Iam starting to feel downright vin- dicated! It’s been almost three years since I started writing the Live Local column, and I’ve gotten an understandably mixed response—which is, as it should be, to generate discussion rather than preach to people who already agree with me. So, imagine my surprise (after having been called a whack-job and an isolationist) to find these two headlines on Yahoo!’s Finance Page: “Uninsured pay for medical care with local currencies,” reprinted from CNN.com, and “How to shop locally and save money,” reprinted from Investopedia.com.
I personally think the first is the more interesting of the two. We have discussed local currencies several times here. First we highlighted the BerkShare, which is a very successful local currency in the breath-takingly beautiful Berkshires of New England. Later, we discussed the possibility of using the already existent farmers’ market tokens as a local currency. Since they are already available, it would take local businesses to choose to accept them as part or all of payment.
CNN’s piece features 11 local currencies; they not only cite BerkShares but, in fact, a farmers’ market token program in New Orleans. Hence, I still think a local currency could flourish and support local spending in our area. What amazes me about this particular article is that people are using it for health care. One of the consistent problems faced by businesses are the big expenses of running a business: utilities, mortgage or rent (unless paid to a local currency-accepting landlord), taxes, insurance, etc., all of which can’t be paid for with a local currency. In theory, local suppliers may accept the currency, i.e. for advertising or office supplies. But to have a hospital or doctor—especially a hospital—accept a local currency for payment opens up a whole new realm of viability. Healthcare is such a big and overwhelming topic that strikes a chord with so many people, and on such a deep level we almost cannot be civilized and reasonable in its discourse. It is expensive and for many people not planned for. If a major institution like a hospital would accept a local currency, then the perceived value of these dedicated local dollars would significantly increase.
Local currencies are not a new idea and have been used very successfully at different times in our nation’s history. Their real benefits dedicate money to local spending, something that would otherwise leave a local economic system. Also, they empower economies and people to keep goods, services and money circulating that would not be able to otherwise.
I really like the example of the Equal Dollars in Philadelphia; it puts value on volunteer work (something non-profits are forever trying to qualify for grant application and reporting purposes). They are on the record saying they would like to find a state government to partner with for the launch of this program. I, for one, would love to see North Carolina take them up on that offer. Barring that maybe our local non-profits who are dedicated to community action and change would like to embark on such a program.
The second Yahoo! headline absolutely touches on an excuse many people assume of shopping at local, smaller businesses. I have repeatedly talked about the myth that independent stores are more expensive than chains or big-box stores. My favorite example is the toilet from Lowe’s versus Coleman Plumbing Supply. Not only did Coleman beat Lowe’s price, they delivered it to my business free of charge. They also brought all the necessary hardware along, just in case.
Investopedia.com primarily discusses local food and the relationship between food prices and oil prices—which is a very real relationship. Now there are several excellent books that have been published about locavore lifestyles and the impact of industrial agriculture on the human body, as well as the environment and, of course, the economy. For example, Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable Miracle” struck a chord with many people.
That Yahoo! is carrying stories like this as front-page news on their financial site is excellent for the Live Local cause; it makes me feel like it is a signal that this is an idea whose time has arrived. Though Margaret Mead reminds me that a thoughtful group of concerned citizens can make a difference, there are days that the battle seems insurmountable, and I feel like the message has been perceived as a flaky pie-in-the-sky theory—in spite of the fact that I am living proof that it is possible.
We have been living through several years of economic wake-up calls. Instead of floundering in panic, we could begin to make long-term investments in the security of our communities. It’s nice to know someone else is thinking about this, or there would be no outlet for these stories on a national level.