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Local Exchange Trading Systems (LETS) also known as LETSystems are local, non-profit exchange networks in which goods and services can be traded without the need for printed currency. In some places, e.g. Toronto, the scheme has been called the Local Employment and Trading System.

Michael Linton originated the term "Local Exchange Trading System" in 1983 and, for a time ran the Comox Valley LETSystems in Courtenay, British Columbia.[1] The system he designed was intended as an adjunct to the national currency, rather than a replacement for it,[2] although there are examples of individuals who have managed to replace their use of national currency through inventive usage of LETS.

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.

Contents

Criteria

LETS are generally considered to have the following five fundamental criteria:[2]

  • 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."[3][4] Michael Linton has stated that such systems are "personal money" networks rather than LETS.[5]

How LETS works

  1. Local people set up an organisation to trade between themselves, keeping their own record of accounts.
  2. A directory of members' offers and requests—goods, services or items for hire, priced in local LETS units—is compiled and circulated.
  3. Members use the directory to contact one another whenever they wish. They pay for any service or goods by writing a LETS cheque or credit note for an agreed amount of LETS units, or by exchanging printed LETS notes.
  4. If applicable, the credit note is sent to the LETS bookkeeper who adjusts both members' accounts accordingly.

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.

LETS is a fully fledged "monetary system", unlike direct barter, with LETS members able to earn credits from any member and spend them with anyone else on the scheme.

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LETS and taxation

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. Generally for personal arrangements, social arrangements, hobbies or pastimes, there are no taxation implications. This generally covers the vast majority of LETS transactions. 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.

LETS and Social Security

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.

Benefits of LETS

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.

Criticism of LETS

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.[6] Many of these problems can be overcome through effective community organization and development.

LETSystems, whilst generally appealing to people supporting a general communitarian or environmental ideology, have in many places managed to successfully translate themselves as social welfare initiatives. There are far fewer systems that have managed to communicate and translate themselves into a local business initiative catering to locally owned small to medium businesses. This is generally considered to be an unfortunate weakness of LETSystems to date by the initiators, as they feel that LETS potentially has the capacity to allow small business to compete on a level playing field with larger national and transnational business corporations.

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. The success of a LETSystem is therefore determined by the ease with which a person can spend their LETS credits, and improve their quality of life by participation. Placing difficult arrangements or unreasonable service fees in the way of LETS members will produce difficulties in the future.

LETS around the world

Local exchange trading systems now exist in many countries. Some examples include the following:

Africa

In 2003 the Community Exchange System (CES) started operating an internet-based LETS in Cape Town, South Africa. In the meantime there are several such systems operating in different regions in South Africa, and the CES network is being used by LETS in several countries, among them New Zealand, Australia, Israel, USA, Norway, etc..

Asia

In Japan, the Peanuts 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 slowly.

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

The Fureai kippu system is widespread in Japan.

Europe

In the United Kingdom, an estimated 40,000 people are now trading in around 450 LETS networks in cities, towns and rural communities across the UK.[7] LETS currencies have their own local names, for example:

UK Resources:

In France, a consortium of social economy financial institutions including Crédit Coopératif and the mutuals MACIF and MAI have joined with the Chèque Déjeuner co-operative to launch an alternative currency called the SOL, which will be held on a smart card. The Sol will be piloted in the Ile de France, Britanny and Nord-Pas de Calais regions as part of an EQUAL development partnership in 2005-2006. (Le site des Lets (SEL de France) SELidaire).

Germany has established a number of local currency systems with different names such as "Talents" or "Batzen" using LETS Principles. Germany hosted an International Conference in Monetary Regionalisation from the 28 September to the 1st October 2006 in Weimar.

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.

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 and Ruildienst

In Switzerland, the WIR Bank operates a system close to a LETS.

North America

The original LETS, the Comox Valley LETSystem developed by Michael Linton in 1982, is now dormant, however there are plans to revive it. The second LETSystem in Canada was the Victoria LETS, established in 1983.[8] LETS have been established in several Canadian cities, including Kitchener-Waterloo, Niagara, and Peterborough in Ontario, Halifax, Nova Scotia, and St. John's Newfoundland.[9] Although less common than local paper currencies, several LETS have taken root in the United States. These systems include Asheville LETS in Western North Carolina,[10] The St. Louis Community Exchange in the Midwest[11] and Fourth Corner Exchange in the Pacific Northwest.[12]

Oceania

The Psychologist Jill Jordan started the first Australian LETSystem in the town of Maleny, Queensland in 1987, after visiting Michael Linton in Canada to observe the LETSystem functioning in Courtenay, British Columbia. Jill also pioneered the idea of naming local currencies after icons of local importance: in Maleny their currency is the bunya, named after the local nut of the bunya pine. By 1995 there were 250 LETSystems in Australia, with Western Australia having 43 separate systems serving a population of 1.5 million (although actual participation is by only a tiny fraction of that population), making it 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. Data on more Australian sites can be found at www.lets.org.au.

As of the mid 1990s there were approximately 70 "Green Dollar Systems" in New Zealand. A National Conference of Systems was a means of supporting new groups through the various developmental stages.

South America

Since beginning in 2000, there are now 140 Ecosimia-Groups in Ecuador.

UNILETS

Various approaches are being proposed to link Local Exchange Trading Systems. UNILETS (United Nations International Local Employment-Trading System) has been developed as a mechanism for linking LETS in communities around the world. The Ripple monetary system has been proposed as a virtual system to connect the diverse LETS systems. The connection between UNILETS and the United Nations is unclear.

Variants

LETS are characterized by a high level of innovation and many new networks choose to experiment with the system's mechanics.

On September 21, 2000, Richmond Valley LETS, Nimbin LETS and BMT LETS (Byron Bay, Mullumbimby and the Tweed Valley) in Australia cooperatively launched a "hybrid" system which incorporated a supporting paper currency. This optional scrip, called "Ecos", was developed "with the aim of broadening the range of goods and services on offer through LETS."[13]

See also

References

  1. ^ "What is LETS?". AshevilleLETS. Retrieved on: December 9, 2008.
  2. ^ a b Linton, Michael (August, 1994). The LETSystem Design Manual. Landsman Community Services Paper No. 1.3 Version No 1.3
  3. ^ Croall, Jonathan (1997). LETS Act Locally. Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. ISBN 0-903319-81-0.  
  4. ^ Lang, Peter (1994). LETS Work: Rebuilding the Local Economy. Grover Books. ISBN 1-899233-00-8.  
  5. ^ Ibid.
  6. ^ 2003 Update on the Westport LETS, by Richard Douthwaite
  7. ^ LETSLink UK
  8. ^ Victoria LETS
  9. ^ LETS groups in Canada - LETS-Linkup
  10. ^ Asheville LETS
  11. ^ The St. Louis Community Exchange
  12. ^ Forth Corner Exchange
  13. ^ Paper Currency Initiative

External links

Open source software

The following web site software handles offer/want directories transactions and accounting


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