Local Time is Money: Time Banking

Times are tough because of the coronavirus pandemic. Many people are unemployed but in need of help. They are long on time, skills, and experience, but short on cash. Could we fashion a social answer to this tough nut? Time banking facilitates donating your time to others and receiving assistance you need in return.

How Time Banking Works

Let’s say that I join my local time bank and then do four hour’s worth of WordPress website work for a local baker who is also a bank member. The baker needs website updates to handle phone-in and takeout orders.

When my work is done, my account gains four hours; the baker’s account loses four hours. I can then use my newly-earned four hours to hire a landscape and gardening expert for an afternoon. Together, we could clean up my neglected back yard. They could teach me about what perennial plants thrive in my area and look good with a minimal amount of work and water.

Charles Eisenstein, author of Sacred Economics, describes time banking this way:

The fundamental idea behind time banks is deeply egalitarian, both because everyone’s time is valued equally and because everyone starts out with the same amount of it. If there is one thing that we can be said to truly own, it is our time. Unlike any other possession, as long as we are alive, our time is inseparable from our selves. Our choice of how to spend time is our choice of how to live life. And no matter how wealthy one is in terms of money, it is impossible to buy more time. Money might buy you life-saving surgery or otherwise enhance longevity, but it won’t guarantee long life; nor can it purchase more than twenty-four hours of experience in each day. In this we are all equal; a money system that recognizes this equality is intuitively appealing.

Time Can Be Money

Money is a social good that fulfills two needs.

One, money is a medium of exchange. In my example, the landscape expert my have no need for my services, but I need theirs. Without a medium of exchange, I would not be able to convert my work of the baker into anything other than what the baker offers. If I’m gluten intolerant, I’m out of luck. But with a medium of exchange, I can convert doing work for the baker into a landscaper doing work for me.

Two, money stores value. My website work created value for the baker. With a money system, I can store that value for use at a later date. Maybe my work with the baker was done right before their busy holiday season, but I don’t want to hire a landscaper until springtime.

We use currency to facilitate exchange and store value. Currency can be physical cash or, increasingly, numbers in an electronic ledger. But currency isn’t the only thing that can be money.

In fact, money is be anything that the group agrees has value and facilitates exchange. Swapping hours instead of dollars fits the bill.

Examples of Time Banking Case Studies

Time banking is often used as a local form of money. Bank members live in the same community and help each other out. Proponents of the system praise its ability to build communal bonds and support local businesses.

But time banking isn’t just for local business. Time banking can also be used across distances and to support and enhance other social goods.

Here are just a couple, short case studies of time banking systems.

Japan: Time Banking for Elder Care

More than a quarter of the Japanese population is older than 65. While the country offers a national healthcare system, that system doesn’t cover all the needs of its elderly population. To meet these needs, they use a time banking system called Fureai Kippu, or “Caring Relationship Tickets.”

Like other time banks, the unit of value is an hour, specifically an hour of service to an elderly person. People use these credits in a couple different ways.

  • Volunteers do service and bank hours while they are young, and then cash in the hours when they are older and need services.
  • People with elderly relatives in another part of the country volunteer locally and then donate their credited hours to their relatives. That way, their relatives receive a steady source of support even though they live far away.
  • Some elderly people use it to support other elderly people in their community.

The Fureai Kippu system works outside of governments or insurance companies. In fact, it was started in 1995 by a private foundation.

Wisconsin: Juvenile Justice

A Stanford Social Innovation Review article contains several examples of innovative time banks. Here’s one description:

In Madison, Wis., the Dane County TimeBank sponsors a program called TimeBank Youth Court in all four of the city’s high schools. The program gives teens who commit minor offenses an alternative to going through the official criminal justice process. The police, instead of issuing tickets to young offenders, refer them to the Youth Court. In a Youth Court proceeding, a jury of teen peers can impose sentences that involve apologizing to the victim of the offense, making restitution to the victim, or performing community service. The program draws on the resource of the time bank to develop creative but suitable sentencing options. In addition, most sentences require offenders to serve on the Youth Court jury. (Teen jurors, meanwhile, receive time credits for their service.) Because of TimeBank Youth Court, minor offenses by teens in Madison no longer trigger an out-of-school suspension or an arrest record.

Find a Time Bank Near You–Or Start One!

Visit TimeBanks.org to find a time bank near you. The site lists time banks from around the world, many with hundreds of members exchange hours every day.

When I search for California, I found the largest, most active time bank in the small, northern California town of Sevastopol. The bank there has 250 members and the most recent exchange was the day before me writing this.

But I also found several start-up time banks, including ones close to me in Oakland and Berkeley.

The list of time banks also shows plenty of organizations that are neglected or withered. Time banking takes work. It’s a form of community organization, and that takes promotion.

But in our current economy where people are long on time, skills, and experience, but short on cash, time banking could have big returns.

(Image courtesy of PxHere)

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