Local Economics in Ithaca, NY
by Stephen Smajstria
My King Creativity Fund project took me to Ithaca, NY to study this city’s efforts at strengthening their local economy and community through the use of a local currency, the Ithaca Hour. Whereas the U.S. dollar was once tied to the gold standard, and now floats freely relative to other currencies in the global market, the Ithaca Hour is based on units of human labor. One Ithaca Hour (I.H.) = one hour of work. The I.H. can be exchanged for U.S. script, however, at the rate of 1 Hour = $10, which was deemed the fair average compensation for an hour’s work in Tompkins County, N.Y.
The philosophy behind the creation of a local currency in Ithaca is two-fold. First, it promotes a local-intensive exchange of goods and services, keeping more wealth circulating in the community as opposed to being extracted by multinational corporations and other entities not located in or accountable to the citizens of Ithaca. Second, in providing a forum for barter and trade (especially through the Hour Town goods and services directory), the Ithaca dollar encourages personal connections between neighbors and a unique sense of civic pride.
During my stay, I was able to interview Ithaca Hour currency founder Paul Glover, as well as the current director of the Hours program and a loan officer at a local credit union that makes loans in Hours. Additionally, I was able to see the Hours in action in my observations around the town.
My research in Ithaca, made possible with the travel grant provided me by the King Creativity Fund, will serve as the case study for my Environmental Studies Department senior independent study examining the effects of today’s globalizing economy, its consequences on the environment and communities, and alternative modes of economic organization.