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In the United States, DIY dough is circulating in California, Wisconsin, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Massachusetts, and New York. And it turns out anyone can do it. Printing and distributing local currency is legal, as long as it follows the rules: it's paper (no coins allowed); it doesn't resemble a dollar; and it's taxed as if it were a buck. It's almost too easy. As Paul Glover, founder of the Ithaca Hours, admits: "When I started Ithaca Hours I thought it would be illegal but it wasn't. It's too bad, the supposed illegality was part of the fun."
The Ithaca Hours, conceived in 1991, is the longest running local currency in the nation. Each Ithaca Hour stands for an hour of labor, and is equivalent to ten dollars. Its labor value seems to be the key to its success—instead of just competing with federal dollars, the Ithaca Hour is backed by future community productivity.
What we're talking about here, then, is not just a pretty bill, a means for improving cash-flow in your neighborhood, or a way to bond with your neighbors—it's about the reconception of value. For Jeys, the Torch has more to do with labor, social work, and having fun, than merchandise: "We want to change the exchange between each other, to change things from the federal system of gain and loss, and into more of a game."
Unlike broader, mainstream monetary systems, in which the market demands competition at all costs, the players behind local currencies seem to actually support each other. We tapped Susan Witt, co-founder of the BerkShare, for kernels of wisdom to pass on to the Torch team. "I'm thrilled that Brooklyn is doing this! Because Brooklyn is so sprawling, though, place identification will be key. Also, one obstacle to look out for is how deeply ingrained our credit card habits are. Major corporations have made it so 'convenient' to deal with electronic transactions that we've kind of given up engaging in our local communities and local economies. But in the end, it's not a convenience at all—there are huge consequences."
Despite the history behind them, local DIY currencies have a long way to go. But does the Brooklyn Torch Project aim to inspire other boroughs and towns to follow suit? Absolutely, says Mary Jeys: "I would like to see other currencies everywhere. I hope that the development of a North Brooklyn currency project inspires a South Bronx currency project, a Staten Island currency project, and so on. Local currencies are usually created with an ethos that smaller is better; the best way for a local currency to suit its region is to be tailored by the people living there. That's what we're doing here with the Brooklyn Torch. We may not all be alike, but we can all get along."