  Therefore, when somebody owing federal dollars goes bankrupt, the debtors lose.  But if a Green Dollar debtor leaves Ithaca the whole LETS community takes the slack, and no harm is done.
LETS receipt
"Economics is what we do and how we score it," Linton says.  "The LETSystem is simply part of the evolution of money from grains to beads to gold to paper to magnetic computer patterns."

Bill Stearns, a local computer analyst whose hardware registers Ithaca LETS trades, agrees with Linton.  "The power of computers has only recently become available to the general public," he says. "It has long been a tool of big businesses for their purposes, sometimes used against people.  I'd like to see LETS allow people to work who are not currently working, and others get what they need without taking loans and paying interest, and bring us together on a one-to-one basis."

Marian Mollin, a director of the Ithaca Community Self-Reliance Center, says the Center started the LETSystem here "because community self-reliance means the community depending on itself, creating its own fuel, food, and economic system."

"Ithaca is the ideal place to do this," she says.  "There are lots of overqualified, underpaid people, with more skills than money.  We already have a fairly large alternatives community, with a lot of networks like GreenStar, the Alternatives Federal Credit Union and other cooperative businesses."

GreenStar's finance manager, Art Godin, is one of several co-op workers who have helped organize LETS locally.  The Ithaca store relies on member-workers more than most food co-ops, and Godin sees LETS as a possible way to strengthen participation.

Any business, in fact, may enjoy more customers by accepting Green Dollars as part of their percent markup.  Richard Tripp, a real estate agent, intends to rehab properties using labor of prospective tenants who would then pay rent partly in Green Dollars.  Applying that rent to purchase of the home will "give land back to users, rather than landlords," he says.

A ten-dollar yearly fee to the Self-Reliance Center covers costs of computer time and monthly LETS mailings, and includes Center membership, which delivers the monthly newsletter Sprouts!, offers access to meeting space and free workshops.

For more information, or to join LETS, write or visit the Community Self-Reliance Center.   Very much like Ithaca's trees mint gold, orange and red, the LETSystem begins to create local wealth, and a sense of community, that (conventional) money can't buy.