A “complementary currency” is money created for circulation in a specific community or region. It is used in tandem with a national currency, and creates incentive for local commerce and celebrates the unique heritage of a place.
Complementary currencies revitalize local economies by maximizing circulation of local goods within a region. They create incentives for local commerce and strengthen local affinity between businesses and customers. There are many variations of currencies that complement federal money, implemented in hundreds of communities.
In the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts, “BerkShares” have become illustrative of success for complementary currencies. “Money-Wise Women” guests Susan Witt and Rachel Moriarty describe their innovative approaches to developing thriving regional economies at the Schumacher Center for a New Economics, which developed BerkShares in the 1990s, and now cultivates economic resilience through community land trusts, and small-business incubators.
Rachel says, “Centralized currency serves centralized production whereas regional currencies represent a democratization of currency, supporting local businesses and educating consumers about how their money circulates in the local economy.”
This local currency has become a brand for the region; it is used from Southern Vermont through Massachusetts to Northwest Connecticut. Re-launched in 2006 in its current form BerkShares now can be exchanged for federal currency at sixteen branch offices of four local banks. For $95 you will receive 100 BerkShares that can be spent be spent at 400 locally-owned participating businesses.
BerkShares are a tool for community economic empowerment and for regional self-reliance. The circulation of BerkShares encourages capital to remain within the region, building a greater affinity between the local business community and its citizens.
The Schumacher Center for a New Economics is working with community land trusts (CLTs) to encourage the acquisition of forested, agricultural, or other natural lands that are restricted, i.e., forever devoted, to appropriate use. Their incubator for community supported industry serves to cultivate a healthy regional economy, directing creative resources into the quality of the product instead of into the high cost of land.
Jane Jacobs, a mentor to Susan Witt, is author of the great economic treatise Cities and the Wealth of Nations: Principles of Economic Life. Susan says, “Jane Jacobs is known as a champion for neighborhoods. She recommends exuberant episodes of import replacement. Jane was unique in her way of looking at regional economies.”
Rachel says, “We need a more diverse, sustainable, and fair economic system. The discrepancy in ownership and access to land has created a country of haves and have-nots. The Schumacher Center is providing citizens with tools to create economic systems in regional areas that give opportunities to a broader population. These opportunities also include awareness of climate change and the need to have more local production of goods consumed in the region.”
Listen to this episode and see what is possible when communities organize to create more just economies. The Schumacher Center for a New Economics has an integrated approach to creating a more vibrant local economy. Their innovative programs serve to cultivate land stewardship, local money, and prosperous entrepreneurs. Systems change begins at home, as citizens prioritize local exchanges and steward their resources wisely.
Since its launch in 2006, BerkShares local currency has served as a tool for community economic empowerment, and regional self-reliance in the Berkshire Region of Western Massachusetts. Susan Witt is the co-founder of BerkShares and the executive director at the think tank behind the local currency experiment, the Schumacher Center for a New Economics. Rachel Moriarty is the BerkShares program coordinator.
Schumacher Center for a New Economics https://centerforneweconomics.org