Locals look to Ithaca Hours to jumpstart the economy
By Adam Polaski
As the rest of the country waits to see whether Congress’ economic stimulus plan proves effective, Ithaca’s residents need not look any further than the Commons for a strategy to potentially stave off the negative effects of the recession on the local economy. There is currently a significant amount of available wealth in the city that comes from a nearly two decade-long tradition of independent currency in Ithaca.
Conceived in 1991 by former Ithacan Paul Glover, this local currency system is called the Ithaca Hours. Glover saw it as a way to insulate Ithaca from a recession that year. It is hailed as the flagship of modern local currency and considered the catalyst for independent economic systems in America, from the Berkeley Barter Network in Berkeley, Calif. to the Blue Money system in Brattleboro, Vermont.
Glover’s ultimate goal was to enable Ithacans to earn and spend locally, in turn generating both a personal money supply for individuals and more active local economy. The system effectively standardizes the hourly wage — the money gets its name from the fact that one Ithaca Hour is worth an hour of labor, which Glover set at a standard ten dollars.
Spending locally helps limit the loss of jobs in the community and maintains a solid economy in Ithaca. Ithaca Hours ensures — by virtue of the fact it is not accepted anywhere else–money circulates among local storeowners and citizens and does not escape into the national monetary system.
Some users of the Hours cite the positive community spirit as the most important draw of using the currency. Deborah Thompson, a longtime Ithaca resident who has been using Hours since its inception, reflects on that spirit, saying, “It’s not the same as using greenback dollars — it’s a warmer feeling.”
Todd Saddler, who works on New Creation Design, a green architecture and design company, also recognizes this. “It works here because Ithaca is populated with people who are interested in what’s alternative to the status quo,” he says. “People here have a loyalty to local stores and the desire to help their neighbors out.”
A board of directors of seven volunteers, each of whom is elected for a two-year term, leads the Hours organization. Steve Burke, owner of Small World Music, has served as the board president for the past 10 years.
Burke predicts a revived popularity in the Ithaca Hours system, saying, “I think we’re on the verge of the biggest explosion that we’ve had by far because of what’s going on with the national
and world economy.”
He estimates that about 12,000 Hours, the equivalent of $120,000, are currently circulating among the approximate 1,000 users. Burke reasons that in future months, Ithaca business owners would be wise to attempt to take advantage of the market of Ithaca Hours users.
“It’s an entirely independent revenue stream,” Burke states. “There’s a hundred thousand dollars worth printed or circulated, and it’s adding wealth to this community…Ithaca Hours is a way that you can supplement your income and spend this money all over town, going a little bit further than what your paycheck gives you.”
The current economic situation has seemed to revive interest in the concept of local currency, with mainstream news publications like Newsweek and Time running recent articles that review its benefits. However, it remains to be seen whether or not the Hours and other systems of its kind will defray the negative results of the financial crisis in Ithaca. But with an economic collapse affecting so many people’s wallets, few potential solutions sound out of the question. Perhaps this more grassroots system will prove to be the most effective after all.
Adam Polaski is a freshman journalism major. E-mail him at email@example.com.