April 30, 2011

Time Banking

Filed under: Food and Farms, Relocalization, Time Banking and Co-Production — Tags: — Russ @ 2:20 am


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.


  1. Here’s links to two flourishing time banks, Skillshare in Colorado and Hour Exchange Portland in Maine.



    Both websites are comprehensive and loaded with information, especially the Skillshare which includes a 52 page membership manual. The details of both projects are typical.

    Comment by Russ — April 30, 2011 @ 7:30 am

  2. Reads too good to be true..As a skeptic, I worry that some percentage (initially small) will take advantage-which will force the “regulatory arm” (Time Bank Brokers) to expand and become a “professional class” within the community-Next, maybe favoritism and lobbying. If success brings rapid growth-complexity could open more opportunities for individual abusers-much like the “pretend” homeless panhandlers collecting SocSec. All systems are subject to corruption-it’s just a matter of time. Strong peer pressure based on shared moral consciousness is the only defense.
    The social contract is now in such shambles that relocalization is the only option-other than total violent revolution.

    Comment by Natalie Golovin — April 30, 2011 @ 10:47 am

    • 1. This is a relocalization program. It’s an alternative to centralized money, and it seeks to invigorate the informal and localized economy.

      2. It works. The projects I linked, and many others, have been around for years and have hundreds of members in many cases.

      3. I’m not sure how the abuses you describe are supposed to happen in a well-run time bank. Everyone’s account is expected to maintain no more than a small deficit at any time and to zero out or move to surplus on a regular basis. Anyone who tried to freeload would quickly be identified and, if he didn’t start giving back, would be shunned. That’s the way it works.

      Comment by Russ — April 30, 2011 @ 12:02 pm

  3. Thanks for these links, Russ. I wasn’t aware this was something people were doing. Unfortunately there’s nothing in my city yet, by the looks of things, but I can’t imagine that’ll be the case for long, given how much potential labour is out there and how little it’s valued in monetary terms. It’ll be interesting to see how this develops.

    Comment by paper mac — April 30, 2011 @ 3:39 pm

    • It’s a great idea. We have ours functional though still in the tinkering stage. We plan to officially launch it in June.

      The time bank directory I have is for the US only, so I couldn’t search Canada, but there’s probably a Canada directory somewhere out there.

      Comment by Russ — April 30, 2011 @ 4:26 pm

  4. One of the issues that brings me to a brick wall is the requirement for citizens of a locality, town, city, or nation state to pay taxes (property or income) to some sovereign kleptocracy. Although I read that the states of Virginia and Utah would allow payment of taxes with gold or silver (coins?) we all need to pay the tax obligation with some form of currency dictated by the sovereign. Time banks are one way to mitigate the need for “money” within a community but we are still tied to the kleptocracy by our labor in exchange for the “currency of the realm.”

    Comment by Joyce — April 30, 2011 @ 5:31 pm

    • The main goal of taxes is social control, not to raise revenue. That’s why the government is so keen to keep us captive within the cash economy.

      (It’s a main purpose of the health racket Stamp mandate, which is in this sense a poll tax.

      https://attempter.wordpress.com/2011/01/09/stamps-and-poll-taxes-stamp-mandate-conclusion/ )

      Conversely, the Time Bank has as a main goal helping to build an alternative to the cash economy, although no one claims it can do this on its own. (Detractors often falsely accuse proponents of claiming that.)

      In principle, and according to any legitimate law, since the Time Bank is the exchange of gifts, it’s untaxable. Historically, time banks haven’t had a problem with this. But we can expect that as the relocalization movement grows, the kleptocracy will become increasingly repressive. In that case justice and legal fact aren’t likely to be barriers to tax assaults. That’s the main reason I keep calling for us to demand an end to all taxes on the non-rich. I see it as a measure in defense of many of the affirmative projects of relocalization.

      Comment by Russ — April 30, 2011 @ 7:34 pm

  5. * So one key part of fighting back is the imperative to Take Back Our Money.

    Alternative currencies may improve our lot somewhat but they fall far short of
    what is possible. An inordinate amount of time and energy is being spent on trying to create variations on the existing exchange paradigm. A more meaningful change would be to focus on systems design, building commons, tracking resources, tracking outcomes, and participatory production.

    * Technically, it’s not barter but a way of accounting for exchange of gifts.

    A true gift is freely given, no expectation of reciprocation is required. This is why the progressive model that I promote is open source, not tracking exchanges. We need to track outcomes, not the implementation details of exchanges.

    * …along with an assumed moral responsibility to give as much as you get.

    You haven’t understood anything about what is wrong with our economic system
    if you believe this. The end goal must be to get everyone’s fundamental needs met in a democratic way (i.e. everyone is reasonably happy and involved). Trying to balance some metaphysical fairness equation is nonsense. At any given task, one person may be twice as productive as another. When an individual is engaged in creative, self-driven production, then his work is often a joyful experience, not a laborious one. Tracking hours spent on “work” is as meaningless as tracking dollars “earned”.

    * Of course, there has to be a mechanism to ensure the quality of the work performed…

    Yes, you will need to build a bureaucracy to manage your exchange scheme. If you stick with focus on production for use, rather than for accumulation, then this is not required. Break down the walls between producers and users and quality control issues are automatically handled (they will be self-apparent to those that need to know).

    * 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.

    My position is that it is fundamentally wrong to value work for anything other than what it produces. People are conditioned by our market and money system to do exactly the opposite, and the inevitable negative consequences are not hard to predict. In short, much human effort is misdirected into gaming (or simply surviving in) the system, rather than directly focusing on solving human problems.

    Comment by Karl — April 30, 2011 @ 6:38 pm

    • Evidently you’re the one who hasn’t understood a thing, about the economy, humanity, or anything I’ve written.

      (You are aware, of course, that this is a relocalization measure to be undertaken now, while we’re still within this system, to try to lessen its grip upon us. It’s not a proposal for an anarchist society, which would of course dispense with all such mechanisms.)

      I’m amused by your demand that my proposals instantly bring about paradise, rather than function incrementally. But it’s always that way with scoffers, isn’t it?

      I guess I don’t read the right websites, since I missed the successful open source revolution which already instantly solved all problems.

      But seriously, unlike you I think multiple paths can function concurrently, so I don’t attack every idea I see which isn’t exactly the same thing I’m doing.

      I’m not sure where you got the notion that I was calling this “the” solution, as opposed to one part of an extensive toolkit. Or maybe that’s just an intentional smear, since you’re so hostile to the idea in general.

      As for your quibbling over terms and ridiculous epithet, “metaphysical”, I’m simply using regular English words to describe the regular human psychology which will be involved in promoting a project like this.

      You’ll have to explain why a “bureaucracy” would be required to keep track of hours given and received, because I have no idea why it would be. There are plenty of successful time banks, and none of them require one.

      You completely lose me in talking about “production for use, rather than for accumulation….the walls between producers and users”.

      Self-evidently it’s about use rather than accumulation. How could it be otherwise? – It’s just exchange of services. Again, you seem to be gratuitously demanding that a project deal with issues it was never intended to deal with. It’s like a book reviewer who complains that the book wasn’t about a different subject than what it’s about.

      For someone who’s been reading here so long and, I assume, has seen me talk about end goals plenty of times, you’re sure impatient the second you see me write about something which isn’t the millennial goal but merely a small provisional step in that direction. But don’t accuse such a topic of “fall[ing] far short of
      what is possible”. This isn’t meant to encompass all that is possible, just one small part of it.

      Nor does any other single thing comprehend more than a small fraction.

      Comment by Russ — April 30, 2011 @ 7:20 pm

      • Oohh.. sounding a bit harsh there Russ. There is nothing in my post that demands “instant paradise”. Please, stop projecting into my critique. I’m pointing out that there are different ways to engage in economic activity and some do represent a greater change from what we have now. Multiple alternatives are being tried and there is nothing to stop you from pursuing your own. Open source production has a track record of going toe-to-toe with the largest corporations of our age, and indeed, is transforming some of them (in addition to changing what people expect of economic relations).

        The time bank concept is about the accumulation of time “points”, which are then “spent”. This record keeping (of not particularly meaningful data) requires it’s own infrastructure. It’s a set of arbitrary rules which can be gamed. It’s quite trivial to lie about time spent on the job, right? I simply telling you that, for a host of reasons, I’m not excited about alternative currencies.

        Comment by Karl — April 30, 2011 @ 9:28 pm

      • I was only responding to your harsh tone, Karl. You didn’t start out respecting multiple ways, but I’m glad to see you’re doing so now.

        The record-keeping of time banks has been effectively performed by a single broker. That’s the historical model. That hardly constitutes a “bureaucracy”.

        What’s an example of an “arbitrary rule”? Nothing I described in the post is arbitrary, nor is any other aspect, to my knowledge.

        And how does one game time spent on the job? If you agree to perform a service for me, you either perform it satisfactorily or not.

        Perhaps you mean that someone’s going to do some yard work for me while I’m gone, and then he claims to have worked three hours when he really worked two? Sure, that’s possible, and to an extent participants are on an honor system.

        But if people are going to be paranoid and misanthropic in immediately thinking that way from the outset, then neither time banks nor anything else can ever work, since anything and everything we’re trying to do depends upon a belief in the basic fairness of most people.

        If I were that skeptical, then believe me I wouldn’t be doing any of this. I’d just be looking to get over personally.

        What you say is ironic, because it’s very similar to criticisms I often hear regarding open source as well. Oh, but there an invisible hand of selflessness and unforced reciprocity does function. That same hand just mysteriously wouldn’t function where it comes to alternatives to money.

        But again, as I’ve said several times now in the post and comments, time banking is not theoretical speculation. It has worked in practice, hundreds of successful projects, for many years now. The demonstrations are successful. The thing is reaching deployment stage. So I can’t imagine why you act as if this hasn’t been successfully tried many times now.

        Comment by Russ — May 1, 2011 @ 3:35 am

  6. Russ,

    I thought you might be interested to know that a Worker’s Solidarity Rally is being held in Roanoke, Va, to celebrate May Day and remember the Haymarket Martyrs.

    This event has been promoted mostly by flyers, posters and word of mouth, so hopefully we’ll have a large turnout.


    Comment by Frank Lavarre — May 1, 2011 @ 2:25 am

    • Sounds good. You’re going to the rally? If so, afterward tell us how it went.

      Comment by Russ — May 1, 2011 @ 3:40 am

      • I’m going to the rally and will let you know how it went.

        If I’d found out about this earlier, I would have done whatever I could to help organize it, but, in any case, not being originally from the south and not expecting a Workers Rally for May Day here, I was pleasantly surprised the other day when I went to our local food co-op, and saw a poster advertising this event.

        Comment by Frank Lavarre — May 1, 2011 @ 11:02 am

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