Local Timebanking

My previous post, Conjoined Economies, pointed out how despite the importance of parity between a time-based economy and a money-based economy for the health and well-being of community members, the money-based economy maintains a dominant presence within most social systems. Because of that imbalance, it is essential to bring time-based economy activities out of the shadows and acknowledge their value.

Timebanking provides opportunities for communities to make the time-based economy more explicit at a local level and a stronger partner with (or worthy opponent to) the predominant money-based economy, globally.

The diagram below illustrates how the two economies would relate to one another on more local (smaller circumference) and global scales.

While the organizing principles for a time-based economy are similar, those defining timebanking have several key characteristics, namely: “participation” becomes membership with an account in a timebank; “exchange” becomes use of a specific exchange platform; and “commons” relates to a cooperative or otherwise legal entity as a governance structure. In addition, the general concept of time as the driver for economic activity shifts to more specific notion of an hour of service for an hour of credit.

Timebanking Core Values

TimeBanks USA, founded by Edgar Cahn in 1995, offers a complete package of operating philosophy, materials, software, and support for communities to get involved in timebanking. As an example, below are The Five Core Values of TimeBanking initially stated by Cahn: 1

  1. Asset: Every one of us has something of value to share with someone else.
  2. Redefining Work: There are some forms of work that money will not easily pay for, like building strong families, revitalizing neighborhoods, making democracy work, advancing social justice. Time credits were designed to reward, recognize and honor that work.
  3. Reciprocity: Helping that works as a two-way street empowers everyone involved – the receiver as well as the giver.
    The question: “How can I help you?” needs to change so we ask: “Will you help someone too?” Paying it forward ensures that, together, we help each other build the world we all will live in.
  4. Social Networks: Helping each other, we reweave communities of support, strength & trust. Community is built by sinking roots, building trust, creating networks. By using timebanking, we can strengthen and support these activities.
  5. Respect: Respect underlies freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and everything we value. Respect supplies the heart and soul of democracy. We strive to respect where people are in the moment, not where we hope they will be at some future point.

Note the similarity of the five Core Values to Jay Walljasper’s interpretation of the eight design principles Elinor Ostrom defined for effective governance of the commons quoted in Organizing Principles for a Time-Based Economy.

Timebanking – The Realized Value of Unpaid Time

In accordance with these Core Values, the timebank becomes a venue in which any member has the opportunity to take greater responsibility for unpaid time by doing the following:

  • Document unpaid time in a personal member account
  • Convert unpaid time into a currency according to a rate shared by all members
  • Exchange unpaid time in account for access and usage of resources offered by other members

Timebanking – Benefits

Of course, realizing the value of unpaid time is more about building relationships within local communities than conducting transactions. hOurworld, a self-described “…international network of neighbors helping neighbors,” defines the timebank venue as a place where

Members share their talents and services, record their hours, then ‘spend’ them later on services they want. Everyone’s hours are equal. There is no barter. These are friendly, neighborly favors. Together we are restoring local community currency based on relationships.”

The Hour Exchange Portland lists the benefits of an exchange as follows:

  • Trusting relationships – (trust, reciprocity and civic engagement)
  • Greater access to goods and services
  • Employment references
  • Stronger informal support systems
  • Safety in neighborhoods
  • Increased self-esteem / confidence
  • Greater participation in community events
  • Diminished loneliness
  • Accept help with dignity – knowing you’ll help others in return
  • Building social capital in neighborhoods — Robert Putnam 2

These descriptions of timebanking core values and benefits of an exchange certainly speak to how timebanking can help us progress toward the goals:

  1. Legitimize time-based economy behaviors
  2. Expand symbiotic / synergistic coverage by both the time-based and money-based economies

But there is so much more that timebanking offers as well as numerous platforms, processes, currencies, etc. at work to bring the time-based economy into its rightful position of parity with the money-based economy. Look to future posts that take deeper dives into timebanking and explore the topical landscape of complementary currencies, peer-to-peer relationships, systems change theory in practice, etc. more broadly.

  1. The Five Core Values of TimeBankingEdgar Cahn is the founder of modern timebanking. He noticed that successful timebanks almost always work with some specific core values in place. In his book No More Throw-Away People, he listed four values. Later, he added a fifth. These have come to be widely shared as the five core values of timebanking – and most timebanks strive to follow them. They are a strong starting point for successful timebanking.
  2. Smith, M. K. (2001, 2007) ‘Robert Putnam’, the encyclopaedia of informal education, www.infed.org/thinkers/putnam.htm. Last update: May 29, 2012.

Conjoined Economies

In my previous posting, Organizing Principles for a Time-Based Economy, I describe a money-based economy and a time-based economy, each based on very different organizing principles, yet functioning concurrently within the same social system. On the surface their unique principles and purposes may appear to render them mutually exclusive. However, the behaviors each elicits from members can form a healthy dialectic that benefits the shared social system. The resulting symbiosis (perhaps agonism) acts as a mitigating force to keep the social system between gross economic disparity on the one hand and profound personal discontent on the other.

The diagram below builds on diametrically opposed views of Maslow’s Hierarchy introduced in the post, Time Beyond Basic Needs Builds Human Capital, and adds the organizing principles for both economies:

In more evolved forms, each of the conjoined economies would wield comparable power within the same society, hence, same-sized circles of organizing principles on oppositional figures of Maslow’s Hierarchy. Despite the importance of each economy and the necessity of robust interactions between them, those activities in the time-based economy (pale colored organizing principles), are not as explicit nor recognized for their value like those in the money-based economy (dark-colored organizing principles). Furthermore, the sphere of operation for both has room to expand well-beyond the perimeter of the gray oval representing current reality.

These dynamics set in place twin goals moving forward:

  1. Legitimize time-based economy behaviors
  2. Expand symbiotic / synergistic coverage by both the time-based and money-based economies.

And it opens the door for localized, community-based structures to emerge that advance these goals.

Organizing Principles for a Time-Based Economy

My previous post, Time Beyond Basic Needs Builds Human Capital, proposes that advances in technology, e.g., Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics, genetics, networks, etc., redefine human capital and how we build it. This trend will impact how we use the limited time we have as living, physical beings on the planet.

Regardless of how long that is for each of us, the minutes we have will be distributed into the five levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy. 1  For many, the bulk of their time will fall into the bottom levels where they struggle to meet basic needs and survive. However, if society partners with technology rather than contends with it, the majority of our time could play in the upper levels of the pyramid where human creativity, inventiveness, and innovation thrive.   Our time and where on Maslow’s Hierarchy we consume it become major metrics by which we measure the effectiveness and efficiency of economic systems in their capability to build and sustain human capital at its most optimal.

The diagram below from Time Beyond Basic Needs Builds Human Capital, superimposes the base-down orientation of Maslow’s Hierarchy onto a top-down version.

These can be expressed as two economies that play out along a continuum. On one end a money-based economy of dystopian design keeps the majority occupied in the lower levels of a base-down Maslow’s Hierarchy. On the other end a time-based economy of utopian design shifts participation by the majority to the upper levels of a point-down Maslow’s Hierarchy.  Regardless, the two economies not only coexist, they have a clear symbiotic relationship between them.

Despite the interrelationships between a money-based economy and a time-based economy,  the organizing principles that define them as well as the behaviors each produces are quite different.  The diagram below illustrates key defining elements in a money-based economy, 2  3 namely, the central role of money and debt with ties to the organizing principles of ownership, consumption, and pacification. This configuration drives most participants to spend the majority of their time, day by day, in the bottom reaches of Maslow’s Hierarchy in a base-down orientation, which sets rather dystopian limits to upward mobility.

Time4Time Presentation.001

Conversely, the diagram below shows organizing principles for a time-based economy 4 in which time occupies the center with links to participation rather than pacification, exchange in lieu of consumption, and commons instead of ownership. This configuration shifts behavior toward the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy in its point-down orientation, which offers a greater degree of freedom for the majority to pursue more utopian ideals.

Time4Time Presentation.002

When these two economies operate in concert with one another, they set the stage for the emergence of a

…commons-oriented mutual-coordination economy where the concepts of ownership and “legal” do not exist. And anything like “money” is not required. But still, common resources require some people or organizational forms (often a committee) to be responsible for them.

Comment by Bob Haugen in Value Flows-Issue #270 on GitHub

Haugen goes on to recommend reading Elinor Ostrom’s 8 Principles for Managing A Commons by Jay Walljasper in On the Commons, October 2, 2011:

  1. Define clear group boundaries.
  2. Match rules governing use of common goods to local needs and conditions.
  3. Ensure that those affected by the rules can participate in modifying the rules.
  4. Make sure the rule-making rights of community members are respected by outside authorities.
  5. Develop a system, carried out by community members, for monitoring members’ behavior.
  6. Use graduated sanctions for rule violators.
  7. Provide accessible, low-cost means for dispute resolution.
  8. Build responsibility for governing the common resource in nested tiers from the lowest level up to the entire interconnected system.

Clearly, Ostrom emphasizes the need for defining who’s in and who’s not, how the rules for use of “common goods” are made, monitored, enforced, etc. This includes “build responsibility for governing the common resource (or “common resource in nested tiers…up to the entire interconnected system”)…” which speaks to the preference for terminology like “responsibility flow” in lieu of “legal flow.”

And that brings us back to the symbiotic nature of money-based and time-based economies within a healthy, adaptive society. Our challenge is not to save one and kill the other, but assure the legitimacy of each for whatever time it takes whereby the basic needs of all are met with enough time left over to enjoy a reasonable quality of life.

Possible steps in how to bring this about will be the topic of upcoming posts.

  1. Lifetime Hours Revisited
  2. Money and Society video
  3. Money and Society MOOC
  4. Time-Based Economics: A Community-Building Dynamic by A. Allen Butcher

Unpaid Time Distribution

The flip side of paid time is unpaid time. Of course, sleep makes up a significant block of unpaid time. When we are not asleep, we often resort to describing unpaid time in terms of paid time. For instance, we may extend a vacation a week, or so, add days to sick leave or months to maternity leave, embark on a year-long sabbatical, etc. as a formal leave of absence. In other words, unpaid time is taken away from a job or formal tasks in accordance with the terms of an employment / work contract. This can be where there is an agreed upon time to return to paid work or it can be the result of termination or retirement where there is no intent to return. Regardless, unpaid work, in the eyes of many, is the absence of paid work.

Unpaid time beyond sleep covers a wide range of activities. Most often these activities are associated with public and private sector organizations that provide recognition for services rendered by volunteers or documentation on resumes for hands-on business and academic experiences gained by interns.

The diagram below illustrates how these widely endorsed categories of volunteerism and internships might be distributed across Maslow’s Hierarchy:

While volunteerism and internships cover an explicit set of unpaid time activities, more often than not we spend our unpaid time in undocumented behavior. This manner may be important to us, but frequently we consider it trivial or inappropriate for others outside of select family members, friends, and acquaintances to know about. As a result, we choose to keep other people “in the dark,” so to speak, which features in the title of the diagram below:

The “dark side” may sound sinister, but the reality is that most of us have occasions when we don’t want others to know where we are and when we are there, what we are doing, and who we are with. With the rise of social media, sophisticated communication systems, and all manner of invasive technologies, it has become extremely difficult to go dark so that one cannot be found. One way for those committed to this degree of anonymity can do so is by going off the grid.

More commonly, though, opportunities for paid time simply dry-up or our personal situations are such that we cannot take advantage of them and we become unemployed – perhaps chronically so 1. This condition is similar to the unpaid time engaged in volunteerism and internships except it is not a position one necessarily chooses to be in – it just happens due to life circumstances. Even though we may be spending unpaid time providing several basic needs for ourselves as well as our children, elders, or family and community members with health issues, that time is not reflected in conventional economic indicators nor does it allow us to qualify for supplementary income through a social contract. We are uncounted, invisible, and marginalized. And that is a dark place, indeed.

  1. Long-Term Unemployment: The Economy’s ‘Secret Cancer’

Paid Time Distribution

The principle way we earn money is by being paid for our time fulfilling the contracted terms of a job description or statement of work.

This paid work, called “jobs” for the sake this post, can be offered by employers or contractors in the public sector or the private sector, which covers non-governmental organizations (NGO) and cooperatives among others.

Not all jobs are created equal in terms of paid time distribution. Some pay more than others for the same block of time. As a rule, jobs that pay more are harder to find and the requirements to get them are more stringent.  Conversely, lower paid jobs may be more plentiful and easier to get, but a person must work multiple jobs to earn the equivalent of a higher paying one. As a result, pay scale determines the time a person spends in paid work and the range of choices a person has to participate in quality of life activities outside of paid work.

The diagram below applies these characteristics of jobs and pay to Maslow’s Hierarchy.

Doing so shows how the distribution of paid time relates to meeting basic needs and enjoying a reasonable quality of life. The demarcation between these two can be represented as a poverty line. In this case, the poverty line represents the amount of income from paid time from employment, public services, and volunteer services sufficient to meet one’s basic needs.

At a minimum, a fully functional society assures each member receives daily basic needs in exchange for 24-hours of life in that society. Ideally, society provides opportunities for each member to meet daily basic needs through no more than 8 hours of paid time, leaving 16 hours of unpaid time available for sleep and quality of life endeavors as described in the previous post, Lifetime Hours Revisited.

Oftentimes, societies fall short of the ideal and, in more difficult situations, fail to be fully functional. The consequences are borne by families that must put more time into paid work or supplement it with income from public services and volunteer services in order to meet their basic needs. The diagram below illustrates this dynamic in the form of a question:

Of course, at the heart of this question is an even more fundamental one which asks what does the future hold for a family that cannot spend the time and generate enough income from all sources to procure basic needs? And what does that say about the condition of the society to which those families belong?

Questions for consideration in subsequent posts…

Economy and Currency

An economy is where we humans exchange / trade our time on the planet for our needs and wants.

Our time on the planet is a resource that holds intrinsic value due to our inherent humanness and extrinsic value through our acknowledged reputation, experience, skills, certification, etc.

When we apply intrinsic and extrinsic value to our time, the ensuing time units become a currency we can exchange / trade for our needs and wants.

It would be sufficient if our time currency functioned solely as a medium of exchange, but it represents multiple levels of value far beyond that:

  • unit of life practices on the planet
  • investment in future practices
  • repayment of debt for past practices

The most efficient economic system would allow the direct exchange of time units for wants and needs. Unfortunately, the prevailing system doesn’t work that way. And the currency conversion difficulties that result lead to increased disparity and disunity.

Confessions of a Chocoholic — It’s All in the Bean

A couple of weeks ago I was visiting friends and noticed a Christmas catalogue from a German chocolatier on the table. Thumbing through it my mouth watered with the turn of every page. This visual distraction was converted into a topic of conversation. Soon, the only recourse was to raid the pantry of its Belgian chocolates and indulge our chocolate fetish. Wow!

Beyond the selection of finely-crafted chocolates featured in the catalogue, there was a section on the history of the company, some tidbits about chocolate-making and general comments about the source of chocolate – the cacao bean. I decided to research chocolate a bit further. This turned out to be quite a learning experience.

Information about chocolate is easy to find. Google has 66,500,000 hits on “chocolate” and 3,410,000 on “cacao.”


The theobroma cacao, which means “food of the gods,” is an evergreen tree, native to the tropical regions of South America. Each tree has 6,000 flowers that produce maybe 20 pods. Each pod contains 20 – 60 beans. It takes 300 – 600 seeds to produce 1 kg of cocoa paste.

Field Museum

There are 592,000 Google hits on cacao production. Like most agricultural products, there is a general production process for cacao that is millennia in the making yet heavily influenced by scientific and technological developments over the past two hundred years. The pods are harvested, cut open, fermented (sweating), dried (cured), and packed in the first phase of processing. Then, the seeds are sorted, cleaned, roasted, cracked, fanned, and winnowed to separate nibs from shells in the second phase. In the third phase, nibs are ground into chocolate liquor (cocoa paste). Then, some of the liquor is pressed to render fat (cocoa butter) and the coarse leftovers are dried and ground into cocoa powder. The remainder of the un-pressed liquor is mixed with condensed milk, sugar, and extra cocoa butter form a crumb which is refined, conched, tempered, and molded into chocolates.

Much of the first phase of processing – harvesting, opening the pods, fermenting, drying, and packing – is done the same way it has been for centuries. It remains labor intensive since mechanization is not possible and several steps can only be done by hand. In addition to the physical work there is considerable human judgment involved in deciding which pods are ready to be harvested, monitoring fermentation, and controlling drying so that the result – the bean – captures the full richness of flavor and quality possible. This requires considerable skill and experience on the parts of those who are involved in this phase.

Designer Traveler

Because the cacao bean, the key raw ingredient required for making chocolate, can only be grown in certain tropical regions around the world, it’s price per pound is exceptionally high. That price is driven up by overseas buyers from Europe and North America who process the cacao but cannot grow it themselves. This is the reason cacao-growing countries like Ecuador don’t have a strong chocolate-making culture despite having the perfect cacao-growing conditions. The cost of the raw ingredients is just simply too high for the local consumption.

The cacao “Nacional” is sold in Europe as an elitist gourmet-product and gets prices up to 50 Euros per kilogram, whereas at the beginning of the production one kilogram costs only 0,58 Eurocents.”1

The post-harvest phases are highly mechanized thereby substantially reducing operating costs and improving consistency of quality and output. Considering a nearly 100:1 ratio of finished chocolate to packed cacao beans, this concentrates revenue AND profits in the later phases. It leaves very little for skilled labor conducting first phase work.

Because of high labor content, keeping the cost for labor low is an imperative. It can lead to abuse of the workforce without respect for the value and criticality of their knowledge. The most severe form of this abuse is slavery.

Food Empowerment Project2

There are 940,000 Google hits on slave labor chocolate industry. Slavery is not a new problem. Still, it challenges one’s sense of assumed social, economic, and political progress to think that the institution persists.

Dissident Voice

There are 6 hits on Google News about slave labor in the chocolate industry. There is nothing available that shows the current situation in real-time – a ground truth benchmark – but indications suggest the practice continues. It is, as it turns out, an engrained part of a colonial system setup centuries ago to facilitate exploitation. That system will not change easily because it pays-off.

TransFair USA

There are 1,330,000 hits on Google for fair trade certified chocolate. It suggests that if a sufficient number of people buy from stores or sources that sport the Fair Trade Certified label the system will change because the pay-off changes. That means changing the buying patterns of people. This means informing them about critical factors they need to take into consideration when they buy certain products, making the process of buying the products they need and want through alternative channels as easy, or easier, than conventional channels, and assuring availability with competitive prices. A tough call.

Ithaca Fine Chocolates

Equal Exchange

There are 7,900,000 hits for chocolate bars on Google. Two weeks ago I would have taken any of them. Now, I’m keeping time to a different drummer. A system changes one conversation at a time. In this case, it is one chocolate bar at a time!

Originally posted to New Media Explorer by Steve Bosserman on Friday, November 25, 2005

  1. http://www.ecuadorline.com/ecuador/newsletter/Newsletter200501.htm Original article quoted no longer available
  2. http://www.showmenews.com/2005/Feb/20050214Busi010.asp Original article no longer available

Introduction to Social Agriculture

In his book, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Jared Diamond posits that agriculture is the foundation upon which civilization is built. Nonetheless, this association is not without certain complications. Some activist authors such as John Zerzan take an extreme stand that agriculture is the bane of true civilization. On the other hand, historian and author Fernand Braudel brings a less judgmental perspective in his trilogy, Civilization and Capitalism: 15th-18th Century. He focuses his historical inquiry on the everyday experiences of those whose daily lives were lived at the crossroads of a burgeoning agricultural society and the rise of capitalism. Yet again, there are other writers such as Heather Pringle who, in her article, “Neolithic Agriculture: The Slow Birth of Agriculture”,” softens the view further by holding that the birth of agriculture occurred in the Neolithic Age prior to the large-scale cities and far-reaching civilizations. Plant and animal domestication during this period did not bring with it the adoption of a social dominance model which appeared later. The range of these three suggests that the association of agriculture and civilization has considerable room for further exploration!

The application of strategic frameworks facilitates the exploration of ideas and intellectual spaces. This is certainly the case in the association between agriculture and civilization. As the convergence of technology, energy, environment for life at the point of human equivalence draws nearer, agricultural practices will change dramatically.

In the diagram above, the combination of technologies that are faster, smaller, more integrated, and more intelligent fuels a bifurcation in production agriculture. Agricultural practices that yield what people use in petroleum, fiber, and industrial applications take advantage of economies of scale and promote globalization and commoditization. Meanwhile, those agricultural practices that result in what people eat such as nutraceuticals, place-based specialties, food with specific qualities (organic, faith-based, ethnic), and livestock, leverage economies of place and tend toward localization and customization.

The dichotomy prompted by the bifurcation of production agriculture feeds a creative tension along the continuum of fossil-fuel energy —and renewable energy that if usefully applied, has the potential to bring the association of agriculture and civilization into a more favorable balance than at any time in human history. As condition reports are received through different media about changing conditions and circumstances in production agriculture they can be tied to the “strategic framework” suggested by the diagram and organized into meaningful actions on the continuum in response. And given the advances that are on the horizon this topic of agriculture, civilization, and technology will provide ample fodder for future consideration!

Originally posted to New Media Explorer by –Steve Bosserman on Tuesday, August 30, 2005 and updated on Saturday, September 24, 2005