Tokenism

Imagine a large city somewhere in the northern United States where one night 2/3 of the population relocates to warmer climes.

Boom! Out of nowhere a massive number of houses are left abandoned. Boom! In an instant municipal tax revenues are insufficient to fund basic necessities of civilization. Boom! Everybody left in town has to stop what they’re doing and start bailing 24/7 because they know they’re on a rapidly sinking ship.

Now imagine instead so many people leaving in one day, the process involves decades. You know what I’m talking about.

When a municipality’s survival is based on a single industry and that industry fails, for whatever reason, you know there’s going to be big trouble. When the mine goes dry, when buggy whips become obsolete, when auto companies are more attractive to oil cartels than to their customers; and the mine shuts down, and the buggy whip factory burns to the ground, and the Big Three falter and almost fail; there’s a good chance a new ghost town will come into existence.

Suppose that in this same suffering town that for every dollar spent on cheap food, three to five cents was immediately taken and shipped overseas. Sort of like yea olde tea tax but instead of taxing tea and sending the money to King George, today’s modern consumer buys from Burger King (or other mega-brands) and at least a 3% tax levy is immediately sent to corporate headquarters, which exists somewhere outside the reach of the municipality’s taxing authority (and probably outside the reach of the IRS as well). Would you object to 3% of your dinner bill going to support governments or corporations over which you have no control? Congratulations! you’re already doing just that (and probably more). Goodbye money!

Can any suffering community survive if a sizable amount of its treasury is systematically plundered?

Is there a way to stop this? Is there a way to keep a community’s cash within the community, where it will, if not stop the ship from sinking, at least increase the chances sailing into a safe harbor?

Yes, there is.

When people say “buy local” the response is usually “yeah, sure”. It’s a nice thought but unless a community’s survival is at stake, not many people care much. In struggling communities where that 3-5% burger drain is vitally important, “buy local” is simply picking up a bucket and helping out.

How to do it.

Stop eating at national chains. They do next to nothing for your community and funnel vital currency to banks in the Bahamas (you get the idea).

Create a local currency which will only be accepted where it is most needed. Governments all over the world, from Switzerland to Brazil to Oregon, have created their own local currencies and success ranges from moderate to fantastic. The idea is to keep the money flowing within the community for as long as possible, leading to substantially more sound local fiscal health.

Here’s one way for any city to start printing its own money. (Variations of this idea have been successful all over the world.)

When municipalities find themselves on shaky financial footing they often decrease payroll. Cops, firefighters, teachers, garbage collectors, etc., etc., take pay cuts. Fair enough, if there’s not enough money, you have to spread the pain. Unfortunately, less money being paid to citizens means less money can be spent in the community and the economy becomes even more depressed. A downward spiral is created.

What if there were a way to minimize any mandated payroll cuts within a hurting community by a city issuing its own currency? What if instead of a 20% payroll cut in U.S. greenbacks, there were a 20% cut in U.S. greenbacks but half of that cut was made up by issuing those employees local currency?

How could a city afford to back up a local currency?

Let’s play with some numbers. Joe Smith is about to have his pay decreased from $600 a week to $480 a week. Ouch. Ouch indeed. $120 less a week is killer. What’s a city to do? For any number of reasons the city can’t keep paying Joe that $120 but it can do something. To make the pain a little less it can pay Joe an extra $60 a week in bus tokens.

What is a dollar bill other than a promissary note? What is a bus token other than a promissary note? A dollar bill is backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government while a bus token is backed by the full faith and credit of the local government and the local municipal bus company. We’re not talking high finance here, we’re talking about maximizing what resources remain in suffering communities.

How would it work? Say Joe gets his reduced pay check and a voucher for thirty $2 bus tokens. Say he cashes in his voucher for tokens. He can ride the bus thirty times if he wants. Joe wins. The city wins because it really didn’t cost them much and Joe is a happier employee. And the bus company, previously underutilized, shows that it can do its job and Joe becomes a good spokesman for its services.

Or Joe can take his bus tokens to the local farmers’s market and see if the merchants there will take his tokens in lieu of U.S. cash payment. History has shown this works. Why not? Farmers take buses too. Or Joe could take it to his local Ma and Pa restaurant and see if they would like some of his tokens. Why not? Ma and Pa know that the tokens are backed by the full faith and credit of the local bus company and besides, they can give their busboy a couple at the end of his shift because he’s been such a fine worker. And you know busboys ride the bus, right?

And so these tokens circulate within the community. Local businesses are supported because they take the tokens. International conglomerates are SOL because banks in the Bahamas don’t take local buses. Cash is kept within the city. Local commerce flourishes.

Suddenly everyone in town feels, and is, a little bit richer.

This is not a new idea. Do some research. Struggling cities can save what few greenbacks they have left for necessities which cannot be produced locally.

There is a vast economy within local areas which do not need multinational companies to survive. This isn’t a barter system, it’s better.

Besides, it might only be fitting if public transportation could save mining towns, or buggy whip boroughs, or even motor cities.

Peter Breschard is the author of Circus Rider and My Love Affair with Barack Obama as well as other lesser works of fact and fiction. Read other articles by Peter.