A merry dance of Catholic social doctrine, permaculture, distributism, and other odd answers to pressing questions

Vol. I, No. 7

Let's Print Our Own Money

2008 Apr 28, 12:00 Mon tags:


From the Editor

  • Feature Article: Let's Print Our Own Money
  • Action: Check out Local Currencies
  • Resources: Listings of Local Currencies
  • Selection: John Paul II on "Subsidiarity"
  • Backmatter


Greetings! Once again I apologize for a missed issue. Perfect is the enemy of good, and long is the enemy of ezines. This time I think I've avoided both. :)

Today I'd like to point you in the direction of local currencies, and let John XXIII and John Paul II introduce you to the concept of "subsidiarity".

Bill Powell, Editor

...the "principle of subsidiary function" must be observed. The State and other agencies of public law must not extend their ownership beyond what is clearly required by considerations of the common good properly understood, and even then there must be safeguards.
Otherwise private ownership could be reduced beyond measure, or, even worse, completely destroyed.

John XXIII, Mater et Magistra, 1961


Let's Print Our Own Money

by Bill Powell

Did you know it's legal to print your own money? You can't print money that looks like government money, of course, but as long as it looks different, you're clear. Why would anyone do this? Just ask the hundreds of communities all over the world that print their own local currency.

At first sight, local currencies are just plain fun. Anyone that's ever played Monopoly remembers the thrill of handling those colorful little dollars. Imagine being able to make your own money! Now you find that grownups are actually doing just that.

Upon reflection, of course, fun isn't exactly the recompense for a hard day's work. In fact, "Monopoly money" is a term that already carries certain negative associations in the world of finance. Money has to be based (in one way or another) on real wealth or it breaks. Most of us have a deep mental image of some German somewhere (in Germany, 1922-1923) pushing a wheelbarrow full of nearly useless cash. Won't a "local currency" suffer the same fate?

In a word, no. In fact, local currencies are often begun precisely to avoid that fate.

One of the longest and most successful local currencies in America is the Ithaca HOUR, based in Ithaca, NY.

As has always been the case, Ithaca HOURS aren't backed by gold, silver or any other commodity.

"Ithaca HOURS is backed by our relationships," said Rebecca Nellenback, HOURS board member. "That's what we want our town and our community to be."


Sound impractical? Consider: what is the national currency based on, but our relationship with the national government? We get paid in piles of green paper because we trust that if the Federal government says it's worth something, it is. Unfortunately, that same government is now in trillions of dollars in debt.

U. S. A. National Debt on Apr 25, 2008: $9,334,965,822,890.37

There's enough talk in the major media about looming recession (or worse) that I'll skip all that; the point is, there's nothing conspriratorial about questioning whether the current national government is the best place to invest your work.

(Incidentally, that debt works out to about $31,000 per American. Apparently including each of my kids.)

When people consider alternatives to money, their minds seem to run to gold and real estate. In researching this article, I found a website where you could buy about 10 gold coins for--about $2000. The site had a lot to say about inflation, and Germans wheeling around their life savings to buy a loaf of bread. What I didn't find was any mention of what the smart Germans did with their 10 gold coins apiece when hyperinflation struck. Try to buy bread with a gold shaving? Use one coin to buy the whole town?

In the real world, I'm not sure that 10 gold coins, or 1000, will get you very far in an emergency, unless you figure out how to ingest metal. Local currencies are one way of considering the whole picture; we need each other to survive, not to mention flourish. No matter what happens in Washington, you and your neighbors can still produce, and trade the fruits of your labor. You can still trust each other.

Local currencies are more than a hedge against disaster; they're another tool that communities can use to weave connections among themselves and flourish. Here I've spoken mainly from the "looming disaster" perspective, because that's the tone the media's taking, but your loss of local freedom is always a disaster, whether the numbers are going up or down.

I don't mean that Distributists are against having a national currency. Of course we also need ways to trade with those outside our town. So why not have both currencies? Right now, the American economy is still functioning well enough that local currencies in this country are still "complementary"; I don't know of anyone getting paid exclusively in Ithaca HOURS. But many people do choose them as part of their paycheck, and many Ithaca businesses accept them. And Ithaca is only one of hundreds of such currencies around the world.

Whether or not all this recession talk comes true, we already have this little-known mechanism for beginning to take back control of our cash, which is to say, our work and our time. Let's use it.

Bill Powell


Check out the RESOURCES below and see whether there's a local currency near you.

RESOURCES: Local currencies.

There are many local currencies in the world, but why not start with Ithaca HOURS?


Of course, you can't get involved with Ithaca HOURS unless you live near Ithaca. Fortunately, you don't have to.

Listings of local currencies:


Finally, the Wikipedia article on local currencies is (currently) quite good, though it focuses mainly on historical examples, particularly Wörgl, an Austrian town that issued its own currency during the Great Depression. It worked so well that the central government shut the program down.


Here's a longer essay on local currencies, with more contemporary examples:



John Paul II: Subsidiarity

[48] Here again the principle of subsidiarity must be respected: a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.

By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending. In fact, it would appear that needs are best understood and satisfied by people who are closest to them and who act as neighbours to those in need. It should be added that certain kinds of demands often call for a response which is not simply material but which is capable of perceiving the deeper human need. One thinks of the condition of refugees, immigrants, the elderly, the sick, and all those in circumstances which call for assistance, such as drug abusers: all these people can be helped effectively only by those who offer them genuine fraternal support, in addition to the necessary care.

[49] The individual today is often suffocated between two poles represented by the State and the marketplace. At times it seems as though he exists only as a producer and consumer of goods, or as an object of State administration. People lose sight of the fact that life in society has neither the market nor the State as its final purpose, since life itself has a unique value which the State and the market must serve. Man remains above all a being who seeks the truth and strives to live in that truth, deepening his understanding of it through a dialogue which involves past and future generations.

-- John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, 48-49 (1991).

© Copyright - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Footnotes removed for a sane read. :)

Full document:
[This short link will redirect you to the full encyclical.]

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