Forget Dollars, We’ll Take Your Potomacs Please

Currency symbol of the Potomac

Re-posted from Transforming Cultures

If you’re carrying around Potomacs in your wallet or purse, let it be known that you can spend them here. Here at the Worldwatch office, that is. Yep, one copy of State of the World 2010 will cost you twenty Potomacs. Come by the office and we’ll exchange you a book for a one of those golden Harriet Tubman bills. We’ve already had some sales and will be using our Potomacs to purchase coffee at Qualia, just down the street.

No idea what I’m talking about? Unless you live in the D.C. area, you’re not really supposed to know.  Local currencies are designed to strengthen and enrich communities of people who wish to be connected by more than the internet, highways, and credit card transactions. And such currencies are on the rise especially because of society’s newfound desire for economic transparency. More and more, people want to know how much of their money falls into the hands of polluters, criminals, foreigners, and bailed-out bank and auto execs. The use of local currencies eliminates most if not all of these concerns as participating businesses are typically well-rooted in the community and genuinely interested in its health and well being. Local businesses also tend to buy more from local suppliers, reducing the miles that their goods travel, and making the supply chain more traceable.

Potomacs were launched as D.C.’s local currency in May 2009 and are currently accepted at five businesses and one NGO (us!) in the District. So when a Potomac is spent at one of these places, it has nowhere to go beyond the cash register but on to another Potomac-accepting business. That means 100% of the value of a Potomac (1 Potomac = $1) stays in D.C.!  Compare that with the Federal Reserve Notes you’re used to exchanging and which are nearly impossible for any single consumer to trace beyond their pocket: An economic impact analysis performed in Austin, Texas showed that for every $100 spent at a local bookstore, $45 re-circulated in the community. $100 spent at Borders bookstore, a massive national chain, yielded far more appalling results: only $13 re-circulated. These numbers speak to the economic resilience created by local businesses as well as the potential for local currencies to strengthen that resilience.

Famous faces in Washington history grace the front of Potomac bills

Since trading twenty bucks for my first wad of Potomacs I’ve asked a couple businesses whether they accept the currency – a bar and a pet store to be exact. The bar man didn’t quite have time for my explanation and the pet store owner was completely resistant to the idea, insisting that Potomacs are too easy to counterfeit. These are legitimate excuses. Not all businesses – even local ones – have the time to account for dollars and Potomacs separately or verify the authenticity of every Potomac bill.  Then again, if we are to become a society that values, rather than ignores, the impact of our actions then our perceptions of time and economic value must change.

Local currencies are often named after rivers. For example, the Columbia Hour in Washington state and Anacostia Hour in Maryland, reflecting their purpose: to flow through communities, bringing neighbors and natural resources closer together. Thus local currencies are a bold economic step toward a vibrantly interdependent future.

Come by Worldwatch to spend Potomacs or find out more about them. Or visit here:

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