BACE is available to give 1-2 hour presentations on community currencies, covering the basics: what a community currency is, what kinds of currency systems exist, success models, and design considerations. There is no cost, but donations for travel expenses are always welcome. Contact mira (at) sfbace (dot) org for more info.

We hope to host another screening in San Francisco, following a successful one in Berkeley, of the film The Money Fix and/or The Double Face of Money with a discussion of currency projects here in the Bay Area. We are also available to help with screenings of these films in your community.  If you are interested in helping with educational events, contact mira (at) sfbace (dot) org.

What is Money?

Money acts as a medium of exchange so there doesn’t have to be a perfect match of what you need and what the person you are trading with needs around the same time. This is it’s primary function. It can also act as a standard of measure and a store of value, credit or investment. The Federal Reserve, the private financial institution which issues dollars, attempts to set the value of the dollar by controlling the supply of it as a scarce resource. This means that even though there may be enough food or housing for everyone, there will not be enough money in the hands of those that need it to pay rent or buy food. The US dollar is issued as debt (usually from loan agreements), which means it must be paid back with interest, creating a never-ending cycle of debt and greater inequalities in wealth. Money is simply a piece of paper with a value that exists only in the perception of those who agree that it has value. It is no longer even backed by a promise of gold stored in a bank. All currencies are essentially information about what is agreed upon and an acknowledgment of trust. So why do we restrict ourselves by agreeing to exchange with each other through a single method, the dollar, placing all our trust in one central bank when we don’t have to? We can create our own currencies that represent agreements within our communities.

What is Community Currency?

A community currency is a means of exchange that has a localized value, usually restricted within a geographical region. This structure keeps the wealth created by the exchange of goods and services within the local community – it cannot be extracted, exported, or benefited by entities outside of the community. Community currencies can have a variety of purposes: linking unmet needs with otherwise unused resources, encouraging greater sustainability through import replacement, creating stronger and greater numbers of community relationships, supporting more and better paying local jobs, and facilitating community and individual self-determination. If they are constructed properly, local currencies can insulate communities from the roller-coaster market economy. Community currencies represent real value created by our communities rather than market value and as such promote a different economic paradigm.

There are over two thousand communities across the world and hundreds of regions in the United States using their own monetary systems—the most well-known in the US being Ithaca Hours of Ithaca, New York. Started in 1991, this fiat paper currency works on the hours model, which means that an hour’s work is used as the unit by which the value of goods and services are compared. Berkshares paper currency in Massachusetts is currently backed by the US dollar and has been very successful in getting businesses (360 currently) and banks participating with over two million Berkshares in circulation. Timebanks USA is a group of over 120 local time banks that pool community resources and issue credit to their members in an hour-for-hour time exchange that is considered tax-exempt by the IRS. LETS or Local Exchange Trading Systems (also known as Local Employment Trading Systems) operate by mutual credit, a system in which the currency necessary to mediate a transaction is created at the time of the transaction as a corresponding credit and debit in the balances of the two parties. There are currently over 140 LETS systems. Another successful mutual credit system is the WIR Bank which has supported small and medium businesses within Switzerland since 1934 and traded CHF 1.65 billion in 2004. Other types of complementary currencies in use today include business or government-issued scrips, commodity-backed currencies, plastic local discount cards, reputation currencies, specific use currencies (like consumer carbon credits), and bartering systems.

Information Resources

Introduction to Community Currencies


Collections of Online Publications and Databases


Print Publications (many of these we have in our BACE library to borrow)

  • The Future of Money, by Bernard Leitaer
  • Rethinking Our Centralized Monetary System: the Case for a System of Local Currencies, by Lewis D. Solomon
  • The End of Money, Alternatives to Legal Tender, and New Money for Healthy Communities, by Thomas Greco
  • Money and Liberation: the Micropolitics of Alternative Currency Movements, by Peter North
  • Life, Inc., by Douglas Rushkoff (copies available for $15, below cost of production)
  • Interest and Inflation Free Money, by Margrit Kennedy
  • No More Throw Away People and Time Dollars, by Edgar Cahn
  • Hometown Money, by Paul Glover of Ithaca Hours

Other Community Currencies Outside the Bay Area

Paper Currencies

Plastic Currencies

Mutual Credit Systems


Reputation Currency Systems

Database of Other Currencies Around the World

Other Interesting Links to Consider

Complementary Currency Software

The word ‘community’ is composed of two Latin roots: cum, meaning together, among each other and munus, meaning the gift, or to give. Therefore, ‘community’ literally means ‘to give among each other.’

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