Local Currency – an update

I started this blog in September 2011 just as the Occupy movement was getting going and I was starting work on the book “People Money – The Promise of Regional Currencies”. Three years on, and over two years since my last post here, I think it is time for an update.
Occupy represented an essential outpouring of the anger and grief of a generation. I am sure it was a formative and educational experience for many people, some of whom were probably exposed for the first time in their lives to TAMARA (There Are Many Achievable Real Alternatives) instead of the TINA (There Is No Alternative) agenda that neo-liberals have thrust upon us for the last thirty years. Many who were ‘conscientized’ by the Occupy movement have gone on to discover what kind of commitment it takes to bring about real change: direction, dedication and discipline. They have internalised the ‘DNA of Occupy’ and carried it forward into thousands of local actions and options for change.

Meantime, I have continued to beaver away at the theme that has ‘occupied’ me for over 20 years: local currencies and how to make them sustain-able.

I got my first hands-on experience of running a local currency in Wales, UK, where I coordinated a local exchange system from 1993 to 2003. I remained a member for another five years. During the 15 years I was involved, our membership never grew beyond 150, of whom maybe 20 people were active users. A few remained members for the whole time I was there, others came and went. This is completely typical for small-scale, volunteer-run systems around the world and it is almost amazing that people still bother to make the effort to run such marginal systems. When we began our system, we had to write cheques by hand and send them in the post to an administrator (me at the beginning), who then laboriously typed our transactions into a DOS-based (pre-Windows, white text on black screen) computer program. Gradually, we graduated through Excel and Access programs and now many systems completely automate their administration through the inspiring CES global network of exchange systems.

After running a local exchange system for ten years, I went on to co-found the Wales Institute for Community Currencies at the University of Newport, where we supported residents of the former coalmining districts of South Wales to develop community time banks that rewarded local people for work in their communities. From this experience, I learned that a responsible local organisation, like the Blaengarw Time Centre, could issue credits for community work that were carefully backed by rewards, a different model from the ‘mutual credit’ mechanism I was used to before.

In 2007, I left the Institute and stepped back from practice for a few years to reflect on my own experiences and those of many others worldwide. People kept saying that there were thousands of local currencies out there but I wondered where they all were. It seemed to me that the majority of experiments with community currencies had ‘failed’ (not sustained themselves) and I wanted to know why. How could we ensure that more systems became sustainable? How could we scale them up to have greater impact? I tried to summarise my ideas about how to improve practice by writing a community currency design manual, which went through four drafts but was never quite ready for publication. I shared these ideas in a series of webinars in 2010 followed by a workshop at Findhorn College in Scotland.
When Margrit Kennedy asked me to produce and co-write the first English edition of her 2004 German book on regional currencies, which became “People Money – the Promise of Regional Currencies” published in 2012, I jumped at the chance. I wanted the new book to give a realistic overview of current practice and so I interviewed 40 local currency leaders and organisers from around the world. From these I chose sixteen of the most active systems about which to write in-depth profiles. I also included a maturer version of my proposed ORDER design process for regional currencies.

One of the coolest experiences I had with the People Money book was when a wood carver in the Lake District, UK, offered me two spoons in payment for the book. A good barter! The book has gathered some nice reviews.
PM with spoons
Six months after People Money was published, my editor at Triarchy Press asked if I would write a much shorter ‘pamphlet’ explaining to newcomers as simply as possible why anyone should bother with local currencies. After much blood, sweat and tears and five drafts later “Local Money – What Difference Does It Make?” appeared in summer 2013. I processed a lot of my anger at the injustice of the present financial system in the first draft and had to get past that before I could write something useful to people. Here are some reviews.
These two books were my attempt to summarise best practice of local currencies and make some recommendations about how to improve practice. But one thought kept haunting me. What if we had all got it wrong? What if the local currency was not the most important thing? What do we really know about the local economy? Who are the main players in that economy? How do they use currency? I developed a simulation game called “People Money Game” to give people a hands-on experience of how exchange functions. People have played this game in several countries in English, German and French. It has given me valuable insights into how local currencies bring together underused resources with unmet needs.

These experiences led me to publish my latest pamphlet in September 2014 “The Map – How To Out Your Local Economy”, which is the subject of my next post.
The Map Cover 2

Leave a comment


  1. All these years I’ve been sitting here waiting for an update! Just kidding. Great to see you back and blogging, thanks for this info. Enjoyed your book People Money and now I’m going to dig into Local Money. A lot has happened since 2011. Many US residents who were angry at the US Treasury, have forgotten that anger and opened more credit card accounts. Wonderful local currency solution are a lot harder sell these days. Even in depressed areas many people are just lazy wanting another government check instead of finding real local solutions. Plus, government agencies are now keeping a close eye on “private currency solutions” thanks to Bitcoin. The real need to begin reporting exchanges for a local LETS after 100 transactions is prohibitive for everyone. That money transmitting license and operation as an MSB for any Berkshare clone, is over the top. Not to mention the Berkshares were mentioned in a Thomas Reuters report on money laundering. http://accelus.thomsonreuters.com/sites/default/files/GRC00403_0.pdf
    The environment for local currency has changed considerably in the US. It now takes a lot of money, lawyers and compliance to start a local currency properly in the US. As always, I look forward to your book and your insight.

  2. David Shepherdson

     /  November 7, 2014

    I know we have only been acquainted for a short time but I did find this a most exhilarating insight into the history of local currencies. If nothing else, I know we’re gonna give it one hell of a go. If there’s a way, we’ll find it.

  3. Great to hear from you, Carl. Yes, it is sad that at the very time when we need local currency solutions the most, the climate is the most hostile!

    It is one of the reasons I advocate creating The Map first, which I will be writing about in my next post.

  4. Thanks for posting, Dave. When the time is right, I will write a post about developments at HullCoin here to share our design process more widely.


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