Supporters of local currency in the United States say they are founding these systems here because they believe in the “buy local” movement and want to strengthen their neighborhoods and reduce reliance on large corporate banks.
“Obviously the idea of local currency has been around for a long time and historically they do pop up in times of economic uncertainty,” said Julie Gouldener, 40, program coordinator of the Baltimore Green Currency Association. “We view the complementary currency as a win-win. It’s not meant to replace the U.S. dollar. It’s meant to exist alongside it and build more local wealth.”
Gouldener’s group launched a currency called the BNote in April 2011. Locals can trade real dollars for BNotes at eight “cambios” around the city, including Zeke’s Coffee in Northeast Baltimore, and use them at 175 businesses. So far, there are about 28,000 BNotes in circulation.
“It’s going great. We’ve had steady growth since the launch,” Gouldener said.
Ed Collom, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Southern Maine, said local currencies had their first heyday during the Great Depression, when users traded notes called scrip — essentially IOUs made of paper, wood or even clamshells — that replaced scarce federal dollars.
There are now about a dozen local currency systems around the country, including Ithaca Hours, one of the largest that was founded in New York in 1991. The idea seems to appeal to people from a wide political spectrum — from Green Party progressives campaigning against globalization to libertarians suspicious of big government.
Collom said that currency systems are more likely to falter because organizers find it difficult to sustain momentum. Even the Ithaca Hours has seen a decline in usage, with the number of participating businesses falling from about 500 at its height to about 200 now. Its new board president, Paul Strebel, a financial adviser, said he hopes to reinvigorate the system and is exploring using virtual bills on smartphones.
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