Money Is a Human Artifact

Money that builds connection
Money is a Human Artifact . We created it. We can alter it. It is not part of the molecular structure of the universe. If we can alter the basic DNA of living creatures, surely we can devise a local currency that enables us to help each other. At the Time Dollar Institute, we are experimenting with the DNA of money, and by doing so, we are altering the definition of what is possible. Put simply, Time Dollars are a form of service barter which, recorded in a computer bank, become a new way of matching resources with needs. Why do we need another currency? The answer is the high cost of money. One cost is obvious: interest. The interest on the house or car you buy costs more than the house or car itself. The interest on the federal debt eats up more than we spend on all the social welfare programs. The interest on Third World debt destabilizes fragile democratic governments and condemns whole nations to famine, disease, unemployment, and social disintegration. But interest is only a small part of the real cost of money. Each characteristic that makes money valuable and useful also has a cost, and these ultimately can be prohibitive.

For example , money has all-purpose purchasing power; you can buy anything with it, including assault rifles, drugs, and politicians. Time Dollars, by contrast, can only be used to secure those goods and services built into the computer software that tracks the exchanges. Sorry, no Saturday night specials, cocaine, or bribes. Money is regarded as superior because of its efficiency. But how efficient is money as a measure of equity, value, beauty, justice, or the health of the environment? How well does it measure the qualities that strengthen family, neighborhood, and community? Money has mobility. It knows no geographic loyalty and thus has a centrifugal force on family, neighborhood, community, and increasingly, our entire national identity. Time Dollars are place specific; they reward sinking roots, staying in place, building community. Money and pricing devalue what is not counted in dollars or yen - air and water, and basic tasks such as caring, neighborliness, citizen involvement, rearing children, and learning. Time Dollars reject conventional pricing; one hour equals one Time Dollar because real caring is beyond price. Price promotes - indeed enshrines - specialization. Compare surgeons' incomes to those of primary care doctors. Yet, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. are not celebrated for their scarce marketable skills; they are honored because they embody universal human values.

Money is "official" so it carries an aura of legitimacy that reinforces confidence in commerce. We pay heavily for that illusion of certainty when we bail out the savings and loan industry, the banks that created the Third World debt crisis, and the budget deficit. Money is backed by law. Monetary exchanges create rights and obligations that the courts, at least in theory, will enforce. Time Dollars are backed by a moral obligation, a norm of reciprocity. That is why the IRS has ruled that Time Dollars are tax-exempt: a transaction backed only by a moral norm cannot be taxed as a "commercial exchange." Time Dollars are an electronic currency; exchanges are recorded and tracked by software available free on the Internet ( With this currency, deeds, good and bad, leave footprints, and that has a powerful effect in creating community. The computer functions as a kind of collective neighborhood memory that says what goes around comes around. The real price we pay for money, the real cost, is the hold that money has on our sense of what is possible - the prison it builds for our imagination. We are blessed with ample productive capacity to meet the basic needs of all society's members - but our city streets are looking more and more like those of Bombay or Calcutta. Time Dollars put within our reach a world that rewards decency and caring as automatically as the market economy now rewards selfishness and even ruthlessness. Time Dollars empower ordinary people to say to one another: "We value what you do, and we have the power to confer external validation by the award of a credit, good for one hour of our own time." Time Dollars say that it's possible, within our lifetime, to create a world in which all who are willing to help another can earn sufficient purchasing power to live in decency with opportunities for growth, fulfillment, and contribution.