Most of us expect some degree of reciprocity in our relationships when it comes to doing favours—I cook for us, you wash up, I clean the house, you walk the dog. These interactions remind us that our time is valuable and we need to offer something in return for someone contributing some time from their day. Time-based currency streamlines these exchanges, so that one hour of your time equals a one-time credit, one that can be exchanged for services instead of money through timebanking. Childcare, painting a house—anything that benefits the community becomes valuable, producing a parallel economy driven by social goods.
Time-based currency isn’t a recent invention. In 1827, Josiah Warren opened the Cincinnati Time Store, which sold goods not for money, but for an agreement to perform labour. Modern time banking as a community development tool was then formulated by Edgar Cahn in 1980. Having been involved in American politics as a speechwriter for John F. Kennedy, Cahn noticed Reagan withdrawing funding from American welfare programs, exposing vulnerable people to even greater risks. Cahn’s solution was TimeBanks USA, a platform educating people on timebanking’s pay it forward model and displaying a list of global timebanks to join. Timebanking caters to the universal human need to feel valued, one of the many ways in which the market economy fails people. Under our current economic model, consumers value goods demanded in greater quantities than supplied.
Because human beings are so plentiful (our population by 2050 is projected as 9.8 billion), we are considered disposable by faceless corporations. We’re living in a capitalistic system that disfavours parity, a necessary principle for dignity at work advocating that a worker’s time is of comparable value to the employer’s pay. Without parity, the employer and the employee are not equal, with this power imbalance reflected in the estimated 2.6% of the population employed under zero hour contracts, leaving them having to pay for their own benefits out of minimum wage salaries.
The existence of a legal minimum wage separate from a national living wage is all the more telling that our time isn’t being valued. Considering these facts, it’s not surprising that this time-based currency has recently undergone a modern revival for the digital age through timebanking mobile apps. These are designed to support real-life time banking as an extension of the web-based model that has existed until now, further incorporating timebanks into our lives.
One app, hOurworld, was released from one of the largest national timebanking organisations with over 140 affiliated local timebanks. If registered with one of the timebanks hOurworld supports, you can download the app and connect to other members through its interface.
Not registered within a timebanking community? Check out Ying, which allows you to create new timebanks within your own communities, in your workplace with your colleagues, across friendship groups or other societies. Once your group is accepted onto the platform, each member starts with 24 hours of free time credits to spend on services offered by other individuals. When specifying the services you want to offer, there are a wide variety of choices, from personal training and acting to babysitting and fashion styling. In a tinderesque fashion, the app matches you with other members in your timebank looking to either spend their time credits on your skills, or increase their own time-income by helping you out with services you need.
The benefits of the timebanking model are obvious—time is a limited commodity but something we all possess to a certain degree. Through timebanking, we can invest in our communities while avoiding the trappings of so-called meaningless jobs. Timebanking gives people access to the services they otherwise couldn’t afford and redefines work to include non-market activities like elderly and childcare.
Most importantly, timebanking means no more throwaway people. But it is not without limitations. When using Ying, hOurworld and other traditional timebanks, you might be willing to swap an hour of babysitting for an hour of web-development despite pay differentials because you know that person first-hand, but when the community expands from a local to a global scale most people aren’t as willing to discount their time for strangers—especially if they could earn more in traditional currencies.
For timebanking to work as a viable global currency where all humans are treated as one unified community, it must account for differing values of skills. Chronobank aims to solve this by allowing workers to set their own wages in the form of “Labour Hour tokens”, where the value of one token equals to an hour of labour at average wages in their home countries. Chronobank also goes a step further than other apps by allowing credits to be withdrawn from cash machines.
Although this does solve the issue of unfair wages for skilled workers, it undermines the most attractive feature of timebanking—the development of intra-community social networks. At the moment, timebanking is not globally feasible, that’s why it may be best to keep it as a community development tool for our practical needs instead of using it as a replacement for our traditional currency.