Ithaca HOURS
Community Currency
since 1991
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 Paul Glover consults for grassroots economic development as GreenPlanners.

Margaret Atwood Endorses Local Currency

This speech was given by Canadian author Margaret Atwood at a benefit concert produced by St Lawrence Works for the Toronto Dollar and given by Catherine Robbins, mezzo soprano and William Aide pianist at the Church of the Holy Trinity.

I am honoured to have been invited to share this occasion with you. I'm here because of Joy Kogawa, who along with many others has done so much selfless work on this project.

Now, Joy Kogawa is an artist, and those performing here tonight are artists, and you may wonder what an artist is doing getting involved in a project that has to do with the structure of money. Weren't we all taught that Art and Commerce were polar opposites? But art has to do with symbolism -- the human tendency to make one thing stand for another -- and money is the most deeply symbolic thing there is. Money as such is, as Oscar Wilde said, perfectly useless. You can't eat it, drink it, shelter yourself from the cold with it, wear it, or make love with it unless deeply disturbed. In and of itself, it has no emotions, no mind, and no conscience. It doesn't put out flowers or have children, and it makes a lousy pet. It has meaning only when it circulates, and is exchanged for other things; and money doesn't do that for itself. People do that, using money as a symbolic token.

We have all been brainwashed into believing that there is only one kind of money -- one kind of wealth -- and only one measure of human worth -- how much money you have -- and one kind of exchange -- traditional buying and selling. And only one motive to do so -- the Siamese twins of consumer greed and the profit motive. 

We've also been told all of this is controlled by a mysterious god called Global Market Forces, who is now beyond our control, but to whom we are forced to sacrifice our children. Thus if international commercial interests suck up our wealth, stomp out our magazines, trash our culture, and dictate what toxic chemicals we must eat and drink and breathe, it is the will of Global Market Forces, whose ways are dark, but who is thought to have our best interests at heart in the end.

Now, the Toronto Dollar Project is an exercise in changing the symbolic structure of money. This project believes that there can be a different kind of money, and that its circulation can directly enhance the community through which it circulates.

"Don't touch that money, you don't know where it's been," we used to be told as children. But with the Toronto Dollar, you do know where it's been. It's been right here, and it's staying here, and 10% of it is going directly to those in the community who need it the most.

There is more than one kind of wealth. A country, province or city that has embraced the principles of selfishness, hatred, envy, greed and spite, is poor, no matter how rich its individual citizens may be. One that incorporates concern for the well-being of a society as a whole will, on the contrary, be rich, even though its citizens don't all have 5-car garages.

Thank you again to Joy Kogawa and to our performers this evening, Catherine Robbin and William Aide, and to all the others involved in the Toronto Dollar. They are making Toronto a richer place, through this initially small but very meaningful step towards the formation of a more human -- and also a more humane -- symbolism for money.

June 4, 1999, Toronto.