An old saying suggests that fish don’t think about the water they swim in until it’s polluted. The same holds true when it comes to our thoughts on money and economy. While some people may panic about the fluctuations of the market, others are asking, “What is money, and what gives it value?”
WHAT IS MONEY?
Webster’s defines money as something generally accepted as a medium of exchange, a measure of value, or a means of payment. The evolution of our money has gone from the actual trading of a cow or some wheat to representations of those things. Our current form of money is an efficient, reliable way of spending across the US. However, there are other currencies in the country—known as complimentary currencies—that help support the economy of a specific region. In the strong economies of Germany and Japan, there are over 300 complimentary currencies in each country being spent alongside the national currency. They help to encourage local spending.
Two local examples of complimentary currencies include the Ithaca Hour from Ithaca and the Berkshare in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. This type of money is not intended to replace federal currency. Its use helps strengthen the sense of economic community and builds the regional economy by enhancing locally owned businesses, local manufacturing, and local jobs. By creating a local currency, we reduce the region’s dependence on an unpredictable global or national economy. We increase economic security and lower transportation costs by sourcing locally. And we increase the prosperity and well being of the whole region.
WHERE’S IT GOING?
The movement to shop locally stems from a desire to see our communities thrive. After large malls in the ‘80s lured shoppers away from Main Streets across the nation, we began to see the effect on suffering downtowns. Revitalization efforts over the last two decades have helped illustrate the importance of spending with the businesses that our neighbors own.
When we spend with our neighbors there are no corporate headquarters where the money is being sent to, there are no large CEO salaries to cover, no national advertising expenses, no lobbying expenses, or other extravagant reasons to funnel money away from our communities. When you shop locally the money keeps moving around the community, as long as the people who you support are also local spenders.
VOTE WITH OUR DOLLARS
A corporation is simply a business. We support corporations every day, and when we do we make a vote with our dollar about what we value. As we’ve recently seen, when a business gets so large that its closure can cripple a national economy, US citizens are forced to “bail them out.” Small business owners receive no such stimulus, so support comes from the community. Most multinational corporations find the cheapest workers in the world. Small, local corporations hire people from our region and must pay at least minimum wage (benefits used to be standard). Most multinational corporations seek countries with weak (or no) environmental laws. Local businesses must conform to the strict environmental laws that were created to keep our world clean. Multinational corporations can afford to buy millions of units in order to drive prices so low that local businesses can’t match the price.
The true cost of spending a dollar is not on the price tag. Ask yourself next time you’re deciding between buying at the local grocery or at a big box store: Which place do I want here in 10 years? Will you pay the extra dollar to support your community character? During the holidays or birthdays, buy a handmade toy at a local toy store instead of a mega-corporate toy store. The toy will most likely last longer and was not produced with toxic chemicals. The little changes make all the difference in the world.
Those interested in developing a local currency can join forces with the group forming The Current. The Hudson Valley Current is a currency for the Hudson Valley that will issue its first paper bills later this year. Currents will function the way that national currency functions but locally, on a regional scale. The Current is 100% legal and will be convertible with US dollars. The attractive, compelling bills will convey a sense of dignity, history, and community. Money needs to inspire trust, and the Current will build that trust on the rich legacy of civil society in the Hudson Valley.
A list of participating stores will be published prior to the first run of The Current. To get Currents, anyone will be able to go into a participating bank to receive 10 Currents for $9 US, or ask to receive your change in Currents at participating stores. Visit hudsonvalleycurrent.org for more info.
The best first step for developing a strong local economy is to shop with local business owners. Turn shopping into a social event of strolling with a friend through farmers’ markets and small shops in our beautiful downtown village centers.
by Chris Fenichel-Hewitt
Chris Fenichel-Hewitt is a founding member of The Current, board member of Phoenix Action Network, the fiscal sponsor of The Current, and editor of VISITvortex. He has been interested in printing and publishing since running his first printing press at 12 years old.