Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Here's a Cool Idea That Sounds Like Trouble

MA community wants to support own small businesses against chains. Creates own "notes" for use in stores. Apparently legal. Could be fun if it spreads.

There are about 844,000 BerkShares in circulation, worth $759,600 at the fixed exchange rate of 1 BerkShare to 90 U.S. cents, according to program organizers. The paper scrip is available in denominations of one, five, 10, 20 and 50.

In their 10 months of circulation, they've become a regular feature of the local economy. Businesses that accept BerkShares treat them interchangeably with dollars: a $1 cup of coffee sells for 1 BerkShare, a 10 percent discount for people paying in BerkShares.
The BerkShares program is one of about a dozen such efforts in the nation. Local groups in California, Kansas, Michigan, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wisconsin run similar ones. One of the oldest is Ithaca Hours, which went into circulation in 1991 in Ithaca, New York.
U.S. law prevents states from issuing their own currency but allows private groups to print paper scrip, though not coins, said Lewis Solomon, a professor of law at George Washington University, who studies local currencies.
"As long as you don't turn out quarters and you don't turn out something that looks like the U.S. dollar, it's legal," Solomon said.

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