helluva Organized United Reciprocation System
hOURS is a trading system that strengthens and enriches communities in which it’s used. Think of it as a sort of ‘People’s money’.
When we buy and sell things, goods and services, we need not use dollars, or euros, or any national currency. We can make our own currency and use that. In hOURS we use the familiar unit of time as a unit of money. (That’s why we spell the acronym with a small ‘h’. Both HOURS and OURS would be good names.)
hOURS is a new twist on the idea of a LETS (Local Economic Trading System). These first appeared in western Canada in the early ‘80s and now are widespread in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. LETS’s are designed to alleviate poverty in economically depressed areas. Recession/depression is simply an unavailability of money. People in depressed areas have plenty of skills, resources, and labor to utilize, but lack the monetary mechanism to crank it all up socially. Banks that are “too big to fail” can also be too big to care. The key insight of those who started the first LETS was that they needn’t be subject to the whims of banks, corporations or the government (those who control most of the money). They could make their own. This isn’t counterfeiting, because they didn’t presume to make dollars, but rather a whole new form of currency that was locally controlled. That currency might be imaginary and arbitrary, but if you think about it, so is the dominant national currency. Dollars have no intrinsic value, and are only good to have insofar as other people want them. What they are capable of doing is greasing the wheels of exchange.
Creating alternative currencies, such as the Hour in this case, we establish that mechanism. In fact we improve upon the dollar. We recognize what’s true in the axiom “money is the root of all evil.” retaining what’s good about money, while rejecting what’s bad. Rather than creating an imaginary construct, which people then fight over the meaning of, hOURS uses something real, units of time, which have the same ability to grease the wheels of exchange. For example, in trades under the hOURS system, services are services - an hour of dentistry is worth as much as an hour of washing dishes. Under the national monetary system, the more imaginary units of dollars get fought over. There we find dentists are apt to feel their time is worth more than a dishwasher’s time and we get social tensions. hOURS is all about being friendly. People and skills severely disrespected by the main economy become valuable with hOURS. This is good news for those considered unemployable by “the system”: the mentally ill, the severely handicapped, the infirm etc. They all have something to contribute. Kids and the elderly can get involved. Many of them are craving ways to be useful. Also, various skills that the dominant economy chooses not to compensate can find a home here: for example, services that have traditionally been “women’s work”, or esoteric abilities like story-telling, crafting angry letters-to-the-editor, consulting for endeavors like downshifting, etc. hOURS is a way to empower those who have been disempowered by the economy, which is probably everyone to some extent. Do what you like to do, not only what some employer is willing to hire you for. [Click here to read about more 'evil' aspects of money that hOURS subverts.]
So alternative currencies like hOURS enrich communities by bringing forth nascent, hidden resources, denominating transactions involving them, but they also enrich communities when used to denominate transactions that were already taking place for which dollars were used. In that case the dollars are ‘liberated’ and can be spent on something else (though this is a one-time windfall).
A central database is kept with everyone’s “account” information. When services are performed, the parties log it on the website and the respective accounts automatically get credited/debited. The credits (known simply as Hours) exist only in this electronic form. We may print notes someday, but strictly speaking, those aren’t necessary. (75% of all U.S. dollars exist solely in electronic form, by the way.) We need not worry about squaring everyone’s account to zero on a day-to-day basis. The system can continue indefinitely, with people vacillating from plus to minus, staying put for a while, or whatever. Hopefully no one will keep a large negative balance for a long time. If that happens, other participants can suggest ways of earning hours to that person. If that doesn’t work, people can cease performing services for them. No one is ever under any obligation to trade, for any reason. Bottom line, if something isn’t worth the price, i.e. if so and so doing 2 hours of x for you isn’t worth 2 hours of your time, then don’t have them do it. Besides mutual agreement, there are really no hard and fast rules. The point of hOURS is not to constrain anyone or be a burden in any way, but to free up possibilities and potential. The website also serves as a sort of ‘yellow pages’ in which everyone can list the goods and services they have to offer, and those which they need, which can be just about anything.
Can goods be bought and sold under the hOURS system too? Sure, just remember an Hour of money represents an hour of time. Use that to determine what a desirable price would be. If an item can be readily reconceived of as a service (the service of providing that item) use that to determine the price. Businesses can get involved as well.
So why isn’t the ‘h’ capitalized you may be wondering: Because both “hours” and “ours” are good names for the program. The first is obvious, but “OURS” captures some important features of it as well. It’s literally ours, belonging to the people involved. No bank or corporation has the ability to pull funding. No absentee owners siphon off rents and dividends. A community that uses hOURS is strengthened by the increased interpersonal contacts and becomes wealthier through two mechanisms mentioned above. We need not suffer any problems that come from the so called credit crunch, nor any problems stemming from the nature of that credit, such as its control by elites. hOURS can make us much better off.
What are you waiting for?