This is the information James Taris shared with LETS groups all over the world on his international LETS tours between 2002-2004.
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is currently compiling an up-to-date West Australian LETS Directory.
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them to WALETS as well.
620 Frenchman's Bay Road Albany WA 6330
Phone: 08 9844 4567
adventure in community economics
(I have written an article about our Denmark LETS system, from my personal perspective. I am happy for it to be posted on the web site, but I would like to edit it following some comments from people. If you have time and are interested I would welcome your feedback, as it does touch on why our local LETS has been less successful than initially hoped for I look forward to hearing from you.)
(LETS stands for Local Exchange and Trading Scheme. The idea arose in British Columbia and schemes have been established in many places around the world, including WA. The scheme is elegant in its theoretical simplicity. It involves the establishment of a local currency through which members of the locally established scheme can exchange goods and services. Records of transactions are stored centrally, with members receiving credits for services rendered or going into commitment for services received. No money need change hands with this scheme, although often transactions involve a combination of local 'green' dollars and Australian federal dollars.. The role of the Denlets co-ordinating committee is to provide administrative support, as well as provide information to members about goods and services on offer or requested through newsletters, display boards, trading days and the like.)
I first heard about LETS in the late 1980s while reading about the innovative town of Maleny in SE Queensland. There a community activist, Jill Jordan had introduced LETS into Australia and it was flourishing. Here on WA's isolated south coast, a number of us were excited by the idea. So we convened a series of meetings to discuss establishing it in Denmark. What held us back initially was waiting for a Government grant to help with establishment costs. When this was not forthcoming, we took the plunge, adopted a constitution, allocated numbers to new members, and began trading. This was 1991. Initially the accounts were maintained manually, but within a year the scheme acquired a cheap PC, some LETS accounting software and computerised our records.
Denlets got a boost when in 1993 Bodhi Schultz was employed by Green Skills under a six month Community Employment Programme to be a Denlets project officer. He helped Denlets set up administrative systems, and well presented starter packs, newsletter advertising forms, cheque book and filing system. Membership numbers grew rapidly, not only of individuals but also of community groups and small businesses. At its height in about 1996, Denlets had perhaps two hundred individual, twenty small business and ten community group memberships. Trading reached a peak of up to ten thousand local dollar (or Kurrubup) transactions per three month period.
A highlight was Denlets hosting the State Conference of WA Lets systems in 1993. It was held at the Woobury Boston Environment School at Torbay Hill ,a nad attended by nearly ninety people/. Bodhi Schultz did much of the leg work, supported by the Denlets managemnet committee. Speakers included Michael Linton, himself, brought out from Canada on a tour of Australia, and the legendary John Croft, whose subversive role within the WA Department of Commerce and Trade, has given community development a real boost over the past two decades. John Croft is one of my mentors, and a source of inspiration to our early efforts in establishing Mia Mia Housing Cooperative, Green Skills, Denlets to name but a few Denmark initiatives. He has literally played a John the Baptist role in promoting LETS systems in Western Australia.
The conference was exhilarating because one could taste the buzz of intellectual excitement as a broad cross-section of people discussed and brainstormed what might be done with this new economic tool called LETS. I remember Michael Linton as one of those terrific intelligences powerful enough to expound in lay terms, the faulity assumptions underlying modern economics including economic rationalism and globalisation.
They were heady days, when it seamed that LETS would provide a revolutionary movement that would transform local economics and build a radical new sense of community. LETS would inject human values back into our ruthless monetary world, and build a protective membrane (some would say pink bubble) around small towns, plugging the leaks of financial outflow from rural communities.
>From my vantage point in early 2002, I have to smile at such lofty sentiments. Trading in DenLets has reached a low ebb. Membership is down to about thirty five, with only a handful of businesses and community groups still involved. What happened and why did LETS not take off, like the proverbial bush fire?
I have thought long and hard about this question, not least because I have invested ten years of participation on the DenLETS management committee. The theoretical foundation may have a flaw in it. The key word is TRUST. It doesn't provide a mechanism for trust to be built up and maintained in the local currency. One local LETS dollar is not considered the same as an Australian Dollar.
In much the same way that an Argentinian peso does not command the same confidence as an American dollar, local LETS units have yet to built up sufficient credibility. This is particularly the case amongst small business propietors, who were loath to cut into their thin margins to offer part LETS pricing.
Perhaps LETS systems would work better if there was a reservoir of federal currency (ie Australian dollars) so that at any time, people could cash in their local units for 'hard' currency.
On another level, LETS has not worked well, because of the characteristics of Australian culture. There is a very strong, culturally specific, emphasis on competitive individualism. People survive this type of up bringing with all sorts of distress patterns. Some people participate in LETS by giving and giving, building up big credits. They have trouble asking for other people's services, but eventually get upset when they don't appear able to spend their amassed LETS fortune.
Others draw and draw from others, building up a debt burden (or more appropriately called 'commitment's) in LETS. They never seem to get their act together to actually deliver goods and services to others, and eventually drop off the edge, when no one wishes to trade with them, or they leave town.
A small number of well adjusted LETS members, who have spent many years counselling on their money hangups, achieve a balance of offering and receiving services on LETS. They have fun doing LETS transactions, are imaginative about what they offer or what they ask of others, and their accounts fluctuate regularly above and below zero. They join in LETS busy bees, are generous in how they pay for services rendered, and love having things done for themselves.
One of Margaret River friends, Lynne Tinley, achieved the status of having 70% of her total income and expenditure in LETS. For this she deserved an Olympic Gold medal, but unfortunately Australian society does not seem to recognise outstanding cultural achievements of its citizens in the same way that it does in sport.
There are a sizable number of LETS members, who joined because they realised that they could get a single transaction achieved (like having their house painted) without expending money. Thereafter, they participated no further in LETS, and added to the pull of people who were technically members, but who declined to take up offers to provide services.
LETS is like riding a bicycle. It only works when you keep moving forward. Stop trading and the system falls over. Trade actively, and you go much further each day than you would by walking alone.
So, a Kibbutz like economy has never taken off in Denmark. It has brought up sadness inside of me to see an experiment in community enterprise struggle to survive through lack of interest and participation. At times that makes me a little melancholy, as I remember staying on Kibbutz Lotan situated in the desert in the south of Israel. There I tasted a sense of community built where economic resources are shared in the same way hugs are shared in Denmark. Some thing else is added to the spice of life, when one jumps off the competitive economic rat race and embraces ways of economic exchange that are both convivial and co-operative. LETS gave me a taste of what is possible. The challenge now is for Denmark to embrace new ideas of community capital that are again reving up around rural Australia. These include the idea of locally controlled bank where people can trust that their savings are supporting the local economy, not ravishing a distant neighbourhood or environment.
There are alternative economic models available to globalisation/. Partridge (in Hutton, 1987: 123-171) provides a review of these complementary economic ideas. He draws on the history of the co-op sector, which provides examples with great potential in providing a new economic framework in which landcare can be supported. One such financial vehicle for building a self-managed landcare program would be a democratically controlled cooperative bank. The experience of the successful Maleny Community Credit Union in Southern Queensland provides an appropriate model of an ethical credit union supporting landcare and encouraging a high degree of participation by its members.
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