Time banking is not barter. Barter economies have been in practice throughout history, but the idea of using time as a unit of exchange only appeared shortly after the Industrial Revolution. The origins of time-based currency can be traced both to the American anarchist Josiah Warren, who ran the Cincinnati Time Store from 1827 until 1830, and to the British industrialist and philanthropist Robert Owen, who founded the utopian "New Harmony" community. While both systems are based on the principles of mutualism and the labor theory of value, Josiah Warren's currency was explicitly pegged to time as a measure of specific goods or labor. For example, 3 hours of carpenter's work would be considered equivalent to 3-12 pounds of corn. Meanwhile, Robert Owen's currency simply bore an inscription referring to a number of hours, which presumably could be exchanged for however many pounds of corn a farmer would deem adequate or labor of any kind.
CONTEMPORY TIME BANKING
There have been other examples of alternative economies in recent history, most notably the "Notgeld" emergency money that appeared in Germany after the hyperinflation of 1923. Notgeld was unofficial "money" issued by cities, boroughs, and even private companies to compensate for a shortage of official coins and bills. As long as Notgeld was accepted, no harm was done, as it was understood to be a valid certificate of debt. Notgeld was actually more stable than real money, since its denomination was often pegged to material goods, such as gold, corn, meat, and so forth. The currency itself was purposefully made to be very pretty to encourage people to save the bills. This way, the debt would never have to be paid. Notgeld was printed on all kinds of material—leather, fabric, porcelain, silk, and tin foil. Since it was not legal tender, the only people who dealt in it were those who wanted to. As a result, it had a stabilizing effect on the official currency, which was still in circulation.
The first successful contemporary time bank was started in 1991 by Paul Glover in Ithaca, New York. Following his idea, people began to exchange time, which led to the creation of a time-based currency—the "Ithaca Hours," which even local businesses began to accept, and which still flourishes. Time banking and service exchange have since developed into a full-fledged movement, usually centered around local communities.
Time/Bank at e-flux is modeled on existing time banks. Every Time/Bank transaction will allow individuals to request, offer, and pay for services in "Hour Notes." When a task is performed, the credit hours earned may be saved and used at a later date, given to another person, or contributed towards developing larger communal projects. For example, if you happen to be in Beijing or Hamburg and need someone to help you shop for materials or translate a press release, you would be able to draw on resources from Time/Bank without exchanging any money.
Through Time/Bank, we hope to create an immaterial currency and a parallel micro-economy for the cultural community, one that is not geographically bound, and that will create a sense of worth for many of the exchanges that already take place within our field—particularly those that do not produce commodities and often escape the structures that validate only certain forms of exchange as significant or profitable. Julieta Aranda and Anton Vidokle