If you could design your own money, what would it look like? Who or what would you feature on it, and what colors would you use? Cities around the U.S. and the world are grappling with that question, as local currencies gain popularity.
The BerkShare in western Massachusetts and the chiemgauer in the Bavaria region of Germany are probably the two most well-known and well-used alternative currencies, though there are plenty of other examples.
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But why create a new type of money when paper money seems to be declining?
Advocates say it helps keep money in the community because you can only spend the special currency there. It's less a reactionary move against something, and more of a positive move towards a product that helps local people.
In fact, the chiemgauer was developed to encourage spending on organic foods and locally made cheeses, and is predominantly used at farmers markets. First put into circulation in 2003, it's Europe's most successful local currency, and interestingly, it exists in both cash and electronic versions. So far, $14 million euros have been converted to chiemgauers.
BerkShares have also been around for awhile; they've been circulating since 2006. More than 370 businesses in the Massachusetts area accept the currency, and it's issued by branches of local banks, just like dollars.
"The idea of creating a currency that has our landscape and has our values right on the bill, that’s creating a sense of place that we don’t always have in America," Alice Maggio, program coordinator of BerkShares Inc., told the New York Times. “Particularly as we move towards a more globalized and homogenized culture.”
BerkShares feature images from the surrounding Berkshire area, including landscapes, animals and people. (Photo: berkshares.org)
Right now, BerkShares' value is related to the dollar, but there is talk of pegging it to something else.
Nick Kacher of the New Economics Institute told the BBC he wants to decouple the money from international markets, to make it both truly local and also less affected by the volatility of the market. "BerkShares need to be backed by a local commodity, in our case, food produced in the Berkshire region. If the currency was backed by a local commodity, such as maple syrup — so 10 BerkShares would buy a gallon of maple syrup — then whatever happens to the markets or the value of the dollar, 10 BerkShares would always buy a gallon of maple syrup."
With the Brixton pound in London and the Totnes pound in Devon, England — and the new Baltimore bNote (which debuted in July 2015, and shown above), it seems that in the face of globalization, some people are looking to go the opposite way — and finding success in doing so.