Local exchange trading system

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A local exchange trading system (also local employment and trading system or local energy transfer system; abbreviated to LETS or LETSystem) is a locally initiated, democratically organised, not-for-profit community enterprise that provides a community information service and record transactions of members exchanging goods and services by using the currency of locally created LETS Credits.1

History

Michael Linton originated the term "local exchange trading system" in 1983 and for a time ran the Comox Valley LETSystems in Courtenay, British Columbia.2 The system he designed was intended as an adjunct to the national currency, rather than a replacement for it,3 although there are examples of individuals who have managed to replace their use of national currency through inventive usage of LETS.citation needed

LETS networks use interest-free local credit so direct swaps do not need to be made. For instance, a member may earn credit by doing childcare for one person and spend it later on carpentry with another person in the same network. In LETS, unlike other local currencies, no scrip is issued, but rather transactions are recorded in a central location open to all members. As credit is issued by the network members, for the benefit of the members themselves, LETS are considered mutual credit systems.

The time-based currency mentioned in United Nations Millennium Declaration C6 to Governments was a UNILETS United Nations International & Local Employment-Trading System to restructure the global financial architecture.citation needed

A number of people have problems adjusting to the different ways of operating using a LETSystem. A conventional national currency is generally hard to earn, but easy to spend. To date LETSystems are comparatively easy to earn, but harder to spend.

LETSystems often have all of the problems confronting any voluntary, not-for-profit, non governmental, community based organisation. LETS organisers often complain of being overworked, and may suffer burnout. Many schemes have ceased operation as a result.4 Many of these problems can be overcome through effective community organization and developmentcitation needed and effective use of software.

Criteria

LETS are generally considered to have the following five fundamental criteria:3

  • Cost of service: from the community for the community
  • Consent: there is no compulsion to trade
  • Disclosure: information about balances is available to all members
  • Equivalence to the national currency
  • No interest

Of these criteria, "equivalence" is the most controversial. According to a 1996 survey by LetsLink UK, only 13% of LETS networks actually practice equivalence, with most groups establishing alternate systems of valuation "in order to divorce [themselves] entirely from the mainstream economy."56 Michael Linton has stated that such systems are "personal money" networks rather than LETS.3

Operation

The first LETS required nothing more than a telephone, answering machine and a notebook.7 Since then there have been several attempts to improve the process with software, printed notes, and other familiar aspects of traditional currencies.

  1. Local people set up an organization to trade between themselves, often paying a small membership fee to cover administration costs
  2. Members maintain a directory of offers and wants to help facilitate trades
  3. Upon trading, members may 'pay' each other with printed notes, log the transaction in log books or online, or write cheques which are later cleared by the system accountant.
  4. Members whose balances exceed specified limits (positive or negative) are obliged to move their balance back towards zero by spending or earning.

LETS is a fully fledged monetary or exchange system, unlike direct barter. LETS members are able to earn credits from any member and spend them with anyone else on the scheme. Since the details are worked out by the users, there is much variation between schemes.

LETS is not a scheme for avoiding the payment of taxation, and generally groups encourage all members to personally undertake their liabilities to the state for all taxation, including income tax and goods and services tax. In a number of countries, various government taxation authorities have examined LETS along with other forms of counter trade, and made rulings concerning their use.citation needed Generally for personal arrangements, social arrangements, hobbies or pastimes, there are no taxation implications. This generally covers the vast majority of LETS transactions.disputed Taxation liabilities accrue when a tradesperson or professional person provides his or her professional services in payment for LETS units, or a registered or incorporated business sells part of its product for LETS units. In such cases, the businesses are generally encouraged to sell the service or product partly for LETS units and partly in the national currency, to allow the payment of all required taxation. This does imply, however, that in situations where national-currency expenditures would be tax-deductible, LETS must be as well.

In a number of countries, LETSystems have been encouraged as a social security initiative. For example in Australia, Peter Baldwin, a former Minister of Social Security in the Keating government, encouraged LETSystems as a way of letting welfare recipients borrow against their welfare entitlement for urgent personal needs or to establish themselves in business.citation needed

Since its commencement over 20 years ago, LETSystems have been highly innovative in adapting to the needs of their local communities in all kinds of ways. For example in Australia, people have built houses using LETS in place of a bank mortgage, freeing the owner from onerous interest payments.citation needed

Benefits

LETS can help revitalise and build community by allowing a wider cross-section of the community—individuals, small businesses, local services and voluntary groups—to save money and resources in cooperation with others and extend their purchasing power. Other benefits may include social contact, health care, tuition and training, support for local enterprise and new businesses. One goal of this approach is to stimulate the economies of economically depressed towns that have goods and services, but little official currency: the LETS scheme does not require outside sources of income as stimulus.

Examples

Local exchange trading systems now exist in many countries. Currency exchange between countries however is not yet possible. In some countries, exchange between local LETS groups (of different cities) is.

Australasia

Australia, in 1989 allocated $50,000 for the development of LETSystems, including the running of state conferences, the production of software, a LETSystems Training Pack, and assistance to Michael Linton to visit Western Australia. By 1995 there were 250 LETSystems in Australia, with Western Australia having 43 separate systems serving a population of 2.3 million (although actual participation is by only a tiny fraction of that population)1 making it then the region with the highest LETS coverage in the world. South Australia also pioneered an "InterLETS" allowing members of one system to trade with members of other systems.

From around 2007, many Australian LETS groups started trading online using the Community Exchange System. The Community Exchange System allows new members to sign up directly, list offers and wants, and enter trades without assistance from the administrator.

By 2011 Australia had become the most active country on the Community Exchange System, prompting Tim Jenkin and Annette Loudon to set up the Australian Community Exchange System 8

North America

Several Canadian cities have LETS groups, including Kitchener-Waterloo, Niagara, and Peterborough in Ontario; Halifax, Nova Scotia; and St. John's, Newfoundland.

South America

Ecuador had 140 Ecosimia-Groups (in 2000).

In Venezuela there are around a dozen LETS (as of 2011), with support from the national government.9

Europe

French speaking Europe has a coherent SEL (Système d'Échange Local, local exchange system) network.

In German speaking Europe there are lots of local "Tauschring", or "Tauschkreis" (exchange circles) networks which share all sorts of services. The Tauschring network in Germany provides software for most schemes in the German-speaking world, and CES now has over 250 participating associations, able to trade between each other with a process sometimes called intertrading.citation needed

In Hungary the term used is "Community Service System" (KÖR). One group from the capital city is Talentum Kör (Gold Talent Group), a British Council-supported project.

LETS schemes have been proposed as a possible way to alleviate some of the human costs of the euro crisis in Greece, where high foreign debt repayments have resulted in rapid deflation of the economy. LETS schemes, it is proposed, could reinflate the internal Greek economy, allowing internal trade to be maintained even if internationally traded currency reserves are being drained for debt repayment.10 This theory is beginning to be tested in the development of new LETS schemes in Greek cities such as Volos.11

In the Czech Republic, used to be a cyclos-server based in the city of Brno. It supposedly provides hosting and technical support for LETS communities and LETS Banking software-as-a-service. The original web site address was www.ATSGroup.cz/cyclos

The Netherlands has spawned a number of innovative concepts based on the LETS formula, some of which try to lower participation barriers by completely moving their exchange platforms online, like NOPPES.

In Switzerland, an on-line exchange platform called Easyswap was developed. Also, the WIR Bank operates a system close to a LETS.

The United Kingdom has many LETS systems, many loosely affiliated to LETSLINK UK and some operating under the CES system, e.g. North London LETS. In the UK Skillsbox operates an online community system similar to LETS, letting users trade their skills and time for credits which can be spent within the online community.

Norway has more LETS system, One of which is LETS NORGE. www.Lets.no

Asia

In Japan, the Peanuts system is a LETS system in Chiba, near Tokyo. Approximately ten percent of all payments made at local stores are in the community currency (2002). The LETS movement saw its peak around 2002–2003, but since then it has been declining slowlycitation needed. See also Fureai kippu.

South Korea has some active LETS too, such as Hanbat LETS in Daejeon and Gwacheon Pumasi in Gwacheon.

Africa

In 2003 the Community Exchange System (CES) started operating an internet-based LETS in Cape Town, South Africa. This has grown into a global network of over 500 local exchange systems in more than fifty countries (2013), among them New Zealand, Australia, Finland, Spain, USA, UK, Vanuatu etc. Many of these are former LETS groups but others are time banks and hybrids.

See also

References

  1. ^ a b "LETSystems Training Pack", (1990) W.A. Government.
  2. ^ "What is LETS?". AshevilleLETS. Retrieved December 9, 2008.
  3. ^ a b c Linton, Michael (August, 1994). The LETSystem Design Manual. Landsman Community Services Paper No. 1.3 Version No 1.3
  4. ^ 2003 Update on the Westport LETS, by Richard Douthwaite
  5. ^ Croall, Jonathan (1997). LETS Act Locally. Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. ISBN 0-903319-81-0. 
  6. ^ Lang, Peter (1994). LETS Work: Rebuilding the Local Economy. Grover Books. ISBN 1-899233-00-8. 
  7. ^ The Extraenvironmentalist (7-11-2012). "Opening Money". http://www.extraenvironmentalist.com/2012/07/11/episode-45-opening-money/ (Podcast). 
  8. ^ "Setting up an Australian version of the Community Exchange System". BrisLETS. Retrieved January 1, 2013.
  9. ^ Interview with Juan Esteban Lopez of Venezuela's Network of Exchange Systems, Venezuelanalysis.com, 30 May 2011
  10. ^ Michael Paraskos, 'LETS save Greece', Cyprus Weekly (Cyprus newspaper), 25 May 2012
  11. ^ See Helena Smith, 'Euros discarded as impoverished Greeks resort to bartering' in The Guardian (UK newspaper), 2 January 2013

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