Re-weaving the local economy in Totnes

Jay Tompt interviews Chris Tittle about the inquiry he is involved in around exchange. A good introduction to this event and website, thank you Jay and Chris.

Polyculture of Exchange

By Jay Tompt, first published at TransitionNetwork.org

Money:  can’t live with it, can’t kill it or the dominant economic system over which it reigns as omnipotent godhead of all consuming desire, (at least not overnight.)

Meantime, what’s a transition-minded community to do? Maybe money, per se, isn’t the problem, but rather it’s the unhealthy relationships that have co-evolved with it and the dominant economic system that transforms everything into commodity, reaching into nearly every remaining niche of human settlement and interpersonal relationship.

“Everywhere where relationships have been commoditised and monetised, community bonds have been broken down – destroying ‘community’, in other words. What we’re interested in doing is exploring how different needs can be met with different forms of exchange so that these monetised relationships can be reclaimed and rehumanised.”

That’s how my conversation with Chris Tittle begins when we meet for coffee at the Royal Seven Stars to discuss a local project he’s organising called Change the Exchange. I pay the default way, with coins.

Chris came here from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and will soon be off to Kathmandu, Nepal after spending the last year in the Economics for Transition MSc. programme at Schumacher College. But he isn’t simply passing through. He and some of his cohort have resolved to leave a positive legacy, hoping to catalyse a new “polyculture of exchange” here in Totnes.

On Friday the 13th, Chris and others will staff a Change the Exchange stall at the market. They’ll try to engage market-goers in fun and interesting ways about the idea of money and exchange, exploring how relationships might reconnect around new ways of expressing needs and meeting those needs. Meanwhile, others will roam Market Square, looking to connect ‘needs’ and ‘offers’. Later in the day, they’ll convene a Change the Exchange workshop for people interested in supporting a reinvigorated LETS scheme, a time bank, skill share, and more.

What they’re hoping for, he says, is really just to put these ideas out there and see where it goes – it’s up to members of the community to do something with it, or not. “And ideally,” he says, “it would be members of the wider community who are not necessarily involved in TTT, or that whatever project emerges – time bank, or whatever – does not necessarily become a TTT project.”

He goes on to explain that the current money system of the core economy is like a monoculture which demands conformity and lacks resilience. And because the economic system has monetised nearly every exchange relationship, this leaves gaping holes in the social fabric. What a polyculture of exchange provides is a resilience based on a diversity of reinvented or rediscovered relationships that include interpersonal reciprocity and more systemic intra-communal reciprocity. Gifting, time banking, local exchange trading systems, skill share, etc., are all workable examples. Money systems transfer trust from the individual to an abstraction. Restoring and rehumanising exchange relationships relocates trust with individuals, which ultimately create additional benefits within the community.

Most importantly, he says, these systems must be easily accessible because they provide support to those in the community who are otherwise marginalised and most vulnerable, those the core economy has left behind. A polyculture of exchange helps ensure that everyone’s needs can be met. That’s why it’s important that it be seen in the broadest, most accessible, most inclusive possible light. Not everyone in town has a positive view of TTT, but even if that wasn’t the case, developing a sustainable poly-culture of exchange relies on a deep shift in community culture – it’s just too big and too important to be “a project of…”

I let that sink in for a moment.

Given the small size of our town and the prominence of Transition in it, there exists the possibility of it being perceived as a sort of monopoly over all things resilience and sustainable. On the other hand, we note together how fortunate we are that the Economics for Transition course, its inaugural year just coming to a close, is bringing new energy to the community, and helping to reignite interest in pursuing greater collaboration between TTT and Schumacher College, as well as Dartington Hall. What we can look forward to, perhaps, is an emerging polyculture of activity around community resilience, regenerative economics, climate change adaptation, etc.

Perhaps, too, Change the Exchange will lead to a robust polyculture of exchange and new economic security. The TTT Skillshare seems to be off to a good start, already, but may get a new burst of participation. The Plough & Share Credit Union may agree to administer a time bank and the LETS scheme that had run in years past, may re-emerge, too. Given the way this year has begun, it seems the timing couldn’t be better.

Images: Chinese shell money, Creative Commons; poster for Change the Exchange; The Future of Money by Bernard Lietaer

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