LETS: Another Economy
Video by Robin Johannsen, Farnborough College of Technology, Rough Cuts Productions, May 1997.
There are no captions to identify the speakers so I've described them by nicknames based mainly by their setting and dress. It opens with the picture of a British note with a hole being sawed from the back around the picture of the Queen to a clickety drum solo. In front of the note are some four block letters. Her picture falls away and a little wire man looks out to check if everything's okay. Then out out roll four train-like cars made up of the letters from each word in LOCAL EXCHANGE (EMPLOYMENT) TRADING SYSTEM and these little trains roll around the block letters. Out comes the wire man, then another until four wire men have come out and picked up the block letters. As they do a little dance with the letters, the printing on the background bank note gets erased and replaced by "Another Economy" with the little men finally getting in position with the letters L E T S with the block trains of words parking themselves beneath each letter. There's a little ditty I couldn't quite discern Mr. Greenpeace: (wearing a Greenpeace t-shirt): Years ago, I got involved in a movement called the Rainbow movement which is primarily political movement dedicated to change. And a book came out at the same time called "After the Crash" which was subtitled "Emergence of the Rainbow Economy." This caught my eye, I read it and in there was a chapter dedicated to LETSystems. And these seemed like a very very good idea. Picture of a check and stub with large LETS. Lady User: Since I became a member, I've spent about one thousand Beacs or more, more than a thousand beacs. Picture of a LETS check with large LOCAL hand to hand. Sofa Couple Lady: Occasionally when you want something that is difficult to find in the Yellow Pages, you turn to it and you're surprised at just what is offered, really. Picture of a LETS check with large EXCHANGE hand to hand. Lady Alone: There was a time when I needed a service I couldn't afford to pay for. And I was wondering how to do this without upsetting anybody. Picture of a LETS check with large TRADING hand to hand. Chaired couple lady: I suppose it changes your perception in that it makes you think more about how that kind of society can work which isn't always based on whether or not you've got money. Picture of a LETS check with large SYSTEM hand to hand. Moonfleet Lady on boat: People who can see beyond the normal economic monetary system, I think it appeals to as well in saying, well, you know, barter is one thing, circular barter is something else and we're quite willing to try it out and see if it works for me. Picture of LETS check with large LETS hand to hand. Mr. Greenpeace: LETS is an alternative economy. It works much the same way as a check-book and a Directory like the Yellow Pages. Members join our scheme, they're given a check book and they enter their names and services they offer into the Directory and that gets distributed amongst the other members and trading takes place by exchanging checks and their accounts are recorded on a simple computer program that works much the same as a bank would with an ordinary bank account. KUTLETS Office lady: We've got 220 members of K.U.T.L.E.T.S. which is Kingston-Upon-Thames Local Exchange Trading System. Once you're a member of our LETSystem, you can telephone anyone up for any goods and services. Of course, it doesn't have to be a direct barter because you'll be paying with a local currency. Plumber: That will be 20 Beacs, Francoise. KUTLETS Office lady: We use the currency Beacs because we're based at the Beacon in Kingston. It's a local environmental centre and the LETSystem is housed at the Beacon. In order words, we have our computer here. Picture of pound notes being pulled away to reveal the LETS check with a subtitle: Money Issued by The People. Customer enters shop. Dress-maker: Hi, my name's Bea and I offer mostly dress-making, designing, pattern-making, repairs on LETS. With customer: I've taken about an inch out of the arm here which is what you said it needed, I've cut back the arm-hole a bit because that was cutting into your arm. Customer: How long did all that take, please? Dress-maker: It took about two house in the end but it was quite easy. So, two hours, I would guess that works out to 15 Beacs. Is that about right with you? Customer. Yes. That's fine. I'll write you out a check. Dress-maker. Yes, thanks. Bearded man with glasses: People slowly come to understand that they are creating their own money. There's no equivalent to the Bank of England. No one is printing money. It's even more democratic than a baby-sitting circle. In a baby-sitting circle, one person tends to cut out the corn-flakes packets to create the tokens which are the currency. In the case of LETS, no one does that. No one decides how much money will be in circulation. Anyone can write a check to pay somebody to do something for them and in doing so, create their own money. Picture: Park bench: Subtitle: What is money? Girl on park bench: It's something that.. it's a token that's a reward for work or labor in some way but in itself, it doesn't have any value. It's just a token that says that some kind of transaction has taken place. KUTLETS Office lady: When you have an individual's services, you pay the person with the transfer note and then you post the transfer note into the box at the Beacon and that's opened once a week, and that person's account will be debited with the amount that they've paid and the person who they've paid will be credited. Turmel: A member who spending may go negative at will. A positive goes to the one who made use of his skill. And though we've used no money, we have found a way to trade, A giant step in the reform of money has been made. Girl in street: Money is the source of life. Blond teacher with class of tots: What else have we got? What else have you got? We know you have money and Richard's got lots of metal. And he owes Sebastian money over here. Paul here's got some shells used as money. Teacher: I think we just wanted to get the children to understand, not so much to understand as touch on a couple of key concepts. One of those concepts was the idea that money can be almost anything. It just depends how people lay value on something. That if somebody puts value on something, they it can operate as a medium of exchange. With class showing eggs: This was money in Guatemala in Central America. These beads are one of the oldest things used as money thousands of years ago. That was money in the Far East and in China. Man at computer: People do denigrate the LETS currencies, I suppose, but I don't quite understand why they should do so. They're not mickey mouse currencies. They are in fact practical currencies. They work within their Local LETS so they function in just the same way that formal money functions. But at that the same time, they symbolize the whole range of very very profound issues, that is to say, they symbolize the possibility of alternate value systems and practicing those alternative value systems in a way which contributes to the making of a living. And which does so in an inclusive way and which is not simply judged by the very narrow systems evaluations apparent in the formal economy. Moonfleet lady: It's 25 Beacs a week to hire the boat. When I go away in the summer to do various events and festivals and the boat's free, you can have it for 25 Beacs on the LETSystem and it can go up and down the river and you can have a lovely holiday. KUTLETS Office lady: A Beac is 1 pound sterling or 10 minutes work. The reason we do this on our LETSystem is to give people a guide for their work if they've never really charged before. If they've done baby-sitting for free or they've cleaned their friend's house as a favor, this is valuing their work and they can spend their Beacs on luxuries they otherwise could not afford. Old lady in street: Money is essential. It's the something that keeps us alive, keeps us going and we all need it. But we can't get enough of it. Old british film on the Royal Mint: Britain's greatest treasure house, the Royal Mint. Everybody needs dough and here's the dough before it's kneaded. The first and most important process is to reduce the bars of metal to a proper size. And here are the blanks being stamped out. The first stage to looking like real coins. And the money pours out like a slot machine gone wrong. So far, there's been no head or tails of the whole story. But that's soon put right. LETS Office Couple Man: The main difference between LETS and the conventional way of organizing money, they do lots of things similarly, but the main difference is that a central authority creates the money which is in circulation and decides whether the interest rate's going to go up or not and how much is going to be circulated and all the rest. And with that power, they can force or buy other people to do certain things that they want to do. Whereas with LETS, you actually have to get cooperation. Man at computer: In LETS, the legitimacy of the currency is defined very much and sustained by participants in the LETS. And one of the difficulties I think for many participants in LETS is that they think of the LETS currency very much as a version of the formal currency yet in many ways, it's just the opposite. So to get into to debt in a LETS seems to be a good thing rather than a bad thing. And indeed, it's necessary for a LETS to have people in debt in order to increase the volume of economic activity going on. Moonfleet lady: I think it first of all probably takes a leap of faith because they're not quite sure why they can start to trade on it without having any money or having to give stuff before you get stuff. Man at computer: I think the basic idea of LETS is very simple. It's a kind of inversion of the formal economy, that's a very nice and simple idea. The problem is that it's so simple that people have difficulty getting their heads around it on occasion. They can't quite understand, for example, the idea that spending money is a good thing. Saving it is a bad thing in context of LETS. Song: Hey big spender.. Mr. Greenpeace: You're not paying interest and you're not receiving interest so therefore storing money is of no benefit whatsoever. Here, you're rewarded for storing money, I mean, in a bank, you're rewarded for storing money and that reward isn't there with the LETSystem. Caption: No interest Turmel: Interest takes from the negatives to give to the positives, right? If you're positive at the bank, they give you interest. If you're negative, they take it away. So, to those who have abundance will more be given and from those who have no abundance, even what they have will be taken away. I call that Reverse Robin Hood. Taking from the poor to give to the rich. Song: Money, get away..... Money, it's a gas... Picture Turmel picketing the Bank of England with the Abolish Interest Rates and Bankers are crooks sign. Thumbs up from passing bus driver. LETS Office couple man: You know, the whole business of compound interest which is in-built into the existing money system is a nightmare. I mean, we're all working harder and harder and harder and harder and faster and faster trying to keep up with paying these billionaires to have another 15 palaces, here, there, and everywhere. It's an absurdity. Turmel: Rothschild, Rockefeller, all the big money-lenders, the millionaire billionaire families who have their own plates and get to loanshark to us, they're not going to like it but guess what, there's nothing they can do because we can start our own little private lifeboats and get off their currency and say: Screw you, we're on our own now. LETS Office couple man: When we begin to look at the reality of it, we begin to see that the chances of getting the money away from that group of people are very very slim. So you begin to see the necessity for developing something like LETS. It's not just the little peripheral, it's actually something which is central to creating some kind of balance and harmony in the world. Scot: The spirit of the institution, it's what determines how well it functions in terms of the way that human beings relate to one another. And if goodwill is at the heart of that institution, it will function well. And the relations will function well. And it may serve, and hopefully, it will serve to foster positive right human relations and provide that is at the the heart of that organization or institution, I don't think there's a problem. Sofa couple man: You leave Beacs out of it if you like to the Directory is a listing of people willing to do things. Mid-East Instrument Musical Teacher: I'm offering these lessons, teaching kids and adults alike the basics of a pretty unusual musical instrument. I'm charging between 5 and 6 Beacs an hour. Scot: It doesn't matter how good the form of institution is if it isn't the right kind of quality or consciousness at its heart, then it won't work to the benefit of humanity. Man on bench: Education is not really about learning for learning's sake. It seems to be about learning to get a career and a career is there to get money so that you can live. So life is money in many ways and I think it's a very sad commentary on humans. Turmel: At end of 1994, 600 LETS around. At end of 1995, twelve hundred LETS abound. Two thousand and five hundred at the end of ninety six, It's doubling yearly exponentially the world to fix. Subtitle: Money stays in the community David Williams: Well, the LETS is helping to regenerate local communities in a variety of ways. One is that.. my background is in community development and one of the concepts that you have in community development is that people are a solution. People are not a problem. And community development workers have a problem that though that's part of their rules of play, they end up setting up projects like Youth Clubs or Drop-In Centres for people and the individuals still look to that community worker as being the person who holds all the solutions to my problems. LETS Office couple lady: All these economic development strategies have been imposed from outside. They haven't taken root whether they're from government or business because they're not actually listening to local people and working with their needs and what they're looking for so that's very much our approach, it's a sort of appropriate to a people's development approach. LETS Auctioneer: The computer dot matrix printer. Do I hear 5? Yes. 5 for the dot-matrix printer. Do I hear 6? No. Sold for 5 pounds for the dot-matrix printer. Buyer: I got a washing machine for 15. Can you imagine that? So, yes, I'm a student working for my degree and you know what it's like being a student, trying to pay your bills, and I've got a daughter. So I'd have to set back all my high priorities and getting a washing machine.... it's fantastic. Picture of LETS check hand to hand David Williams: By bringing in a local currency, what you then have is a way of people exchanging those goods and services without a central person telling them what to do and what not do to and "yes, you've got to come to me if you want a grant," or "no, you've got to go over there if you want to borrow money from them." Within the LETS, everybody controls that themselves and so that starts the spark of people realizing they're part of the solution rather than being a problem. Sofa couple lady: I think, on a wider scale, it could make the community look at just what it had within itself that could be made more widely available to its members. It ought to be that because when you start to look at people you know, you realize just what a lot of experience and ability and dedication and imagination they've got. And you don't have to go out to a professional agency to do so many things. KUTLETS Office lady: The only quality control we have is on the very individual basis. We have an arbitrator who can legally give us advice or give people advice if they're unhappy with work. But it's the same as in the outside world. It works the same way. And the only thing we can do is we can say that so-and-so has decorated so-and-so's house because we've seen the transaction, the transfer slip. And so we recommend you phone up that person and ask what the job was like or ask if you can see the job. Carpet business lady: We run a furnishing business and we are also personal members of the LETS scheme so it seemed a good idea to try and bring it into the business aspect of it. So if people ask us, we do try and supply part of our services on LETS. So, it if was, for example, making curtains, we would probably charge about 50% for the material plus the amount we're going to have to pay for the A.T. which is 17.5% and then they can pay the rest on LETS. LETS Office couple lady: Where there are people running businesses and they're part of LETS, they need to look at what they're trading turnover is on LETS. And if it goes beyond their tax threshold, then they need to start accounting for that because the Inland Revenue want to know if they've gone above that threshold. They will want some tax in sterling. So they'd need to really ask for a certain proportion of that transaction in cash to cover any tax overheads. Man on bench with 4 dogs on leashes: Money is money. All right. And what it means to me is that I can pay the rent every week, pay the the bills every week and have a little bit left over the bottle of vodka. Mr. Greenpeace with run-down church in background: It's long been an argument that property falls into disrepair because of lack of funds, lack of money. We're standing in front of property that's owned by the Church. It will not be renovated by the Church because they don't have the money. Song: "Money, Money, Money" starts in background. Mr. Greenpeace with run-down post office in background: We are standing behind property that's owned by the Post Office. It won't be renovated by the Post Office because the Post Office say they haven't got the money. The argument is always about money. With LETS, we have the opportunity to be able to get property back into usage, to save the degradation of green areas and to stop urban sprawl by utilizing buildings right in the town centre that are dying and decaying. By using LETS, we can get unemployed people working, we can get buildings back in usage and not becoming homes for pigeons. Song: "Money, Money, Money" in background. Turmel: A mayor faced with rising costs and shrinking revenues, To study any proposition, he would not refuse. Song: "Money, Money, Money" louder in background. "So many think the job of being mayor is a snap, But the decisions that I'm faced with are an ugly trap. Song: "Money, Money, Money" louder in background. With tools, material, and trades that cover total range, Yet one ingredient is lacking, money to exchange. Song: Money, Money, Money. I'm talking about money, money. Lady at desk: During the late seventeenth century, there just wasn't enough regal currency around of the type that the ordinary people needed to carry out their trading. There was a lot gold and silver coins but there wasn't really any copper coinage in common circulation. And so, the local people just found their own answer to this by producing their own tokens which were valued at a farthing or half-penny and they were just produced by local individuals. Picture LETS check hand to hand LETS Office couple lady: I'd like to see lots of different kinds of local currencies. I'd like to see LETS essentially at the bottom as the sort of first line which is about creating community and about local economic development and then, like a sort of set of currencies like the layers of an onion. Say you have appropriate currencies for the different purposes. Bearded man with glasses: It's possible that we're moving from a position where currencies are divided vertically, by national boundaries, towards the position where currencies are really divided horizontally so that there might be a European currency, possibly a world currency above that, below that a regional currency and below that a local currency. So, in such a world, LETS would take it's place that set of currencies. Mr. Greenpeace: I'm a firm believer in anarchy. I think an anarchistic state is a beautiful state and if you look at the definition of the word anarchy, it means an harmonious state of existence whereby governments are deemed unnecessary. And that is what I would like to aim for and I think LETS is definitely a step towards that. Picture of LETS check. Rough Cuts Production, May 1997
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