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Time as currency may hold the answer

ASK the PITS – person in the street – seen racing ratlike from appointment to carpark about the use of time and they will say, with profound if hurried conviction: Time is money, mate. The meter is running faster.

The dawning realisation among rat-racers and ferals alike is that the market economy and economic rationalism are not providing quality of life.

Where is the payoff for 80 hour weeks, children as strangers, divorced-in-marriage home relationships, and disintegrating stressed out bodies? We are no longer happy little vegemites.

Thankfully, new solutions are surfacing.

Slightly turn time-is-money into time-is-currency and you have a hot new experiment in the use of human resources that is turning abject dependent poverty and social disaster into a positive trend of healthy community redevelopment.

According to the UK-based New Economics Foundation’s senior associate David Boyle in his New Statesman essay entitled Time is the great social healer, presented in The Jobs Letter III of 5 November, (http://www.jobsletter.org.nz/) – the idea is to use people’s time as a kind of money.

Volunteers who do any task communities need doing in order to thrive are ‘paid’ in time-dollars which can be spent on goods and services ranging from health care, clothing and food to computers, skill training and even rent.

Time as currency is coming out of recent US and UK research such as the Harvard study of 343 different neighbourhoods in Chicago and interviews with nearly 9,000 people about violence, which found equally poor neighbourhoods had very

different levels of violence.

The explanation appears to be the “informal social control and cohesion and trust” within the least violent neighbourhoods, where the local people were prepared to “intervene for the common good”.

As Boyle writes, whether it is called ‘community’ like Amitai Etzioni, ‘duty’ like David Selbourne, ‘trust’ like Francis Fukuyama, ‘social capital’ like Robert Putnam, or even Tony Blair’s ‘magical ingredient’, there is an elusive hard-to-define quality that is increasingly essential to a healthy economy.

To foster, boost, encourage and nurture healthy social capital – it cannot be legislated into existence – the key ingredient seems to be civic involvement.

The greater the civic involvement, the less crime, violence, substance abuse and so on.

An example: the Washington law firm Holland & Knight’s award

winning Shaw neighbourhood pro bono clean-up project, involving closing crack houses, eliminating local police corruption, keeping the neighbourhood school open and other such daunting tasks.

The firm billed $US230,000 time dollars to the project. The local community paid it off by helping: providing a night escort service for old people, campaigning for better street lighting, noting car licence numbers of drug dealers, tutoring school kids and much more.

Every law-firm hour meant another hour of community self-help.

Time-dollar economy is a radical system promoting self-help, community trust, egalitarian pay (all labour is time-dollar per hour), egalitarian status (as participant not donor/recipient) and not ageist, sexist, tribalist, racist, or skill-based.

Money as time – add commitment and contribution to community – and we have a healing economy.

• Ann Macbeth is a futurist and principal of Annimac Consultants.

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