The capitalist economic system America operates under is not only unsustainable, but it distorts how Americans value their relationships with each other and the environment. Moreover, it simply is not working.
As a result, a new economic model is needed — one that fully honors our humanity, acknowledges our interdependence, respects Mother Earth, and is completely inclusive. One such model has informally existed since the beginning of our existence, and 25 years ago was formally reintroduced to the U.S.: time banking, a non-monetary system based on the amount of time people contribute to helping others. This helps rebuild the ties that keep communities together and allows everybody to participate in the community’s upkeep and improvement.
Our current economic model requires the continuous acquisition of increasing amounts of money. This system is deeply flawed and has been since its inception. In the past, it supported the violent acquisition of land belonging to well-established indigenous communities, as well as the abduction of millions of Africans from their native lands, whose labor was exploited and lives were utterly disregarded. This is similar to the plight of immigrants, undocumented workers, women, children, and uncounted victims of U.S. wars. Thus, the current statistics on the inequality in the distribution of wealth and disproportionate rates of poverty, unemployment, and homelessness should come as no surprise. In order to transcend these longstanding issues, an analysis of the system that contributed to them is required.
The emphasis capitalism places on money is a significant reason why it is so problematic. The U.S. paper fiat money is created out of thin air by the Federal Reserve and retains value only because we acknowledge it to have it. Additionally, since the fiat money is charged interest, which is drawn from taxpayer dollars and siphoned into private hands, inflation has become a permanent feature of our lives.
Using this paper fiat money as the tool responsible for meeting our everyday needs is “nonsense upon stilts” (a borrowed phrase from English philosopher, Jeremy Bentham). Moreover, in pursuit of money, the capitalist system pressures students to study subjects they have little interest in, employees to work exorbitant hours at jobs they get little satisfaction from, and for us all to adopt a competitive mindset that promotes competition over collaboration.
Simply put, we must change course.
Time banking is a money-less alternative with a straightforward concept: one hour of help providing a good or service for another earns onetime credit, which is exchangeable for an hour’s worth of help in return. For example, if I need my lawn mowed, instead of paying someone $50, the person who mows my lawn will receive one time dollar for every hour spent completing the service. The individual can then use the time dollar(s) to obtain other services or goods at an equivalent value. The transactions are recorded through an online website that uses an open-source code that will soon be available to smart phones and tablets as well.
A locally established time bank serves as the hub for all exchanges. Individuals are asked to enter information about themselves including their address, availability, what they can offer, what they would like to receive, etc. Once complete, transactions can begin. The time banking software has recently upgraded its software making it easier to log, track, and share hours, as well as document engagement, reliability, punctuality, and trustworthiness.
While individual time banking transactions help people meet needs and share skills, the system as a whole fundamentally changes the way of life for the participating community. Time banking requires community members to rely on one another, creating a culture of cooperation and trust. Since we all have something to contribute, time banking allows everyone to participate and pursue their curiosities, improving happiness, and stimulating creativity.
The time banking movement has been 25 years in the making and continues to be a work in progress. Time banks have been used in a variety of contexts, for example: the Time Dollar Youth Court (a juvenile diversion program), the National Homecomers Academy (challenging recidivism and improving reintegration into society for ex-cons), and CareBanks (a way of assuring health care for seniors).
There are 300 registered time banks in the U.S. with a total of 30,000 members. There are an additional 30,000 members in the UK and another 100,000 members throughout 34 other countries. In Washington, D.C., the founder of Time Banks USA, Edgar Cahn, has addressed both the Occupy DC camp and the Freedom Plaza group, and both encampments have started time banks of their own.
The time for an alternative economic model is long overdue. With this new wave of focused energy created by the Occupy movements, it is time to think outside of the box and discuss what we all want out of life and what it is that makes life truly worth living. As more people join the time banking movement, the scalability and range of services available for exchange will grow, along with our opportunity to live in a truly free and cooperative society.
To join a time bank near you, visit the Timebanks Community Directory