Ottawa Citizen

Barter group's "Green dollar" gaining ground

By Bert Hill

     Watch out Visa, Mastercard, American Express and debit
cards. The Green Dollar revolution is coming.
     From Ottawa to Vancouver Island, from New Zealand to the
U.S., the foundations of the multi-billion-dollar credit system
are being chipped away.
     A grassroots bartering system which exchanges practical
services and produces local jobs - not monthly credit card heart
attacks - is gaining ground.
     For the last four years the LETS (Local Employment Trading
System) non-profit organization has been quietly building a base
in Ottawa.
     Like most small volunteer groups it had trouble attracting
members and getting them to use the system. But recently it got a
powerful boost when CBC's Marketplace gave it national coverage.
     The recession also has helped.
     Today, it boasts more than 100 individuals and businesses
trading everything from cars, tailoring and roof repairs to
massage, language and computer lessons.
     Members take most of their payment in cash and the rest in
the form of a credit to their green dollar account.

     "People still need cash for their every day lives," activist
Kirsten Petersson said.
     Then they then use their green dollars credits and cash to
buy goods and services from other members.
     The service initially attracted people who were turned off
with the high interest excesses and depersonalized transactions
of a mass consumer society.
     Now it is attracting consumers looking for bargains and
businesses seeking customers. The recession has been a big help.
     Christina Marketing owner Sultan Adatia said the system has
brought more than $2,000 in business into his print shops that he
wouldn't have received otherwise in the last two months.
     Adatia accepted $400 in green dollars which he plans to use
for air-conditioning equipment once such a firm joins the system.
     "When times are tough, people want real discounts. I can
charge people the regular price and they get their savings in
green dollars.
     An enthusiastic businessman, Adatia said he was turned off
by commercial barter systems which take two percent of each
transaction in cash.
     "This system works. The administrative cost is very low
(50 cents in green dollars paid by the purchaser) and there is no
possibility of a real loss because there are no real dollars to
wander off."
     Members pay $20 to join the system because Canada Post and
Bell Canada - two services essential to running the barter system
- aren't expected to join anytime soon.
     By dialing a telephone number, members can find out what new
services are being offered and register an exchange. A bi-monthly
list keeps members up to date on what is available.
     Adatia would like government to join the system because of
the heavy tax loads business faces. All LETS transactions pay
full provincial and federal taxes before the green dollar
     For example, Petersson recently was charged $40 for a
printing job and $6 in taxes. Adatia took $8 off the bill and the
amount was credited to his green dollar account.
     "This is a purely local currency that can't wash out of the
community," said Petersson. "It makes things happen. It doesn't
just sit in a few people's hands or depend on the decisions of
other people somewhere else."
     Toronto's green dollar movement has just 8 members trading
chiropractic, printing, dental and catering services. "We're
still at the flat end of the geometric curve," said Toronto
dentist David Burman, "but we're growing."
     The Towers of Mammon on Bay Street aren't exactly teetering.
But don't scoff. Bartering is a system with the power to break
governments - particularly in hard times.
     During the Great Depression, many small town merchants
accepted payment in eggs and firewood because there was no cash
     IN countries with dubious currency, it allows international
trade to flourish. Canada accepted barter from Romania when it
sold nuclear reactors in 1973. Pepsi got a foothold in the Soviet
market by accepting vodka in return.
     The basic problem with barter is that it isn't money. It
isn't very liquid.

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