by Pamela Boyce Simms
The hospicing of a tattered economic system is well underway. Timebanking, which eases the anxiety
of “letting go,” is transforming how people view money, and is gaining traction in the Mid-Hudson Valley, throughout New York State and the Mid-Atlantic Region as economic inequality worsens nationwide.
In a timebank, an hour rather than a dollar is the unit of currency. Members exchange work for credit that they can then redeem for other services they need.
It is of course easiest for timebanking to take root when unemployment is high. Crunch-times and hardship motivate the underemployed to sign up and offer their services to get things they need. But beyond any given economic trend, timebanking grounds a vision of how we might treat each other better. The inherent rub is that timebanking dismisses prevailing market logic by valuing all work, an hour of every person’s humanity and contribution, as equal. Embracing this deepening of American founding principles is timebanking’s growing edge challenge.
Neighbors who are joining New York State and regional timebanks have stopped worshiping markets as infallible because their personal experience compels them to think differently about economics. The stark reality is that half of our neighbors can’t afford to save for retirement; a third have next to no retirement savings at all, or have taken an average loss of $12,000 on their retirement funds. The intent of timebanking is to help build an economy that meets our needs in the present moment. Timebanking encourages us to live fully in the here and now and build for the future specifically by deepening our relationships and sharing our talents, rather than by continually readjusting our lives to serve the growth of the economy.
Civil Rights activist Edgar Cahn created timebanking to alter the way people relate to each other by altering the medium of exchange. He comments, “Timebanking was a giant step away from hyper-individualism and the destructive competition inherent in inequality.” Cahn created timebanking to, “…sustain true collaboration and focus on the commonality of human need fulfillment.” Timebanking is pushback against the entrenched idea that we are defined by what we can buy and sell.
The four core values of timebanking are:
• Assets—The wealth of a society is its people. Every human being can be a builder and contributor.
• Redefining Work–Work redefined includes whatever it takes to rear healthy children, preserve families, make neighborhoods safe and vibrant, care for the frail and vulnerable, attack injustice, and make democracy work.
• Reciprocity—We all want to give back. Replace all forms of one-way acts of helping with two-way transactions, so that “You need me” becomes “We need each other”
• Social Capital—Humans require a social infrastructure, which require ongoing investments of social capital generated by trust, reciprocity, and civic engagement.
Timebanking is more relevant than ever in 2013 when eight out of ten Americans, (80%) have to make do with 7% of the nation’s income; when nest eggs no longer produce income, as people delay retirement and prematurely borrow heavily from their IRAs and 401(k)s.
This year New York State (NYS) residents became members of timebanks serving Troy, Rochester, Syracuse, The Capital Region (including Albany, Schenectady, and Saratoga), The Mid-Hudson Valley (Woodstock and Warwick Timebank team), Long Island, and New York City.
NYS timebanks met on October 5 and shared best practices with 30 timebankers representing 14 timebanks from six states in the Mid-Atlantic Region. They met at the invitation of seasoned veteran Mashi Blech, director of the 2000-member Community Connections Timebank of the Visiting Nurse Service of New York. Additional fledgling timebanks, just coming on stream, gathered on October 6 in Media, Pennsylvania to be mentored by Marie Goodwin, founder of Mid-Atlantic Regional Timebanks.
Timebanking boils down to the giving of self, and reciprocal giver-receiver affirmation. Timebankers are catalysts who combine this thinking with the moneyless economic exchange of services in their communities. Regular roundtables like those convened by Mashi Blech and Marie Goodwin “catalyze the catalysts” and are forming the interconnected root system that will support the morphed economy that is germinating.
Here in the Mid-Hudson Valley, the Woodstock TimeBank (WTB) will inaugurate a new timebanking chapter in early 2014 with two projects:
• Alliance-building with formal and informal human service networks will generate
“social-change hour exchanges.”
• Thematic public storytelling rounds in coffee shop settings, will showcase the talents and life experiences of participants as needs and assets are matched for timebank service exchanges.
As we round the bend into 2014, let’s raise a glass of delicious Mid-Hudson Valley hard cider to those truths that we hold to be self-evident; that all people and their compassionately offered labor are created equal.
Pamela Boyce Simms is director of the Woodstock TimeBank.