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Time is Money, and Art as well?


Time banking is a tool by which a group of people can create an alternative economic model where they exchange their time and skills, rather than acquire goods and services through the use of money or any other state-backed value.

The recent economic crisis, which causes increasing distrust of our monetary system, in which banks are being kept alive by huge bailouts from the government, has spurred interest in alternative currencies.

But time banking is not something that was invented recently: The origins of time-based currency can be traced both to the American anarchist Josiah Warren and to the British industrialist and philanthropist Robert Owen, who founded the Utopian “New Harmony” community. Josiah Warren’s currency was explicitly pegged to time as a measure of specific goods or labor. He believed that goods and services should trade according to how much labor was used to produce them and bring them to the market. To charge more labor for something that entailed less labor was “cannibalism,” according to him. For example, 3 hours of carpenter’s work would be considered equivalent to 3-12 pounds of corn. Meanwhile, Robert Owen’s currency simply bore an inscription referring to a number of hours, which presumably could be exchanged for however many pounds of corn a farmer would deem adequate or labor of any kind.

The most successful system of time banking nowadays are the Ithaca hours , a local currency used in Ithaca, New York.

In 1991, Ithaca Hours began developing a legal currency for their town. Today, there are over $100,000 worth of Hours in circulation.

Julieta Aranda and Anton Vidokle’s Time Bank is not geographically bound and is more interesting from an artist point of view.

In 2009 a group of artists, architects, writers, activists and designers were asked to suggest the best representation for the exchange of time, and to design a symbolic currency backed by trust within a cultural community, rather than by gold or state authority. Some came up with aesthetic solutions, some ideas are very conceptual (such as heavy currency in the form of stones) for this Project 0 – Time Currency, Current times project.

Bills shown here are by Raqs Media Collective, Lawrence Weiner, and W.A.G.E.

Rather than designing a new currency Niklaus Hirsch and Zak Kyes for this project proposed an additional layer of value to existing currencies. This time-value layer takes the form of a blackout, which can be easily applied to any existing currency.

I really like the Time/Bank currency denominations: half-hour, one hour, six, twelve and twenty-four hour. I guess if you want minutes and seconds you’ll have to start using Time/Bank coins.

The first bill I designed for the Exchanghibition Bank project has denomination zero. It could have been an interesting experiment to add a zero time bill to the Time/Bank currency as well, as in: “No, I don’t have time for you”. It actually might have become the most used bill in our so very busy society.

Since the conference of Bretton Woods in 1944 our money bills are not backed anymore by gold. Maybe time has become so scarce and thus valuable that instead of the pre-war gold standard, we could device something as a post-war time standard. And build a huge vault where we’d keep the majority of our time securely locked up, just as Fort Knox securely guards the majority of U.S. gold. All the gold in the entire  world brought together would form a cube with sides of approx. 20 meters. How big of a vault would we need to contain all the time in the world?

18 thoughts on “Time is Money, and Art as well?

  1. Time currency is a very interesting concept, precisely because of its inevitable entrance into the realm of "value." A priori, it catalyzes questions of how we designate value and how it evolves from a variety of vectors within laminate systems. There are two sides to this: 1.) exchanging based on the time it takes to make something and 2.) those who would exchange goods to open up their free time. These are two different things.

    The pitfall in time currency is that it feels a little Luddite — it seems like, if it were really activated, it would throw us back to a time when there were no tampons or birth control pills. I know it would bring consciousness of just how difficult it is to manufacture the chip that makes your vacuum cleaner so special, but I can't sacrifice my feminine products for this knowledge. I am habituating my down syndrome side on a daily basis as a professor

  2. Note that, once you've given your time in exchange for Time Bank paper, the value of that paper can be destroyed as easily as the value of any other paper money. The medium of exchange may not in itself be the problem or solution so much as the operating principles, culture, scale, and age of the system in which it's being used.

  3. I also meant to add, time-banking doesn't allow someone who's devoted years of uncompensated time and effort developing a skill or expertise to charge any more for their time than someone who hasn't invested the same kind of unpaid time and effort; and the inequity in paying both individuals the same would be only partly remedied by making all education free.

  4. Money could be seen as the root of all evil (a Zeitgeist type of rhetoric) or simply as an instrument in an economic system. The question is whether a new currency replaces an economic system or functions in a similar way as any medium of exchange.

    In my opinion any currency is a medium of exchange and allows us to trade more efficiently than barter trade.

    Local time banking could have two positive effects:

    1. It stimulates personal transactions

    It stimulates personal transactions because the money is only spend locally. Personal transaction give people a feeling of belonging and creates social capital. However, the inclusion of people in a alternative currency system excludes other people. The gains of having more personal relationships might outweigh the losses from exclusion. One of the costs of exclusion is the reduced competition between insiders and outsiders. This creates monopolistic behaviour which reduces welfare.

    2. It creates equality

    One hour work of a waste collector has the same purchasing power as one hour work of doctor or a shopkeeper.

    This could potentially also create problems:

    - Who wants to collect waste if he could also work as a shopkeeper?

    - Who wants to spend 7 years in university to become a doctor if he could also work as a shopkeeper (Carolyn's point)?

    Free education could solve the second point, but not the first one. The underlying questions is whether we should allow inequality in a social system. One principle used by John Rawls is the Maximin Principle which states that social and economic inequalities should be arranged so that "they are to be of the greatest benefit to the least-advantaged members of society".

    Alternative currencies could not replace a system, but could create local social capital at the cost of reduced competition. I do not think that

    pegging a currency to one labour hour is a solution for social inequality. Some inequality has benefits for the society in large and excessive inequality should be addressed by other institutions such as taxes.

  5. Reading Thomas's and Carolyn's comments above makes me realize that by entering the realm of the real world, time banking might encounter problems which are non-existent in the idealistic world of Utopia.

    After all: "All hours are equal, but some are more equal than others….."

  6. I'm not convinced. I like the idea, but time is such a fleeting and abstract concept that it would be hard to pin down a real value.

    Like Carolyn, who mentioned the acquisition of skill, which has to be taken into account. Who is to say that baking a bread for example takes roughly an hour? A super skilled person with an extremely good oven might take 20 minutes, whereas a newby without equipment might take 2 hours. Who is to say that half an hour of prostitution is worth as much as half an hour polishing nails?

    These are not the best examples, but what I'm trying to say is that time is too abstract to attach real value to it. On the other hand, since money is not connected to any 'gold in a vault' it has become just as abstract.

    • I like the 'waste of time' note. So now we have the 'I don't have time for you' and the 'waste of time' bill. maybe an infinity note might be a welcome addition as well, as in 'we have all the time of the world'…………

  7. perhaps an idea to make a difference between special skill hours (doctors advocates etc), skill hours (carpenters, plumper, construction workers) and small skill hours (cleaning, washing etc).
    like 1 special skill hour = 3 normal hours

    so if a cleaner has worked 3 hours than he can hire an doctor or advocate for 1 hour.
    and if a doctor worked 1 hour he can hire a cleaner for 3 hours

    hereby it must be clear that the special skill also needed many years of learning and or still has to learn. the learning hours are in this way compensated through the different ratio compared with non or quickly learned skilled work.

  8. In response to the issue of doctors getting paid as much as shopkeeps getting paid as much as waste colectors:

    The idea is that the people who would fulfill these roles would be doing so because they see the virtue in doing so, not for the magnitude of the compensation. Someone would fulfill the role of wastekeeper because they would see that it needed to be done. Having worked as a janitor, as a factory laborer, and various other things, you see people step up and take pride in their work no matter how lame it may be: the fact that you are the person willing to do the job no one wants to do is often rewarding.

    Or people would handle their own damn trash. If no one wants to produce the good, the good does not get produced.

    I don't know that I believe the currency is really a good idea, but I like what it's getting at. A cultural shift would have to go hand in hand with such a currency: a shift that is badly needed.

  9. I believe these alternate currencies are great levellers, and building a human economy independent of the insanity and empire associated with dollars, etc… I know a potter who bartered handmade sets of dishes for the birthing of his children in Athens, Ohio. The mechanics of a currency being hijacked by the top 1% demands we stop valuing their piracy and political leveraging. The dollar has become a symbol of murder for oil. Americans deserve a currency worthy of their personal investment.

  10. Reading Thomas’s and Carolyn’s comments above makes me realize that by entering the realm of the real world, time banking might encounter problems which are non-existent in the idealistic world of Utopia.

  11. I like the 'waste of time' note. So now we have the 'I don't have time for you' and the 'waste of time' bill. maybe an infinity note might be a welcome addition as well, as in 'we have all the time of the world'…………

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