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The E-Sylum: Volume 12, Number 15, April 12, 2009, Article 24

ESTONIA'S BANK OF HAPPINESS ALTERNATIVE CURRENCY

Here's another alternative currency from the "Bank of Happiness". -Editor
Estonia Bank of Happiness On one level, it was just a haircut. Peeter, a middle-aged IT manager, entrusted his diminishing locks to Nele, a young craftswoman armed with goodwill and a pair of scissors. By all accounts, Peeter was delighted with his newly shorn pate. On another level, though, the clash of keratin against blades that took place in a Tallinn apartment last month was historic. For the cut was given free, with no exchange of cash or other payment, and is recorded as the first official transaction carried out by the Bank of Happiness in Estonia.

Unlike Eesti Pank (the Bank of Estonia) — a giant, gravel-coloured building that evokes the stern spirit of the Soviet Union — the Bank of Happiness has no carved wooden doors, imposing pillars or marble floors. Not a single Estonian kroon will sully its accounts, for it is a virtual bank that will trade purely on good deeds.

To become a client, an Estonian must register online, listing the useful things that he can do for others (eg, grocery shopping, walking a dog, fixing cars) and those that he would like done unto him (eg, having a suit darned or windows cleaned). The “bank” — really an internet portal to allow the civic-minded across Estonia to network altruistically with each other — will formally open for business in May. Professor Martin Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, calls it “a creative idea, worth following closely”.

"We call it a bank because we want to bring forth a new set of values”, says Tiina Urm, a 26-year-old who helped to think up the idea and is the closest thing that the Bank of Happiness has to a manager. “At the moment we are glued to other people only through money. But that’s not how we evolved as a society. We used to work as a team.”

Money-free trading systems exist all over the world, including in the UK. Here they are known as local exchange trading systems (lets) and each has its own notional currency (in Milton Keynes it is the “concrete cow”, or CC). Members of MKLetNet pay £10 for mailings plus 20 CCs to get a directory listing what other people want and can offer, with contact details. The exact details of each transation are left to members but, once agreed, the deals are registered with a lets accountant.

The trouble with a money-free system is working out how different services compare. For example, how does a babysitter, who may charge £8 an hour, exchange services with a plumber, who may charge £40 an hour?

One solution is to value everyone’s time equally; this is the basis of time banks. One hour equals one time credit; the aim is to maintain a balance of zero, meaning that you have given as much time as you have received. An estimated 300 lets and time banks operate in Britain, numbering 100,000 people.

The time banking movement was set up Dr Edgar Cahn in America. Cahn’s view was that “the real work of society, which is caring, loving, being a citizen, a neighbour and a human being” was not addressed by market economics.

To read the complete article, see: Estonia's Bank of Happiness: trading good deeds (women.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/
women/the_way_we_live/article6053885.ece)



Wayne Homren, Editor

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