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Chinese Government Studies Ithaca HOURS
|by Paul Glover|
Ithaca's local paper money, the Ithaca HOUR, has brought hundreds of media, tourists, activists, academics and dignitaries to Ithaca, since 1991. Two years ago, Madame Mitterand, former First Lady of France (and international socialist) visited for a day, preparatory to her visit to the President of the World Bank. Government officials and nonprofit representatives have purchased and spent HOURS, while speaking with residents about how local currency benefits them, and our community.
Last October, HOURS were visited by a high-ranking official of the government of the People's Republic of China. Wen Tiejun wears several tall hats. He's Chief Economist of the People's Bank's think tank, Senior Consultant of the State Information Center, chief of Economic Reform and Director of Research for Rural Development. He arrived from Beijing to assess the practicality and legality of Ithaca's local currency. His report will be delivered to the President of the People's Bank, Dai Xianglong, who will deliver it directly to China's Premier, Zhu Rongji. Accompanying Wen Tiejun was a professor of sociology from Hong Kong, who returns to Ithaca this November.
Their visit was particularly exciting because it reaffirmed, at the highest level, the critique of global capital which has been one of the many reasons we've traded our own money. Wen Tiejun said that the Chinese government has become profoundly concerned about the domination of world trade by U.S. dollars. They understand that the dollar's value is artificially inflated by U.S. military control of oil regions, extraction of irreplaceable natural resources, and by high consumer debt. "When the bubble breaks," he said, "there will be chaos in markets. Millions of our rural poor could starve."
China has been vulnerable to the same banking shocks that befell Thailand, Indonesia and Korea in 1997, as a result of global currency speculation. Food riots resulted. The International Monetary Fund has been pressuring China to replace socialist safety nets with market services, especially since China joined the World Trade Organization this September.
Therefore the People's Bank has been looking for a basis for stable money in an unstable world. Wen Tiejun sees HOURS as a useful tool, since local credits based on time have value which is as steady as the clock.
Dollars, on the other hand, are no longer backed by gold or silver but by less than nothing-- by a $5.8 trillion national debt. There is in fact not enough gold in the world to support a medium of exchange sufficient to transact the needs of six billion humans.
As well, HOURS help stimulate extra trading and job creation, meeting needs on local levels that national currency does not reach. As one World Bank analyst said, the Chinese economy "badly needs a new engine of growth and job creation for tens of millions of rural migrants and laid-off urban workers" (China Watch, 5/8/98).
The Long March of Ithaca HOURS from local experiment to world standard of value will be successful if HOURS shift economic power to communities and workers, promote ecological reliance on regional resources, reinforce regional cultures, and stimulate equitable pay.
In Ithaca, millions of dollars worth of HOURS have been traded by thousands of residents, including over 500 businesses (including a bank, movie theaters, bowling alley, health clubs, 55 farmer's market vendors, doctors, lawyers, plumbers, carpenters, electricians, our hospital and our public library. HOUR grants have been made to 57 community organizations, and HOUR loans up to $30,000 value have been made interest-free.