Homer Alaska - Business

Story last updated at 1:37 PM on Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Time banking:

Rethinking community's cash-based economy

BY Hal Spence
For the homer news

America's torpid economy has many struggling to make ends meet. Now a small but growing group in Homer believes they can ease some everyday financial pressures through methods of exchange outside the dominant cash-based system.

It's called time banking, the essence of which is connecting a community's unmet needs to its untapped resources in a way that requires no cash.

For more information:

The public is invited to time banking orientation meetings:

When:

Between 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Mondays, April 9, 16 and 30, and Thursdays, April 26 and May 3.

Where:

Kachemak Bay Campus, 533 E. Pioneer Ave.

On the web:

aha.timebanks.org

On Facebook:

www.facebook.com/HomerTimeBank

About Time Banking:

"It starts from the premise that all human beings have something very special to contribute and that there is a world of value other than market price. So I give an hour, I get an hour."

- From Law Professor Edgar Cahn, who is credited with developing the time banking concept

Laura Brooks, who has experience creating time banks in other parts of the country, believes Homer is ripe for such a program, and says given a large enough membership, all sorts of tradable services could be involved.

Information about the proposed Homer time bank can be found at www.aha.timebanks.org. That's the website of the Homer time bank group, AHA! — Alaskans Helping Alaskans.

Here is essentially how it might work. Say one person has tutoring skills. He makes that skill known to the time bank community. Another may be willing to prepare taxes, while a third may offer babysitting or snow shoveling or some other service. When the tutor performs some hours of teaching, he acquires the equivalent hours in the time bank, which he may trade for, say, snow shoveling from someone else.

This building up and withdrawing of hours is entirely cashless, a central tenet of time banking, Brooks said. One member's hours are exactly worth another's. It's a bit like bartering, except bartering can be taxed by the Internal Revenue Service because it involves assigning a dollar-value to exchanged services. Traded hours are more like charitable deeds, which remain outside the market economy, and cannot be taxed, Brooks said.

The potential benefits from a pool of hours into which hundreds contribute is obvious — services without the exchange of money.

"In the economic crisis we are faced with, I think people helping each other out is ever more critical," Brooks said.

Law Professor Edgar Cahn developed the time banking concept and has written several books on the idea. In a 2008 interview available on the AHA! website, Cahn discussed his time banking theory of exchanging services without assessing a cash value. Price, he said, rises with scarcity.

"That means we devalue what is universal, what defines us as human beings, our ability to care for each other, to rescue each other, to help each other," he said. "So this is an attempt to say that my hour equals your hour whether you're a doctor, surgeon, lawyer, plumber or whatever. It starts from the premise that all human beings have something very special to contribute and that there is a world of value other than market price. So I give an hour, I get an hour."

Cahn calls this "economy of family, neighborhood, kith and kin," the "Core Economy," that part of the total economy "not measured by traditional indicators." Cahn suggests that when functioning properly, this core actually undergirds the market economy, which is not healthy without it. Time banking reinforces the core economy by drawing upon its person-to-person strengths.

As you might expect, trust is very important, especially when requesting an hour from a stranger. But it works, says Cahn, because the time bank becomes a community and offers a "new way of imparting the Golden Rule."

Brooks and several others have been meeting to develop the basis for a Homer time bank. She said she doesn't yet know how many residents it will take to reach critical mass and make a time bank self-sustaining. But numbers are not that crucial, she said.

"It's not how many people, but how many things people are willing to exchange," she said.

Brooks first became involved in time banking as a VISTA volunteer in Brattleboro, Vermont, in August 2010. A year later there were hundreds of active members. Nationwide, there are more than 300 time banks, including three registered in Alaska — in Homer, Anchorage and Wasilla, all three of which are new.

A question often asked is whether a time bank could hurt a community's cash economy. Brooks believes that time banks can actually serve to help sustain local market economies, and that not only individuals, but professionals and commercial businesses could benefit from membership. She said she hopes to entice area businesses to participate.

People join time banks for a myriad of reasons, but generally they boil down to these: everyone needs something sometime, and we all desire to give of ourselves and make a difference in the world.

Noting that people are often reluctant to ask for help, Brooks said time banking offers a way beyond that hang-up through its system of reciprocal volunteering.

Time banking is "about instilling a shift in thinking and engendering mutual respect. We need to replace the question, 'How can I help you,' with 'How can we help each other,'" she said.

Hal Spence is a freelance writer who lives in Homer.

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