YOUR SAY: Complimentary Currencies – Dowangos?

Posted on January 17, 2011 by


One thing that is rarely critically analysed in courses on Sustainability is economics.  Of course, we all know that most decisions are driven by economics, but what do we really know about economics per se?

My holiday reading was a book by David Boyle titled “Money matters: putting the eco into economics – global crisis and local solutions” (2009, Alastair Sawday Publishing).  I would highly recommend this book.  It is in sections of one to three pages that readily explain the particular topic be it where money comes from, what it means, what it is doing to the planet or how we can change the status quo.

One of Boyle’s most stunning commentaries of what we know as our economic system was concerned with how it knows the price of everything, but the value of nothing.  As a consequence, things of real value are excluded from our economics.  For example, community services such as home-caring, volunteering or natural resources are not included in GDP calculations.

A topic that particularly interested me was communities developing their own complimentary currencies.  There are many systems currently active worldwide and you can browse some of them here.  There is also a LETS system in Melbourne and you can have a look at that here.  Please share your knowledge of others.

Years ago money used to stay in local economies, but today it tends to leave quite quickly via big-chain stores (and possibly leaves the social tax system via offshore secret banking!).  This threatens local communities, but one solution is a complimentary currency that is entirely local.  An example of this is “Berkshares” used in the Berkshires region of Massachusetts.  There, you can buy the equivalent value of $10 for $9 and you can change the Berkshares back into national currency at any time in certain banks in the area.  Big chains in the area don’t accept Berkshares, but local businesses do.  These factors encourage the local community to buy local goods and use local services, which keeps the local economy afloat and even booming.  You may be surprised by the data in the book (I was) that it takes 50,000 pound spent in a local shop to employ a local person whereas it takes 5 times that amount (250,000 pound) spent in a big chain store to achieve the same result.  That’s amazing!

So, if a complimentary currency is such a great thing for communities why aren’t all local communities using them and especially those that aren’t valued by our traditional economic system?  Why aren’t local governments initiating and encouraging them?  I don’t know, but it may be that they are not aware of them or there may be a perception that rates from big business may be threatened or ….  I really don’t know.  But I am inspired to initiate and encourage a local currency.  How about you?  And how would we go about it?  How would you manage the risks?  And what would we call it?  Maybe “Dowangos” (anagram of ?).

”There is no wealth but life. Life, including all its powers of love, of joy, and of admiration.”

John Ruskin, in “Unto this Last”, 1860.

Original posting courtesy of Wodonga TAFE Sustainability blog.


Alison Mitchell has taught at TAFE for 11 years and CSU for 2 years in a range of areas including sustainability and environmental management.  She is a past Board member of the North East Catchment Management Authority and the Albury-Wodonga Community College, and was employed by CSIRO at the Murray-Darling Freshwater Research Centre for 20 years where she was a a Research Scientist and Knowledge Broker.  She is also Vice-President of the community group Friends of Willow Park.


The views in this story are those of the author and not necessarily those of Our Voice: Politics Albury-Wodonga.