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Les squires

Local Money for the Buy Local Movement

Jan 26, 2012

Local currencies, like the BerkShare pictured above, can support local business and build community.

With the economy in its current state, saving money is a top priority for many Californians—and there are plenty of ways to find a bargain. Fast food meals often cost less than five dollars. Mega retailers will sell you children’s toys and automotive parts in a single convenient location at rock bottom prices.

But increasingly, we’re finding out that these “bargains” aren’t the great deal they initially appear to be.  According to academic Raj Patel, when you factor in environmental, social and health damages, the actual cost of a fast food hamburger is something like 200 dollars. Ellen Ruppel Shell, in her book “Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture,” argues that most discount products cause similar environmental and social damages and hurt local economies. Conversely, she asserts that you can get healthier foods, better crafted goods, and more expert, personalized service and advice from small local businesses.

Many Californians are already going local and reaping the benefits. But in these tough economic times, how do you get people to too choose quality and social responsibility over a cheap price?

group of Ojai, California residents think they have an answer. They’re trying to create a local currency to support businesses in their area and build community.

“The concept is a sort of bartering system that would encourage people to buy things locally and insulate the town from an economic collapse elsewhere,” the Ventura County Star reports. “It would be complementary to the national currency, and use would be limited to Ojai.”

The Ojai Economy Group was inspired by past instances in which local currencies have been effective. During the Great Depression small towns often issued “emergency scrip,” which in some places evolved into a local currency, most famously in Wörgl Austria.

Today, the most established local currency in the U.S. is Western Massachusetts’ BerkShares, which, according to the VCStar article, has the equivalent of more than $2.5 million in circulation.

The Ojai Economy Group's work to strengthen local businesses and foster community is an example of Californians creating ideas to make a better future for the state. Tell us your idea at the California
 contest site by Januaary 31, 2011 and you could win the $3,000 Roy Amara Prize for Participatory Foresight. Enter today!

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