Thursday, March 3, 2011

Time: The New Social Currency

Meet the accordeurs, a group of people with accounts in a time bank, where their currency is not money but hours.  An hour is worth an hour, and it's the same for everyone.  At L'Accorderie de Trois-Rivières, (and Québec city, in the video above), you can buy an hour's worth of someone's time by providing an hour's worth of your time.

It is an economic system to fight poverty and social exclusion--marketable but not monetary--based on a network of trade services.

Need your hair cut,  kitchen floor tiled, taxes done, or upstairs painted? You pay however long it takes to do those tasks with hours you've saved in an "hour bank".  Can you cook, do carpentry, set up a person's website, teach someone to dance?  How about speak Italian, repair a car, sew a hem, accompany someone to a doctor's appointment or provide babysitting services?   Someone will pay you, in exchangeable hours, for those kinds of services.

Think of swapping, or bartering, on an individual level (I'll let you use my car if I can borrow your golf clubs Saturday; I'll give you my old file cabinet for two quarts of your preserves). But what if a whole group of people got together and did this--bartered and swapped not objects, but Time?  What if that group offered to help you in other ways as well?  Such as giving you a loan to buy a refrigerator if you don't have a credit card and the bank won't lend you the money.  Wouldn't it be great, too, if they had a local food co-op program where you could buy produce for less than at the supermarket?  Service-exchange organizations such as the ones mentioned above could fulfill that wish.

It's called social microcredit, a creative response to globalization, decreased employment opportunities, poverty, and isolation.   A service economy where not only expertise and craftsmanship are shared but respect for each person's contribution, with membership open to everyone regardless of age, nationality, income or social class. Where skills are acknowledged, talents appreciated, resources pooled; and solidarity felt with those in your community in these difficult economic times. (Did I mention the community suppers, summer picnics, holiday festivities, and occasional language, dance, exercise, computer and cooking classes?)  As models go (for innovative projects to alleviate expenses and build a sense of community), this one seems a winner.


Jim Murdoch said...

Is that not what we’re doing here? You’ve given of your time to construct this post which I have devoted x amount of time to reading, thinking about and now responding to? You, in turn, will very likely give y amount of your time in responding to this comment but also I know that the next time I post an article a similar sequence of events will very likely unfurl and even if you don’t comment on my post I trust that you will read it; when I look at my stats (as I do daily) I can say, “I bet Annie’s one of them.” I think what you’re talking about in your article used to be what we called ‘neighbourliness’ and thought nothing of. My next-door-neighbour knocks on our door a couple of times each year and asks to borrow our bathroom scales so she can weigh she case before going on holiday and last week we got too many yoghurt drinks delivered by mistake and so I knocked on her door, asked if she drank them and handed her a dozen bottles. Glasgow has always been a friendly place but the old tenements really exemplified this kind of communal support. It’s pretty much gone these days – we lived in a tenement for a year and the only neighbours we ever saw were a couple of cats – but not completely.

awyn said...

Hey Jim,
Top o’ the morning to you across the pond. Thanks for commenting. It helps me be a better thinker/writer. I realize now that the title was misleading; the term ("social currency") has many meanings, only one of which is neighborliness. I was thinking of it more in terms of people’s value in society, as mentioned in the video (that too, is only one part of what L'Accorderie is all about). I have, for example, neighbors on my street whom I’ve never met. I would not just go knock on their door and say, "Can you come fix my broken window? I’ll give you one hour of English lessons in return." Perhaps the emphasis should have been less on the "hour for an hour" time-exchange aspect and more on the benefits of being part of a group of several hundred people to whom you could turn for immediate help with household repairs, assistance with caretaking, technical advice or learning a new skill--in person. Local people who are complete strangers, not known residential neighbors.

A social network of Internet acquaintances reading each others’ blogs, as you say, is a kind of social currency too, but I doubt, for example, that a lawyer who makes $200 an hour in the real world would give an hour’s worth of legal advice on line to a fellow blogger in another country (his hour’s worth of paidcurrency) and be able to find another blogger acquaintance to come tomorrow at 3 o'clock to fix his broken fender in exchange. What I was trying to say (and apparently failed at) was that being part of a social (trade) network where one hour’s worth of your time can be traded for something which ordinarily would cost you money you don’t have, directly benefiting people steeped in poverty--or slowly slipping into it in these uncertain times—and anybody (not just people you ‘know’) can be part of it. So I guess, besides my post title being misleading, the writing itself was not too clear.

Erg... And this comment is almost as long as the post to which it refers! Yikes. Brevity—that elusive thing. I chase it, but keep sliding off its wings, the big box of words insisting on tagging along as well. Gotta work on that. Thanks again, Jim, for stopping by!