Banking Time (banking) – towards a Solidarity economy

Co-production, co-governance, network production, peer to peer production, crowd funding, collaborative consumption and the much older notions of volunteering – There seems to be a whole lot of talking of organizing life around us wanting to go beyond the spaces and theories as traditional defined in and by the state – market dichotomy. Increasingly so, with financial markets repetitively running into problems, a state in withdrawal and with the new possibilities offered by the internet.

It is clear that change is necessary, this both for state and market. But how are we to ensure that this does not merely result in active citizens being allowed to take over in areas where neither state nor enterprises can make any profit, but without necessarily any further and real empowerment of citizens? Or that we end up with do-it-yourself solutions which work perhaps fine for the natural born entrepreneurs among us, but not well for others? How are we going to ensure this is going to result in a socio-economically and ecologically just society?

The idea of a Solidarity economy feels more than helpful. It has been developed since the 1980’s especially in Latin America and taken forward in processes as the World Social Forum. Ethan Miller writing upon the subject in 2004 in “Solidarity Economics, Strategies for Building New Economies” refers to it as “a grassroots form of cooperative economics that is working throughout the world to connect thousands of local alternatives together to create large-scale, viable, and creative networks of resistance to the profit-over-all-else economy.”

Economy for Miller is not just about supply-and-demand markets. Economics is about the whole of how “we as human beings collectively generate livelihoods in relation to each other and to the Earth”. Miller urges us to look at the economies that we build with our everyday lives and relationships. “Maintaining social life is the primary goal of these “people’s economies.”

Some of the examples Miller lists:
Householding economies which are about meeting basic needs with our own skills
and work at home and on or with the land; Collective economies which in their simple form are about pooling our resources together (sharing) like carpooling, consumer co-ops; Gift economies which concerns the giving some of our resources to other people and to our communities like volunteer fire companies;
Worker-controlled economies where workers decide the terms and conditions of their own work like family farms, worker-owned companies and cooperatives and Subsistence market economies, subsistence-based businesses, created and run for the purpose of providing healthy livelihood to the owners (who are often the workers) and providing a basic service to the larger community

Solidarity is a great notion here. It does not mean charity. And it does not only mean empathy. Solidarity means “ taking active responsibility for our relationships in ways that foster diversity, autonomy, cooperation, communication, and shared-power (direct democracy) … and of fostering these and other related values with our fellow humans (social and economic solidarity) and with the rest of the Earth (ecological solidarity)”.

Instead of putting a blueprint upfront, Solidarity economics proposes to identify the alternatives that already exist, and from there expand the spaces of solidarity and, in the process, create new and larger ones. Locally. But with important positive consequences globally.

Timebanking and its core values of equality and reciprocity, or the banking of time via the principles of timebanking, is in tune and compatible with the fostering and shaping of such a solidarity economy. It is clearly a tool which can be linking between and as such strengthen the instances of a solidarity economy. There are already examples in France and Germany of for instance timebanks linking between neighbourhood local organic food circles and organic farms in Community Supported Agriculture schemes. Besides strengthening local organic food production, Timebanks have even been a way to make organic food more accessible to all! And of course this stands in direct relation with issues concerning food production globally.

But many other types of linking could take place via timebanking. Timebanking in the international Community Exchange System (CES, the international network of local currencies and timebanks to which Stadin Aikapankki and a series of other Timebanks in Finland belong) is like an accounting tool to aid in helping to meet each others needs, the needs of all of us as individuals, families, and organizations along the principles of equality and reciprocity. The banking of time according to the principles of Timebanking can be economically very enabling.

Timebanking reorganizing our use of time
Miller refers in his text to ecological solidarity as part of the Solidarity economy concept. Also Degrowth ideas find resonance in the workings of a solidarity economy.

One of the issues addressed both in the discussions around Degrowth as well as in public discussions concerns the benefits of shorter working days for all. Instead of halting at the comment how to meet the current challenges in society with less tax income – what about if less of our time would be at what is officially termed as our income-generating work, but more of our time instead would be spent at those local instance around us with could in different ways be highly benefited by our time? Examples could be our children’s local school, or our local store, organic farm or association hall etc. Spaces and places in our community which are important for us to be a part of, and which are in many instances under threat of survival.

Finland has many organizations and associations. But as has been commented to me, do people really work systematically through them? On many occasions it are those same few active people that are meant to keep most of the work going. Can timebanking perhaps be a tool to stimulate the working between all these different instances of a solidarity economy and support different features of our local economy, local community building?

The State and solidarity economy building
Instead of being an ally to corporate neoliberal capitalism, or being made to shrink in order to give way to Big Society features, the state could use an exchange tool as time banking and support solidarity economy building. As such, the bottom up building up of a solidarity economy importantly brings state and economy to what it should be, for and of the people.

A state could be using Timebanking to allow for the coproduction of (part of) certain services, as has been done elsewhere in for instance Japan and the UK. For instance, a particular urban area community might determine that in particular its youth citizens are an issue of focus. The city council department having the objectives of providing a greener urban environment, could then in consulation agree to engage youth in its activities and contribute to particular rewards which can be obtained via their earning of time credits as access to certain hours at a local sports hall. A local health centre can work in cooperation with a local timebank to improve the quality of life of those patients, which are diagnosed as suffering from mental health disorders related to isolation and marginalization.

The different public places and spaces which come to be linked by this coproduction of the state via timebanking, will come to be instances of a wider expanding solidarity economy.

Why not could a state bank time?

Timebanking as an instrument for local democratic organising
Solidarity economics is proposing to engage in a local rooted open political process envisioning from the bottom up how we want to build up our community. Many of us are wary of the current political party processes. It seems we in the end have so little to influence the decisions that have an impact on our own and other daily lives (globally). But by together identifying on a local level as to what are the existing valuable instances and practices in our community we want to support and from there on expand the spaces for solidarity via a tool as Time banking within CES, we can have a real say in shaping our daily lives and our (global) community.

Set in the context of Solidarity economy building Timebanking within CES becomes a truly transformative tool!

Ruby van der Wekken, January 2011


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