As the full destructive and tyrannical import of commodification sets in, individuals, communities, and peoples are looking for ways to break this tyranny. One aspect of domination is our servitude to the bank-controlled cash supply. So one key part of fighting back is the imperative to Take Back Our Money. One key part of relocalization is the development of alternatives to the system cash economy. There are many such alternatives – barter, alternative currencies, Local Exchange Trading Schemes (LETS), people’s banks, and others. One alternative which is vigorously spreading is Time Banking.
A Time Bank is a program for giving and receiving services among members of a community. It’s a way of organizing the informal economy of a community along the lines of reciprocal gifting of work. Members of a Time Bank offer and request every imaginable kind of service – professional expertise, skilled labor, manual labor, domestic chores, any kind of assistance, giving lessons, the use of resources and facilities. Every hour you give is credited to your Time Bank account, an hour you receive is an our you’ve committed yourself to reciprocate. Some banks tally the accounts in hours, others call them time dollars (T$) or something similar. But the measure is always time.
When you receive a service and now owe a service, your reciprocation doesn’t have to be to the same person. Instead, you can help another member, who in turn helps another, who may then help the person who first helped you. This gives the Time Bank all the flexibility and diversity of barter, since two members don’t have to directly trade services if only one of them has what the other wants. (Technically, it’s not barter but a way of accounting for exchange of gifts, along with an assumed moral responsibility to give as much as you get.) Instead, Andy (a musician) can give Beth (an expert gardener) a piano lesson, then Beth can help Carl (a mechanic) lay out and plant his garden, and then Carl can do minor repairs on Andy’s car. So we started out with Beth owing one hour, Andy being owed. Then Beth gave an hour to Carl, who then owed an hour. Carl gave this hour to Andy, thus zeroing out the accounts.
That’s one example of how diverse services can complement one another through the Time Bank. While the aspiration of any Time Bank is to assemble as much reciprocal expertise as possible, in practice one almost always starts out with a much larger proportion of less expert labor and help. (That’s what you’d expect in collapsing economies; the less skilled labor is liquidated first, and this is the more likely initial pool for a program like a Time Bank. But today’s terminal liquidation isn’t going to spare anyone, and as we’re seeing, insecurity and job loss are creeping steadily up the ladder of professionals.) But that’s not a conceptual problem for the Time Bank, because a basic principle is that all hours are to be valued equally, regardless of the nature of the work.
This is the principle which is most directly counter to capitalism and elitism in general, since so many people have been indoctrinated into notions of hierarchy, competition, superiority based on credentials, formal education, economic or professional status. But the basic premise of alternatives to the dollar is that we’re trying to break free of the entire nightmare. It’s only a partial evolution of consciousness to accept the basic idea of something like the Time Bank but then relapse into a capitalist mindset where it comes to the details. It would be a contradiction. The whole point of economic relocalization is to transcend the Social Darwinist competition mindset and cultivate a community mindset. This is accomplished through the principle and even more through the act of trading hour for hour regardless of how the system ideology and its economists view the particular kind of work.
(Of course, there has to be a mechanism to ensure the quality of the work performed, since we’re not utopians who assume each and every person will always work to the best of his ability. So part of the job of the Time Bank broker is to check up on transactions to confirm that members’ work is satisfactory.
In general, the job of the broker is to administer the program, see that people know how to use it, receive questions or complaints and solve problems, help integrate the Time Bank with other relocalization programs, and in general cultivate the community atmosphere of the project.)
The goal and ability of a Time Bank isn’t to generate new production and “grow” the economy, but to value work which system economics refuses to value.
The Time Bank is meant to help overcome many problems of our degraded communities. We face the structural problem of increasing isolation and atomization, the ideological pathology of fetishizing “individuality” at the same time that we become ever more dependent upon corporations and government, the associated pathology of faith in top-down Leaders and “experts”, our conditioning against asking for help and our fear that we have nothing of value to contribute.
Time Banking directly attacks this ideology and seeks to overcome the conditioning and diminish our social fears. All this contributes to undermining the kleptocratic structure.
A Time Bank can be focused on particular areas of need. I’m particularly interested in its potential to emphasize local food production and distribution. Normal gardening help, help with harvest and any local processing, establishing and working at community gardens, establishing and running CSAs, transportation of food, seed storage, letting others cultivate gardens on land one is unable to cultivate on one’s own, any special expertise associated with any of these, can all be part of the Time Bank. And this in turn can be integrated with farmers’ markets, seed banks, and other food programs, as well as actual barter of the produce.
While different communities will have different goals for Time Banks, I think the aspiration must be to try to guide them toward economic relocalization and community resiliency. It should be seen as a vehicle toward reskilling in all the skills and crafts we’ve lost but now have a critical need to recover. Although a Time Bank is likely to start out small and with the skills available among its pioneers and early adopters, these early organizers and members must look for opportunities to recruit members who have these valuable skills, and encourage them to give hours as teachers of these skills. That’s perhaps the most practically valuable thing a Time Bank can accomplish, short of its potential to help rebuild community feeling and action in themselves.